Blue Hanger 9th release (Berry Bros. & Rudd)

bluehanger

Rating: ★★

Type: Blended malt Scotch whisky

Origin: Scotland

ABV: 45.6%

Nose:

On first nosing the whisky, it smells cheap. There are lots of vanillas and caramels, and that estery grain note that tends to develop as a distillation run gets into the tail end of hearts and into tails. It is a sweet, light and very well mannered dram. By no means impressive, though; and youngish. Truth be told, I get a lot of new make (newly distilled spirit) from the bouquet of this whisky – an estery grain, in particular. 

Taste:

Sharp, granular, jaggered and rough. The mouth-feel is not even worth mentioning, as the consistency of the whisky feels watery and thin on the palate. The alcohols are there, vaporous and lashing the palate. Behind the assault of alcohol, there is some apple, soft but noticeable peat and chocolate with hints of vanilla and caramel.  It strikes me as a very chemical and medicinal tasting dram. 

Finish:

The apple notes remain, with burning alcohols and a deep breath of nail polish. 

Bottom line: 

Don’t bother. This whisky goes from bad to worse; the nose seems to wreak of immaturity, the palate is rough and jaggered and whatever flavours are in the whisky hide behind a veil of sharp alcohol. I just don’t jive with this whisky. 

Johnnie Walker Swing

JW Swing

Rating: ★★★★

Recommendation: Buy it! 

Type: Blended Scotch whisky

Origin: Scotland

ABV: 40%

Reaction: 😀

The Johnnie Walker Swing is a blend of whiskies from the Highlands and Speyside region of the mainland of Scotland, and the Isle of Islay.

Nose:

Soft vanillas, with an aroma that is similar to melting vanilla ice cream, fill the glass. Mild notes of grass and hay – which seem to be flickers of the peat influence in this whisky – sit beneath shades of fruit; find orange zest, apple cores and a backbone of sherry. Impressive.

Taste:

Smooth and full of flavour, the whisky has a lovely mouth-feel that is slightly viscous. The taste of soft peat sits beneath buttery shortbread and almond croissant. There is wave after wave of orange zest, vanilla, cream, chocolate, coffee beans, wood and butter. It is sweet and teases, ever so gently, with Islay peat and the mild spray of salt. The peat seems to increasingly get more noticeable with each dram.

Finish: 

The finish presents with the aftertaste of avocado, as it leaves a fatty and oily film on the palate. The oak come out more, as the taste of wood and dark chocolate merges with cracked coffee beans. Oyster shells, just removed from a bed of rock salt, lingers.

Bottom Line: 

Buy it! Johnnie Walker Swing is full of flavour and yet extremely smooth and quaffable.  Its price, whether you are in the United States or Australia, is very reasonable for a whisky of this quality – there is no semblance of overly immature whisky as far as I can tell; a far cry from other no age statement whisky on the market.

Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend

glasgowblend

Rating: ★★★

Origin: Scotland

Type: Blended whisky

ABV: 43%

Having produced the downright delectable Great King Street Artists Blend, Compass Box have seemingly decided to keep pushing the boundaries and produce a more full bodied blend that appears to be aimed at satisfying the Glaswegian palate. The aptly named Great King Street Glasgow Blend is intended to be a fuller bodied whisky with peat and sherry notes.  

Nose:

At first it is fiery with pepper and undertones of dried red chilies, reminding me of the smell of red charcoals burning bright in a Tandoori oven as the drying sherry is almost steamy and vaporous. The malt and peat are nicely integrated with the other aromas, and sitting behind the bittersweet smell of dark chocolate nonpareils are mild coastal and winy notes that meld grass and sea – mussels in a white wine cream sauce and chives comes to mind.      

Palate:

The taste of chocolate is soon accompanied by sweet sherry and maraschino cherries, and the peat then takes a more dominant role after a few moments as a grassiness emerges with white wine and a distant coastal note. The sherry is both sweet and drying.  

Finish:

The finish presents with sweet drying sherry, with lingering grassy notes and steamy alcohol vapours as the aftertaste of sour cream and chives lingers. 

Bottom line: 

Consider it. Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend  is a flavour packed whisky with a theme of grassy soft peat, white wine, chocolate, and, both sugary and drying sherry. Despite its pale colour, the sherry is pronounced and the flavours are nicely integrated. It does strike me as a somewhat sweet dram, and even though the sherry is certainly a presence in the whisky there does not seem to be much flavour extracted from the wood. This might suggest that the whisky is quite young, and young it does taste. Its impressive nose lifted my expectations very high, and I could not help but feel disappointed by the lack of depth and complexity on the palate. That said, this is a lovely drinkable Scotch whisky and at an affordable price. Just don’t expect any fireworks on the palate. 

Label 5 “Gold Heritage”

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Score: 92/100

ABV: 40%

Origin: Scotland

Label 5 is a brand of blended Scotch whisky that is owned by French company La Martiniquaise. Malt Mileage has been very fortunate to secure four bottles from the Label 5 range – “Classic Black”, “12 year old”, “18 year old” and “Gold Heritage”. In this review Malt Mileage tastes the Label 5 “Gold Heritage”.

Label 5’s Master Blender, Graham Coull, says that the Label 5 “Gold Heritage” is a “personal achievement” for him, because this whisky is comprised of whiskies from different casks and of different ages that he has personally hand selected and married together.

On the nose the whisky offers the mild aroma of mossy and grassy peat that is softened by the sweetness of dark berries, rich golden honey, toffee, vanilla and caramelized peaches and apricots with cinnamon. On the palate the whisky is immediately salty with that mossy and grassy peat travelling seamlessly from the nose, but this time to balance out the peat are dried fruits and dark chocolate coated raisins with hints of vanilla, peppermint crisp and mild surges of spice. The finish is increasingly oak driven, with rich cherry liqueur filled dark chocolate, mild anise seed and a sweetness that shines through bitter dusty cocoa in a similar way to the taste of rose flavoured Turkish delight rocky road that is made with the darkest chocolate.  Despite the woody finish, there is not a semblance of misplaced tannin. The whole journey, from nose to finish, is superbly balanced and absolutely delicious.

Make no mistake, Label 5 “Gold Heritage” clearly comes across as a whisky that has been painstakingly crafted with care. It is smooth and balanced, projecting rich flavours that result from the harmonious marriage of peat, fruit, oak and spice.  This is a throw the cap in the fire kind of whisky, best enjoyed with your feet up while watching a good movie or gazing at the stars with a big fat Cuban cigar. Magic.

Label 5 18 year old

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Score: 83/100

ABV: 40%

Origin: Scotland

Malt Mileage has been very fortunate to secure four bottles from the Label 5 range – “Classic Black”, “12 year old”, “18 year old” and “Gold Heritage”. In this review Malt Mileage tastes the Label 5 18 year old which is a blend of malt and grain Scotch whiskies that have matured in oak casks for at least 18 years.

The nose presents with dry Spanish cedar, vanilla, cocoa and dark chocolate, roast pumpkin, poppy seeds, honeycomb and creamy undertones with a floral hue. On the palate the whisky is very smooth, with the immediate woody taste of sawdust morphing into earthy hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, vanilla, pumpkin baklava and some mild fruit with a smoky haze. At mid-palate the sweetness begins to fade, as it is slowly replaced by heavier wood notes and tannins. The finish continues with this woody theme, offering lingering dark chocolate cherry liqueur and toasted coconut as the tip of the tongue dries but curiously a creamy film remains on the centre of the tongue.

Overall, Label 5 18 year old is a smooth Scotch whisky that errs quite heavily to the woody side. It is a very interesting whisky and lovely on first sipping it, but the woody notes did tend to overwhelm the palate over the course of an evening drink.

Label 5 12 year old

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Score: 93/100

ABV: 40%

Origin: Scotland

Price: $44.90 (Aus)

Make no mistake, the whisky market is hot. Over the last few years demand for whisky seems to have skyrocketed. Only a few years ago spending more than $100 on a bottle of booze may have raised some eyebrows, but nowadays copious amounts of money are being spent on bottles of whisky. In response to this boom in whisky demand the market has been flooded with a tsunami of whisky and single malts from different parts of the world, many of which seem ridiculously overpriced. The French company La Martiniquaise is contributing to that big boozy tsunami with its Label 5 blended Scotch whisky range, but unlike most other whisky on the market Label 5 is darn good whisky at a darn good price! That is a rare thing, at least these days.

Malt Mileage has been very fortunate to secure four bottles from the Label 5 range – “Classic Black”, “12 year old”, “18 year old” and “Gold Heritage”. In this review Malt Mileage tastes the Label 5 12 year old which is a blend of malt and grain whiskies that have matured in oak casks for at least 12 years.

The bouquet bursts with integrated aromas that immediately whet the appetite – smoke and wisps of peat with herbs cut through peach, apricot and creamy vanilla with dusty powdered chocolate. On the palate the whisky is bigger and bolder than the nose suggests, as it whips the taste buds with orchard fruits, honey and heavy oak driven flavours of dark chocolate and rich black espresso.  The finish presents with a thin smoke and a film of creaminess that sits on the middle palate, lingering with fresh apricots and milk chocolate.

Overall, Label 5 12 year old is a very easy drinking and smooth blend that, despite its gentle and aromatic nose, offers a surprising whack of complex flavours on the palate. At its price, $44.90 in Australia, it is a whisky that I think is superb value. Finally, Johnnie Walker Black Label has some serious competition and in my opinion Label 5 12 year old wins.

 

Compass Box Great King Street Artists Blend

The Great King Street Artists Blend is a blended Scotch whisky, which means that it is comprised of both malt and grain whiskies. Produced by Compass Box Whisky Co, the whisky is a blend of different whiskies (46% is Lowland grain whisky, 45% Northern Highland single malt and 9% Speyside single malt) that have matured in different oak types (mostly American oak, with 66% from first fill American oak, 26% from whiskies finished with French Oak and 8% from first fill sherry buts). The use of these whiskies and oak types indicates that Compass Box aimed to produce a whisky of great complexity. They have succeeded.  
 
The whisky itself is elegant, smooth, complex and silky with an inviting nose – the kind of whisky you want to melt into a lounge with, remote control in hand. The American oak provides the foundation of this blend, with gentle vanillas and raisin notes mixed with chocolate. The use of French oak is a masterstroke, because it seems to give the whisky a toasty edge with hints of spice that are softened by the dried fruit and winy nip from the sherry butts. The malt content of the whisky also seems high, and the clean fruity malts meld together beautifully with the more aromatic heavier malts to create a whisky that is light yet substantial.  At £25, or $50, this whisky is an absolute bargain – a must try.
 
Nose: Waves of vanilla with cherry cough drops and dried fruit (dates and raisin) combine with chocolate, herbaceous mint sauce notes, honeyed ham and flashes of peppery spice.
 
Taste: Smooth, light and extremely palatable, the milder grain whisky takes the lead on the entry with vanilla, caramel and toffee but it is followed closely by the grassy malts and the heavier fruity malts. At mid-palate the wood becomes more dominant, adding spice and richer chocolate notes with hints of tannic herb.
Finish: Toasty, with slowing dying spice, cocoa and coffee notes supported by dried fruit counterbalanced by the more bitter wood tannins.  

Compass Box Hedonism

Compass Box Whisky Co are purveyors of blended Scotch whisky. Each product in their core range aims to give consumers a glimpse into one particular style within the spectrum of flavours offered by Scotch whisky – light, delicate, smoky and full flavoured. Compass Box buys different styles of whisky from different distilleries and blends them to create a desired flavour profile in each of their core products, which include Oak Cross, Asyla, Spice Tree, Great King Street Artists Blend, Peat Monster and Hedonism.
 
Compass Box Hedonism is a blended grain whisky that showcases creativity and a fresh approach to Scotch whisky, at least in living memory. A century ago blended grain whiskies were more common. These days the shelves of liquor stores are dominated by either malt whisky, which is made from malted barley, or blended whisky, which is made from blending malt whisky with grain whisky. For a very long time the vast majority of grain whisky has disappeared into the bottles of blended whiskies. This all started in 1831 when Aeneas Coffey invented a still that allowed for the continuous process of distillation and this led to the production of grain whisky, which, being lighter in style to malt whisky, tempered some of the fire of malt whisky and therefore malt/grain blends appealed to a wider market.  Grain whisky is usually designed to be as neutral as possible so that it can balance the fiery kick of malt whisky and it is this grain whisky that gives grain whisky its reputation as boring, uninteresting and unspectacular. Some blends also contain grain whisky that smells very young and this contributes to the bad name of grain whisky. Times have changed, and while blended whiskies continue to dominate the market, single malts have become more popular. Rising with the tide is grain whisky, and heeding to this demand is Compass Box with the release of Hedonism – a whisky that is designed to be a grain whisky and not blended with malt whisky, which means this blended grain is comprised of lovely aged whiskies that, when blended, are rich, complex, full flavoured and, frankly, delicious.  
 
The whiskies used in Hedonism have matured in 100% first-fill American oak barrels or rejuvenated American oak Hogsheads, and are typically sourced from the distilleries Cameron Bridge, Carsebridge, Cambus, Port Dundas or Dumbarton. Hedonism is the kind of whisky you want to selfishly drink alone – smooth, rich and complex with lots of depth to explore. The spicy fire from the wood and firmer grain (rye comes to mind) seems to be softened by the caramel, toffee and sweet vanillas from the softer grains as the anise seed snap of unfiltered full-flavoured vodka common to more neutral grain distillate melds with an array of sweetened tea leaves, wood tannins and bourbon themed notes of wood vanilla, dried fruit, raisin and chocolate that commonly occur when grain whisky, such as corn, wheat or rye, is matured in American oak. This is a hugely enjoyable whisky that is crafted with lots of creativity and clearly intended for the spirit lover. It is bottled at 43% ABV and non-chill filtered with natural colour, and at £54 or $110 it is an affordable glimpse into a rare blend of older grain whiskies.
Nose: Toasted coconut macaroon with creamy vanilla and the whiff of a classic cream layered birthday cake melds with caramel and light strands of toffee layered over mashmallows. Heavier wood notes bring chocolate as notes of red pepper seeds combine with the most interesting marriage of bourbon, the dry sugary gusts from English style pot still rum and the anise seed kick of a sublime unfiltered vodka. The bourbon notes are entirely understandable, because bourbon is essentially a grain whisky made from at least 51% corn and then matured in newly made American oak.
Taste: The entry is smooth, sweet, creamy and bourbon themed with raisin and dried fruit as the grain itself brings spice and soothing caramels and toffee interlaced with green tea sweetened with barley sugar, polenta, anise seed and some fine hints of high quality full-flavoured and unfiltered vodka (the way it should be, with only the best “cuts” from the distilling run rather than filtered through mountains of charcoal). Then the oak kicks in, and a flurry of spices ignite on the palate with chocolate, vanilla, honeyed oats and the twist of wood tannins.
Finish: The lingering taste of sweet ethanol lingers with bitter green tea ice cream, that grain filled full flavoured Eastern European vodka, earl grey, bitter chocolate and toasty American oak.  

Johnnie Walker Double Black

When most people think of whisky, the striding man emblazoned on Johnnie Walker bottles comes to mind.  The vast majority of people enjoy blended whisky in a mixed drink and, for this reason, Johnnie Walker will most likely be available in almost every bar, pub, restaurant, liquor store and grandparents dusty liquor cabinet. Taking heed of changes in the market, however, Johnnie Walker has seemingly sought to modernize its products with new bottle designs and some changes to its core line up which now include: Red Label, Black Label, Double Black, Gold Label Reserve (replacing Green Label), Platinum Label (replacing Gold Label), and, Blue Label. Each product in the Johnnie Walker core range offers something different, but perhaps one of the most interesting is the relatively new Double Black.

 
The Johnnie Walker Double Black is described as a “rich, intense, smoky blend containing whisky matured in deep charred old oak casks”. It is intended to be smokier and more intense than the Johnnie Walker Black Label and as a result Johnnie Walker appear to have created the Double Black for people who want more smoke, peat, ash and richness than the Black Label. The whisky itself is a masterful piece of blending, because in my opinion it has all the hallmarks of a deliciously smooth blend that should appease the mass market but at the same time bursts on the palate with rich malty flavours that single malt aficionados often admire in malts from the mainland and Islay – the luscious caramel, toffee, vanillas and chewy honeyed malt with hints of apple melds with ashy cigar smoke, spicy BBQ, mild medicinal notes, grassy peat and the mild spray of sea salt with a creamy, almost buttery, edge. At mid-palate the peat and the wood begin to intensity and eventually fade into a smoky, drying, finish with lingering sweet malt and toffee.
 
Given the arsenal of single malts at the disposal of Diageo (the owners of Johnnie Walker), it is clear that the Double Black is very carefully crafted with malts from Islay at its core. The use of the heavily charred oak casks may also be masterstroke, because studies suggest that heavily charred oak tends to give a whisky more smoothing sweet vanillas. That is precisely what, in my opinion, makes the Double Black so delicious – the wood, spice, peat and sweet smoothing creaminess. The Double Black certainly boasts a rich flavour profile with smokier and more intense flavours than the Black Label, so in this regard Johnnie Walker have succeeded. At $50, it is great value and a fine example of a peaty whisky that has actually gained a creative edge thanks to the expertise of a blender. 
 
Looks like the Double Black will now sit comfortably in my whisky cabinet, waiting to be savoured on a frosty night when super smooth easy drinking peat is desired. 

Black Grouse

The Famous Grouse can trace its roots back to 1896, when it was first produced by the merchants Matthew Gloag & Sons. Now owned by the Edrington Group (who also own The Macallan and Highland Park), The Famous Grouse produces blended whisky. Its core blend (The Famous Grouse) proudly features the Red Grouse, the national game bird of Scotland, on all its bottles and has been the highest selling whisky in Scotland since the 1980’s. The company has also produced 100% malt whisky blends with age statements, such as the Famous Grouse 12 Year old and Famous Grouse 30 Year Old, but these offerings now appear to be discontinued as the company moves to a no age statement format which sees it now have four core products: Famous Grouse, Snow Grouse, Naked Grouse and Black Grouse.
 
The Black Grouse is a blend that includes The Famous Grouse blended whisky married together with peated malt whiskies from the Isle of Islay in Scotland, which is the traditional heartland of peat and home to nine distilleries. Curiously, none of them are owned by The Edrington Group which prompts some thought as to the origin of some of the Islay malts that have made it into this blend. The whisky itself is so much more than the honeyed fruit and vibrant caramel rich malt of the Famous Grouse with a dash of peat. Peated malts from Islay appear to be added to The Famous Grouse, and this means wonders for the nose and palate – the added peated malts bring a greater malt content, more oak influence including more textured vanilla and energetic spice, and, some oily undercurrents of barley that carry the plumes of peat smoke. All this is smoothed and skillfully tamed with the grain whisky from The Famous Grouse, and this all translates into The Black Grouse – a highly enjoyable smoky blend with a noticeable malt content that puts it a level above The Famous Grouse but which has enough grain whisky to make it smooth enough to be enjoyed by most people who salivate at the whiff of some peat. At £20, or around $40, Black Grouse is an exceptional blend that in my opinion can comfortably sit alongside Johnnie Walker Black Label as one of the best value smoky blended whiskies on the market.
 
Nose: A light and aromatic smoky nose melds peat with honeyed fruit (peach, nectarine, apricot) and a bright malt interlaced with notes of caramel and vanilla custard. The peat is soft, sweet and a delight to smell amidst the malt and grain. Hints of salted butter develop with fresh peppery tropical fruit (papaya, for example) after the whisky is allowed to rest in the glass, and this appears to introduce the nose to the wonders of Islay.
 
Taste: Peat, malt and toffee take the lead on the entry, but the oak soon follows with notes of vanilla, wood and hints of cocoa and peppery spice. At mid-palate mild salty notes and lashes of betadine commonly associated with whisky from Islay are softened by more dominant overtones of the sweet honeyed grain and bright summery fruity malt of The Famous Grouse. The Islay malts certainly appear to play an important role in this blend, adding malt content and mild undertones of salt and betadine, but the stars of the show are the peat itself, the spices from the oak and the softening touch of The Famous Grouse.
 
Finish: The spices continue to tingle on the tongue, peppery and yet fruity all at once, as waves of caramel and vanilla smooth those sparks of spice and leave the taste of salted butter lingering.