The Life of Malt Whisky, Part 2.1 – The Maturation: Growing up in American Oak

This post is part 2.1 in a three part series about the life of malt whisky. In Part 1 it was explained how baby whisky is made (which is more accurately known as “new make”). People figured out a long time ago that even the best “new make” is pretty boring, but luckily in days of old oak barrels were used to store almost everything – including this “new make” – and people found that after spending time in oak the “new make” began to not only change colour but also smell and taste better. People noticed that the kind of colour, aroma and flavours that developed relied very heavily on what type of oak the “new make” was stored in. Distillers now use oak casks to add flavour to their “new make” over the course of many years, and rightly so because it is estimated that a whisky gets upwards of 60% of its flavour from spending time in oak. This the the story of what happens to baby whisky, “new make”, when it grows up in what is perhaps the most popular oak type in which to mature whisky: American oak.

As soon as “new make” flows out of the still it begins to oxydize because it comes into contact with oxygen. In other words, it begins to change its aroma and flavour over time as it slowly gets older. When the “new make” is placed in an oak barrel for years on end, because oak is porous and breathes, it oxydizes the whole time! Not only this, but when the oak barrel “breathes” the ambient aromas and flavours whizzing around it, those aromas and flavours can be absorbed by the whisky. Because the casks are often charred (toasted or burnt on the inside) the “new make” also gets filtered by the oak, similar to carbon filtration, which removes some of the more undesirable compounds in the “new make”. The alcohols that boil at at low temperature are even sometimes burnt away as the new make rests in the casks, especially in hot summer months, escaping through the pores in the oak or the bunghole as it is opened. By far, however, the “new make” gets most of its flavour from the oak itself – more than oxydisation, absorbing ambient aromas and flavours or carbon filtration.

Growing up in American Oak

american oak

The most popular cask in which to mature whisky, at least in Scotland, is American oak. When the new make sits in these barrels, the pores in the oak expand when it is warmer, soaking up the new make, and close when it is colder, spitting the new make back out into the cask. Over time, from being soaked up and spat out over and over from the oak, the “new make” slowly begins to take on the colour, aroma and flavours from the oak casks in which it matures.

American oak (or Quercus alba) is an oak tree that grows in – you guessed it – America! As “new make” rests in American oak, the “new make” tends to draw out oils from the wood called “vanillins” and in American oak these typically resemble the aroma and taste of vanillacaramels, coconut, butterscotch, fudge, and, particularly with older whisky, ginger.  When a whisky is matured in American oak that has never been used for anything else before, it is called “virgin wood” or “virgin oak”.

This typically gives a whisky a “bounbony” character, because bourbon is matured in new oak barrels that have been charred (although bourbon must be made from at least 51% corn so it is different from malt whisky, which is made from barley). Using “virgin wood” to mature malt whisky is not very common, though it does increasingly now occur, and this practice is seeing what many call the “bourbonisation” of malt whisky. In actual fact, what has given malt whisky its distinct flavour in living memory is that distilleries choose to mature “new make” in casks that have already matured something else – bourbon, sherry and wine are the most common examples. This means that not only does the new make draw out flavour from the American oak, but it also becomes infused with the flavour of the previous content of the American oak whether than was bourbon, sherry or wine.

Growing up in American oak ex-bourbon 

It is estimated that about 90% of Scotch malt whisky is matured in American oak casks that have previously held bourbon. By spending time in American oak that has previously held bourbon, a malt whisky tends to draw out some distinct “bourbony” notes alongside the American oak influence – common notes include raisins, sultana, cereal notes (such as rye, depending on the type of bourbon barrel used) and raw sugar. As bourbon barrels tend to be heavily charred, the charcoal not only helps infuse whisky with vanillas but it also serves to filter the whisky of some nasty impurities. Bourbon matured whiskies also tend to have a golden colour, noting of course caramel may be added to enhance colour. 

Growing up in American oak ex-sherry 

Contrary to what you might think, not all sherry is stored in Spanish oak. Some sherry makers store their sherry in American oak, and then pass on the used sherry casks to whisky makers who put their whisky in those used sherry casks. Apart from flavours from the American oak ex-sherry American oak casks can give a whisky a more fruit cake and chocolaty flavour profile, though the flavours do seem to vary depending on the type of sherry that was used, whether that is Oloroso, Pedro Ximiniez, Fino etc, and the interaction between the sherry used and the distillery’s malt character. It might offer nuts, prune, cherries, Christmas cake. It might be dry (Fino), medium-dry (Oloroso) or sweet (PX).  Sherry matured whiskies also tend to have a reddish or brown hued colour, noting of course caramel may be added to enhance colour. This is not always the case however.

Whisky can also be matured in ex-wine, ex-port, ex-brandy, ex-rum barrels, basically any oak barrel that has previously held something delicious. The two most popular ones are however ex-bourbon and ex-sherry. 

Up next, we will take a close look at the typical flavours that come from maturing whisky in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. 

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Is sexism and gender stereotyping still happening in the whisky industry?


Make no mistake, The Macallan make damn fine malt whisky. Macallan’s 18 year old Fine Oak, Ruby and Sienna are testament to that, at least in my opinion. Recently The Macallan released a whisky in honour of photographer Mario Testino, and its release was accompanied with a number of pictures of men and women basking in the glow of golden and ruby hued bottles of The Macallan in a party scene. The problem, for me at least, is that in these pictures only men are holding whisky and not women. Instead, the women pictured either hold a puppy, purse or sport what seems to me to be ditzy smiles and doe eyes for some of the men. Why is it that only men in The Macallan pictures I have seen hold whisky, not women? Surely, in 2015, this seems a tad out of the ordinary? Also, these portrayals of gender stereotypes are so consistent in each picture that it hardly seems like a coincidence. Whether it is conscious or unconscious gender stereotyping, it does seem at odds with the changes that have occurred in the whisky industry over the last few years which have seen women take a leading role in the industry.  

“Why is it that only men in The Macallan pictures I have seen hold whisky, not women?”

Over the past few years I have noticed a very positive and welcome increase in women at whisky festivals, in bars etc. According to The Drinks Business, Elizabeth Finn, Diageo’s category director of whiskies in Western Europe, says that ‘nearly a third (29%) of all whisky drinkers in the UK are women’. Women also hold very influential positions in the whisky industry as either master blenders, distillers, marketers, brand ambassadors, or, bloggers – Kirsteen Campbell (Master Blender, Cutty Sark), Angela D’Orazio (Master Blender, Mackmyra), Alwynne Gwilt  ( blog), Cara Laing (Marketing, Douglas Laing & Co), Rachel Barrie (Master Blender, Morrison Bowmore), Martine Nouet (one of the world’s best whisky writers),  Laura Hay (Brand Ambassador), Dr Kirstie McCallum (Brand Ambassador), and, Joy Elliot (Brand Ambassador for The Macallan!) are only a few examples. Not least, Queen Victoria was known to enjoy her whisky and she is claimed to have acquired quite a taste for Royal Lochnagar and mixing red wine from Bordeaux with Scotch whisky. Women are among our best whisky blenders, whisky writers, bloggers and, let’s be frank, whisky drinkers!

It would be wonderful to see The Macallan release advertising in which women are recognised as whisky aficionados who are on the same level as men, not stereotyped as puppy holding, doe eyed or ditzy accessories for men who like whisky (as women appear to be portrayed in my view in the above pictures). The pictures by The Macallan, as suggested above, may be completely innocent and the gender stereotyping may have been unconscious but they do seem to paint an unsettling picture about the way women have been perceived. This perception is in stark contrast to reality, and while it may be the result of one person’s subjective views of women – whether conscious or unconscious – it does reinforce gender stereotypes. This is not about women wearing dresses and men wearing suits because that is the normative reality, it is about the portrayal of sexist culture that is increasingly abnormal and nearing extinction; and the sad reality is that if advertising keeps glorifying it, rekindling it, it won’t ever go away.  A lot can be interpreted from women not holding whisky and being relegated to the status of accessory, just as a lot can be interpreted by similar segregation on the basis of race, age or disability. That is somewhat disconcerting in 2015. My hope is that The Macallan recognise this and address it moving forward. This is not “just a picture”, it is the way women have been perceived and that is really important. 

“This is not about women wearing dresses and men wearing suits because that is the normative reality, it is about the portrayal of sexist culture that is increasingly abnormal and nearing extinction; and the sad reality is that if advertising keeps glorifying it, rekindling it, it won’t ever go away.”  

So, what do you think? Given the more gender neutral shift in the whisky industry and whisky consumption, do women deserve more recognition and respect in whisky advertising? I think they do. 

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The Life of Malt Whisky, Part 1 – The Birth

This post is the first of three that will take you through the life cycle of whisky – its birth, maturation and death. This post will begin the story by introducing you to the way whisky is made… baby whisky, that is! 

In the beginning, there is barley…

In the beginning, there is barley. This barley is malted, dried (either by air or peat smoke), cracked and then placed in hot water (usually from 63°C) for a while, so that the lovely flavour and sugar in the barley can be soaked up by the water. The barley is then strained out of the water, and the now barley infused water – think of it as barley tea – is ready to be converted to what can be described as a beer without hops. 

Barley tea is made into a beer 

To make this beer, yeast is added to the barley tea when it reaches somewhere between 18°C to 28°C (depending on the kind of yeast that is used). The yeast converts the sugars in the barley tea  – or “wort”, in whisky speak – to alcohol, and this process is called “fermentation”. Many different types of yeast are used to create alcohol of different flavours, from bakers yeast used by many moonshiners to the more sophisticated ale yeasts that tend to be used by artisan distillers. You will find that every distillery has a particular strain of yeast they prefer to use, and this yeast contributes to their distillery character. Sometimes the batch is spoiled by wild yeast hanging around, eager to ferment any sugary liquids into the most fowl smelling substance that is sure to prompt the gag reflex. The race to beat that pesky wild yeast from spoiling the show requires a clean work area – which really makes me wonder about what those rowdy moonshiners make out in open air – and getting the wort down in temperature as quickly as possible to add the nice, friendly, yeast – the longer it takes, the more time the wild yeast has to cheekily ruin the batch, but if the wort is too hot the nice cultured yeast will die. Once the yeast is placed in the wort, magic happens, and it begins to slowly ferment into beer – the “wash”.

The beer is distilled… carefully! 

The wash, now containing alcohol, is placed in a still (made of copper, to help remove sulfides in the wash and accentuate esters and aldehydes) and heated. It is distilled once to produce “low wines”, which are then distilled again to produce a stronger alcohol (more on that, below). Because alcohol evapourates at a lower temperature than water, it can be separated from the water in the wash by heating the wash to a temperature above 78.4°C but below 100°C. As the wash reaches around 65°C a liquid clear as water begins to travel up the still as vapour. Not all of it is good. The alcohol that boils at the lowest temperatures is acetone and methanol – real nasty smelling and poisonous – and this fortunately comes out of the still first and is discarded by a distiller. Then when the wash reaches 78.4°C that is when the good drinkable alcohol, ethanol, boils and travels up the still as vapour to be condensed into liquid and collected by the distiller. As the wash heats up, though, higher alcohols such as  fusel oils/alcohols (2-Propanol/rubbing alcohol at 82.4 °C and 3-Methyl-1-Butanol at 99.5 °C) also begin to boil and then follow the ethanol up the still. 

As you can probably already tell, not all the clear liquid that comes out of the still is good. The distiller needs to make what is known as “cuts”, after discarding the foreshots (the acetone and methanol) at the start of the run.  The first part of the run is the “heads” which produces a potent alcohol that pierces the brain at first, very sharp and similar in smell to nail polish. As the amount of ethanol flowing out of the still increases, the lovely juicy body of the spirit emerges in the form of “hearts” which is mostly ethanol. This is the sweet stuff – pure hearts is sweet, smooth, soft, expressive of the raw ingredients and fruity. After a while, the hearts begin to fade into the “tails”, which smells very much like wet cardboard, baby sick, wet dog etc. It not poisonous, it just smells and tastes strange. For flavour spirits, such as whisky, the tails can provide some tasty congers and compounds so a distiller needs to determine what combination of “cuts” best expresses his or her distillery character. 

The type of still, and number of distillations, matters 

The type of still that is used is important, but most distillers use copper “pot stills” which basically allows alcohol vapour to travel up its neck and then be converted to liquid at the top when it reaches a condenser (which is usually a coil with cool water running through it). To make whisky, a distiller needs to typically undertake two distillation runs – first distilling the wash to produce “low wines” (usually 18-25% ABV) and then re-distilling the “low wines” to get a stronger alcohol usually between 60-70% ABV. Sometimes, to get a lighter spirit, a distiller might want to run it through again (as is typical with three times distilled Irish whiskey or Auchentoshan, which defies the Scotch industry standard of distilling twice). Other types of stills can include reflux or column stills which can distill a wash multiple times in one cycle, by using packing or bubble-plates (I have seen some of these stills with over sixteen bubble-plates which are mostly used to distill vodka because with each distillation the alcohol is stripped of some flavour and becomes purer and more concentrated with ethanol – this is why whisky is usually distilled only two or three times, to keep the flavour of the barley and fermentation). These reflux or column stills sometimes have a condenser at the top of the still neck with cool water running through it, and this cool water blocks heavier vapours so that lighter vapours can pass through to be collected thereby producing a very fine spirit. 

Once distilled, at least twice, you have a bouncing baby whisky 

Once the distiller makes all the desired “cuts”, you have whisky in its infancy. This is baby whisky, so to speak (though not legally whisky, which needs to sit in oak casks for at least three years). This baby whisky is more accurately known as “new make”. 

The important thing to remember is that different distilleries tend to produce “new make” that taste different to one another. The below tasting notes will take you through “new make” from different distilleries, and “new make” that is made from different types of grain and barley. The aim of these below tasting notes are to demonstrate how different distilleries and different types of grain produce “new make” of different character. 

Bruichladdich is a whisky distillery that is located on the isle of Islay in Scotland. While Islay is famous for producing peaty whisky – ie: whisky that is made from peat dried barley – the distillery is known for pushing the boundaries and it also releases non-peated whisky. Perhaps more interesting, Bruichladdich are now releasing whisky that is made from different types of barley. Malt Mileage is very fortunate to have had the opportunity to try three samples of Bruichladdich new make, each of which are made from different barley – Islay grown barley, bere barley and organic barley. The below tasting notes show that the type of barley used in making whisky has a big impact on its flavour profile.    

Tasting Bruichladdich Islay Barley new make 

Bruichladdich are opting to make some of its whisky from barley that is grown close to home on the Isle of Islay in Scotland. Just as the soil matters to making grapes and the eventual flavour of cognac made from such grapes, differences in soil would also seem to matter to growing barley and the eventual flavour of whisky made from such barley.

My immediate impression of this new make is that is packed with nuances of flavour and sweet ethanol.  The spirit itself is rich in raw materials that the oak can work with and develop into more tasty flavours. Wet dog fur, a smell often associated with the tails of a distillation run, is noticeable but it is softened by layers of complexity that cut through the center – chocolaty and nutty malt, shades of golden and dark honey with earthy and herbal hues, black olive tapenade, anchovies, mild pepper in a blanco tequila kind of way and pronounced sweet ethanol. The taste of capricciosa pizza, as strange as that sounds, seems to be a noticeable theme in this new make. Bravo. 

Tasting Bruichladdich Bere Barley new make

In stark contrast to the Bruichladdich Islay Barley new make, the Bruichladdich Bere Barley new make is fiery, spicy and explosive with lots of depth, complexity and rich flavour. I found lots of caramels and vanillas – especially under-cooked doughy vanilla slice with some flaky pastry – crème caramel, powdered mushroom soup, toffee apple, brown pear, celery, peeled raw potato, fried black olives and mint sitting beneath overtones of husky gristy barley and malt. 

Tasting Bruichladdich Organic Barley new make 

The Bruichladdich Organic Barley is sweet, caramel rich and fruity with the most curious note of strawberry cheesecake, red toffee apple, raspberry seeds and hints of baby sick (which are tasty congeners the oak will work with). It is big, bold, raw and full of the flavour of that organically grown barley. 

Tasting Glengoyne new make


Glengoyne air dry their barley, never using peat, which means that from the start this little baby whisky is designed to have no peat flavours – just clean, fresh malty notes from distilling the fermented barley tea that was discussed above – the “wash”.  Glengoyne new make is very clean spirit that is strikingly rich with hearts and some faint surges of heads, which add some welcome spark. There are hardly any detectable higher alcohols and tails seem to come out in the finish, which indicates that tails may have been used to amplify the finish. Tails are important, because they add some congeners and flavour compounds not found in hearts – they are sometimes very important ingredients to a distillery’s character.

Find in Glengoyne new make caramel (werthers original), brown pear, peaches, nectarines, crushed apple and orchard fruit with a lingering, flavoursome finish that offers disgorged digestive biscuits with mild creaminess (now that, surely, must bring back some early memories… unless you eat teddy bear biscuits before a big night!). This is superbly crafted new make.

Tasting Lark New Make (run 1033, 50% peated, 63.4%ABV)

Lark would be forgiven in my book if they just skipped barrel maturation, and put this peaty new make right in bottles for consumption for the peat crazed among us to dabble in the taste of untouched “virgin” peat (because, as you may know, peat fades as it ages in oak). Being made from 50% peated malt, the flavour profile is not dominated by the peat. The flavours are powerful, lasting and delicious – find licorice, plum, caramel and a thump of peat, all of which slowly taper away over a few minutes. The finish is spicy and warming, full of ground fresh red chillies, cracked pepper and hints salt. The peat is not what you would expect of a whisky from Islay, but it is both grassy and woody, and the barley notes provide a lovely sound foundation. Mature this for a few years in oak to iron out the kinks invariably found in new make and infuse it with some more vanilla, fruit and chocolate, and I think the product will be pretty darn spectacular. If Lark doesn’t release this new make, after maturation, at cask strength it would be an injustice – it is an absolutely stunning example of a sublime spirit, ripe for maturation but also very enjoyable in its infant new make state for its raw explosion of peat infused booze. I hope Lark doesn’t over oak this one, and that the final product allows the lovely flavours from the malt to shine through any oak influence.  There are some notes typically associated with tails, especially on the nose – damp cardboard, wet dog fur and a creamy baby sick note emerges with a dash of water. Now that’s a good thing, because the oak has plenty of raw materials to work with.  I’ll be tracking down the matured version of this baby whisky. 

Tasting Glenrothes New Make 

The Glenrothes new make seems to have a nice spread of heads, hearts and tails – the heads provide some bite, and the tails some tasty flavours. Tasted neat, it explodes with blackcurrant and a superb peppery finish. With water, the style of Glenrothes distillery character emerges – find spice, pepper, brown pear, and a solid dose of malty goodness. The spice and pepper is a dominant theme which lingers on the finish, not dissimilar to a fine blanco tequila or a non-polished grain based vodka. It is a rare pleasure to be able to taste Glenrothes new make, and discover that aspects of its rich fruity-spicy signature style seem to come right from the new make. The rest is the oak barrel’s job, perhaps some more vanilla, sherry and wood spice will do the trick? My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

This, as you have probably noticed, certainly does not sound like whisky! What about the vanilla and spice and all things nice, I hear you cry as you lament the idea of disgorged digestive biscuits, baby sick and dog fur!! To get the aroma, flavour and colour of whisky the new make needs to spend at least three years (usually much much longer) in oak casks. That is known as the “maturation”, a process which will be the focus of the next installment in the Life of Malt Whisky.

Up next… the maturation. Stay tuned!  

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Puni Alba

Puni Alba

Score: 77/100

Type: Spirit

Origin: Italy

ABV: 43%

Reaction: :(

Italy, the heartland of cheeky carb rich food and the pursuit of pleasure, is now scene to another one of life’s guilty pleasure’s – whisky. The Puni distillery in picturesque Glorenza  in northern Italy – with its rolling hills dotted along the countryside – is home to Italy’s very first malt whisky. The whisky itself is crafted in the Scottish tradition, but matured in Marsala casks from Sicily to give it an Italian edge. The first release by Puni distillery, in addition to a new make, is the Puni “Alba”.

“Alba” means sunrise in Italian, which is a suitable name considering that this spirit marks the birth of whisky production in Italy – a county that has mostly been known for grappa and brandy, not whisky. Puni Alba, which has matured for 18 months in Marsala and Pinot Noir casks, is not legally “whisky” because the spirit has matured in oak for less than three years.

As the below tasting notes indicate, Puni Alba is a young whisky that showcases the nagging punch of new make and Puni’s distillery character with only mild flickers of oak driven flavour. Do not expect a complex tapestry of oak, as the spirit is far too young for that. This is, it is clear to me, a work in progress and a glimpse into Puni’s whisky in its infancy. 


As the whisky hits the base of the glass for the first time, it is clear this is a young whisky. The whiff of new make spirit is entangled with the smell of lady fingers, icing sugar, vanilla, caramel, honey, pepper, spiced rum, apricot crumble and sliced plums, and while it is clear the oak still has some more work to do this whisky’s bouquet is pleasant. This Italian single malt seems to follow a trend in some European whisky – whether from Denmark or France – to keep the whisky young but it is fascinating to experience the variation of character between these European whiskies; a variation which is emblematic not necessary of the oak that was used but more of the differences in distillery character. This single malt from the Puni distillery in Italy showcases an interesting malt profile which is fairly clean, light and fruity and it integrates nicely with the oak influence. There is a slight alcoholic burn, and some fly spray cutting through the center.


While this spirit has an impressive nose for such a young bambino, on the palate the daggers come out with ruthless style. The taste of new make dominates at first, with hints of spice, sugary sweet malt, and fresh rosemary with lavender interlaced with vanilla sponge and just as the hint of Marsala begins to emerge it fades as quickly as it came.


The finish offers spice and pepper, with lingering fresh rosemary and floral-herbal notes hovering over the sweetness of the malt. 

Bottom line:

Consider it, if you are itching to try an Italian (soon to be) “whisky” in its infancy which has been matured – albeit for 18 months – in ex-Marsala and ex-Pinot Noir casks. Puni Alba seems to need more time in oak to iron out some ripples in the new make and infuse it with some more complex flavour. The nose is complex, but on the palate the whisky is overridden with the overpowering taste of spirit and whatever oak driven flavours are present die out as quickly as they flicker into life.  I look forward to seeing how this young spirit matures in the years to come. 

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Glenmorangie Companta

Glenmorangie Companta

Score: 92/100

Type: Single malt whisky

Origin: Highlands, Scotland

ABV: 46%

Overall reaction:  :D

Glenmorangie Companta is said to be inspired by the travels of Dr Bill Lumden, Master Distiller of Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, through the vineyards of France and the friends he met along the way. Suitably called “Companta” (which is Scots Gaelic for “friendship”), this whisky is matured in American oak casks then extra matured in Grand Cru casks from Clos de Tart and fortified wine casks from Côtes du Rhône. This extra maturation in these ex-French wine casks, as the below tasting notes indicate, seems to give the whisky an oaky and spicy kick that is softened by layers cooked fruit, berry jam and cherry rocky road. 


The American oak, radiating with vanilla and coconut, beams through textured layers of cranberry, cashews, hay, honey, chocolate, port glazed dates and cherry ripe. While sweet, the bouquet also offers gusts of drying wine and occasionally notes of fruit cake and pear salad with red wine vinegar emerge.  


The bite of wood and sharp winy notes is softened by cherry and rose rocky road, caramel and mixed berry jam, and in the backdrop sits a creaminess interwoven with citrus marmalade. Then comes the spice – mostly rigid and peppery – with varying shades of oak and the curious occasional snaps of bitter flowers.


The finish offers an electric foray of spice, amidst berry compote, guava and wood. As the spice dies the finish remains warming, and the alcohol fumes off the tongue with mild herbal undertones.

Bottom line:

Buy it, if you want to explore the flavours that can be infused into American oak matured whisky by additional maturation in ex-French wine Grand Cru casks from Clos de Tart and fortified wine casks from Côtes du Rhône. The whisky ignites the palate with spice, berry jam and cherry rocky road in particular, but this complex little number always has a pleasant surprise up her sleeve – a very interesting and tasty dram, highly recommended.

Match with: 

After trying this whisky over some Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream, the sight of the Glenmorangie symbol now makes me salivate on cue like one of Pavlov’s dogs. Try Glenmorangie Companta with a good quality ice cream packed with cookie, nuts or fruit. This whisky also paired nicely with a number of medium strength cigars that offer some spice and wood,  along with chicory bitterness – try it with Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchills Cubans or La Gloria Cubana Dominicans.

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Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill (Cuba)

romeo WC

Name: Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill (Cuba)
Score:  92/100
Origin: Cuba
Cigar info: The Romeo y Julieta Wide Chuchill is a stubby 13 centimeter long cigar with a 55 ring gauge so you can expect some complex, intense and sharp flavours to leap out of this rolled bunch of tobacco. Romeo y Julieta are perhaps one of the world’s most well-known Cuban cigar brands, with a “house” flavour commonly associated with wood and cedar. The Wide Churchill is an addition to the Romeo y Julieta family that seems to play on the wide ring gauge to differentiate itself from the rest of the familia. As the below tasting notes show, you can expect an interesting flavour packed experience with this cigar that surpasses what you might have tried in a Romeo y Julieta No 1, No 2 or No 3. This is a cigar for the serious cigar aficionado, not just the fellas who might puff a cigar once in a blue moon or for something to do on a bucks night.   
Draw: Excellent
Burn: Excellent
Construction: Excellent
Strength: Medium
Flavours: There is no mistake that this cigar is a Romeo y Julieta. With each puff the taste of wood and cedar dominates, and then fades into a spicy finish full of black pepper, cocoa, espresso and the bitter bite of chicory and rocket. With each puff memories of my grandfather’s Italian salad came to mind, which was made from more bitter and woody salads than you can poke a stick at and drizzled in olive oil. As the cigar progresses it becomes more intense and flavour packed, with notes of black Spanish olives, burning wood, burnt herb bread, oregano, charcoal, ash and more of the wrapper on the finish. Overall, this is a solid and rounded smoke of medium strength that maintains a consistent woody profile beneath some interesting fireworks of flavour.  
Format: Robusto
Match with: This cigar paired nicely with a fine sipping rum that had enough age and oak influence to accentuate the woody style of Romeo y Julieta, but at the same time cut through the tobacco smoke and dance in tandem with the spices. Try it with Pusser’s 15 year old, Appleton Estate 21 year old or Havana Club Seleccion de Maestros. This cigar would also pair nicely with a peaty malt, such as a Bowmore with its undertones of peppermint.  
Bottom line:

Buy it, if you are after a solid and balanced cigar with rounded flavours that are emblematic of Romeo y Julieta cigars but also push the boundaries with more kick, spice and complexity than the standard range of the Romeo y Julieta family. This cigar may not blow your head off with flavour, but it was an easy smoking bundle of Cuban joy.   

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BenRiach 17 year old “Septendecim”

benriach 17

Score: 86/100

Type: Single malt whisky

Origin: Speyside, Scotland

ABV: 46%

Overall reaction:  :)

BenRiach is a distillery that is located in the Speyside region of Scotland and it produces both unpeated and peated expressions. In this post Malt Mileage tastes the peated BenRiach 17 year old “Septendecim”. With a name that sounds more like a Harry Potter spell than a whisky, Septendecim (which is Latin for seventeen) is matured in ex-bourbon casks for seventeen years and once the oak gods have done their work infusing the spirit with flavour – abracadabra! – the whisky is non-chill filtered and bottled at 46% alcohol by volume.


The bouquet immediately strikes me as flat and lethargic, and while the whisky is certainly well balanced and its flavours are integrated there seems to be a lack of depth and flair – it just seems to keep me content, without heightening or drawing in my interest. The peat is entangled with vanilla custard, raisin, baked green apple, powdered chocolate, salted caramel macaroon and toasted coconut. Leather emerges with brittle flaky chocolate croissant, and a used coffee filter. The aromas are certainly there in spades, but they do not seem to be much of a presence in the glass and can be easily missed.


On the entry the whisky is as bland as the nose suggests, but then magic happens. The peat intensifies towards mid-palate, lifted by wood, honey, cinnamon, apricot crumble, dark chocolate, oak spice and the taste of fabric and rubber – it reminds of the spray of interior car treatment, and seat belts. Spectacular.  


The finish presents with vanilla, cracked pepper, caramel and peat, with the taste of dried chili skins and grilled peppers lingering.  

Bottom line:

Consider it. This whisky seems to start slow but it really picks up some spark towards the finish, showcasing an array of vibrant spices buoyed by the American oak infused peaty malt.  

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