Set the controls for the heart of the sun

Posted 20 July 2022 by Matt / In Group Tastings
Set the controls for the heart of the sun

I would never dare to presume too much about The Dramble’s readers. We all imbibe, enjoy and consider our whiskies in myriad different ways. But as my PC’s taskbar-based weather forecast finally ticks up to today’s promised 40 degrees Celsius – I do wonder about some of you occasionally. Try as I might, when it’s genuinely silly hot, I struggle to get myself into the mood for most whiskies outside of highballs and the occasional smoky cokey. There’s a temperature range that I believe that whisky works best at (more on this shortly) – and once I’ve seen someone fry an egg on their patio – my mind and my palate are steadily moving toward the whisky exit sign. But a little record-breaking hot weather clearly isn’t enough to scupper some of you lot. And I doth my cap to those of you still tackling cataclysmically cask strength drams whilst I’m sat here wondering if I’ve got enough Robinson’s in.

Discussions about temperature and whisky are often one-sided. Hot = good, cold = bad. Or vice versa. And that applies across the board – in cask, in bottle and in glass. There’s little rationalisation that within each of these three different containers for whisky – temperature should be looked at in terms of ‘what is appropriate at the time’. One size rarely fits all.

With casks the dialogue often focusses around hotter and more humid conditions hastening the maturation process. True enough – but nevertheless, that’s not a linear relationship – too much application and whisky will quite happily ‘cook’ inside of a barrel – over extracting unchecked and without the full range of maturation processes all playing their part in ensuring that the final product has been a result of constancy not uncontrolled irregularity. The conversation about warehouses all too often focusses on the ‘promotion’ of casks into hotter zones of the storage facility – but in reality, ‘demotion’ into cooler areas is just as important. Maturation is about ensuring the ‘right’ temperature – not the maximum possible temperature.

Discussions about temperatures within bottles are commonplace – and largely driven by the collector contingent of the market - and rightly so - if you drink it quick enough you’ve got little to worry about. Whisky, unlike wine is not going to tip over the edge following a single exposure to a couple of hot days. Collectors focus on ideal storage conditions not only in terms of ambient temperature, but also light exposure. And that’s more than just a label fading – direct sunlight is a sure-fire method for ruining a bottle. UV and organic compounds really don’t like to mix. Honestly, putting whisky in a freezer or leaving it in a warm room is nothing compared to the ruinious effect of sunlight.

And so onto the final container – the glass. There’s countless wordage devoted to why you should never put ice into your whisky glass – some of it is even sensible in terms of highlighting the tighter binding of flavour molecules (less expressive flavour) and particularly so to my mind when it comes to unmeasured dilution  - I.E. how many cl’s of water are there in an ice cube? Yeah me neither. But much of the conversation outside of the whisky intelligentsia tends to stick to handed down dogma - “a single malt should never be mixed, or served with ice – and can only be diluted with a single drop of water.” None of that is particularly helpful in breaking down barriers or in advancing education. Like so many things, temperature should be a discussion, not a monolithic rule.

Nevertheless, the considered ‘best’ temperature for a whisky to taste optimum is between 15 and 18 degrees Celsius (60-65F). That is not science – simply conventional wisdom that ‘room temperature’ works. However, with the best will in the world – how many drinker’s bottle stashes are tightly controlled within those ranges? Certainly not Richard Goodings "perfect whisky collection" which went up for auction in 2020 with countless bottles visibly showing liquid levels well into the shoulders of the glassware.

I dare say that despite my best efforts, my bar is unlikely to be currently lower than the 24 degrees I’ve managed to keep the rest of the house at. That’s not going to affect my bottles over the 48 hours of ridiculous weather here in the UK (a few weeks/months would be a different matter) – but does it affect my dram when I’m serving it at a slightly higher temperature in glass?

The answer is both yes and no. At a warmer temperature your whisky will exhibit more aroma and flavour. You’ll also be able to detect the alcohol more tangibly. I.E. if there’s an ABV burn on your dram – at a warmer temperature your acuity of this will grow likewise. You might have seen a few folks recommending lower ABV drams over the past couple of days – this combined with the natural dehydrating effect of alcohol is why. Technically, your whisky will also oxidise quicker when it’s hot – though it’s unlikely that this will occur during the time that you’re drinking a dram. Nevertheless, if you leave a Glencairn out all afternoon it really won’t taste very nice come the evening.

The big takeaway here is preference. And particularly preferences when it comes to heat. Some prefer ice. Some reach for whisky stones. Some even put their Glencairns into the freezer. Mine is simply to take a few days away from whisky (in its purest form) when someone has decided to set the controls for the heart of the sun.

Now, I’ve written about various aspects of review consistency over the years. The nub of it being that it’s not possible to completely replicate every review condition to be identical for every dram that’s put under the spotlight. Nevertheless, in my view reviewers, whilst acknowledging this imperfection, should at least try. I.E. I really don’t want your thoughts on Ardbeg 10 year old post chilli-sauce slathered doner kebab late on a Friday evening. 

Temperature is absolutely one of those variables. I try to keep our household temp as constant as possible – however there are times (I.E. now – Tuesday early evening) when that’s simply not possible. As such, when one variable – could be temp, could be time of day, could be my mood etc – is completely out of whack with my ‘norm’, I simply don’t sit down to review.

And so, whilst today’s pre-Dramble was written el scorchio – the sampling and note taking for this notably consistent batch of bottles from Watt Whiskies was conducted at the rather more convivial temperatures we had last week. N.B. There’s no review of the Watt Whisky English Whisky Co. release – the moratorium on me reviewing English whiskies is still very much in place.

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Dumbarton 21 year old ex-Islay cask finish

Bottle Name: Dumbarton 2000

ABV: 57.1%
Distillery: Dumbarton
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Lowlands Age: 21
Glass Weight: 489g

Opening the May 2022 Watt Whisky outturn is a rather curious combination of a Dumbarton grain whisky produced a couple of years before the distillery closed, combined with an ex-Islay cask for a 9 month finishing period. You don’t see that every day. 222 bottles were produced at an ABV of 57.1%. Bottles are still available via The Whisky Exchange for £78.95.

Nose: Rather earthy with green vegetal notes of ferns and bracken throughout. Seeded Rivita and softly smoked cream toffee join dusty lime juice, moist soils and a touch of balsamic sharpness. The addition of water somewhat restores the presumably ex-bourbon original cask with notes of butterscotch, old decking and vanilla. Earthiness greatly reduced and smoke all but dissipated. Fascinating.

Taste: Immediate mushrooms. Dark, damp and dank. Leaf mulch and waterlogged oak sit with brine and pine needles, whilst toffee and a touch of grainy acetone reveal the spirit itself. Coal dust and ashy smoke envelope the back palate alongside charred staves and a combo of cooking apple and preserved lemon. Water again greatly reduces the secondary cask – chilli spice, pepper and old oak benches.

Finish: Medium to long with old resinous oak, pepper and a slightly ABV prickle.

Far from my first peat and grain combo – but certainly my maiden peated cask grain. I guess with something as experimental as this, it’ll all come down to the balance between the spirit and the wood (doesn’t it always?!). Here the secondary cask influence is palpable throughout – offering earthiness, moisture and certainly far more peated influence than a number of Islay cask finishes I’ve sampled over the years. That dilution reduces this influence and peels back the layers to reveal the ex-bourbon origins of this whisky is simply captivating – and in effect offers the drinker two remarkably difference experiences. As distractions go, this is a good one.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky.

Score: 84/100

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Clynelish 2011 10 year old

Bottle Name: Clynelish 2011

ABV: 59.5%
Distillery: Clynelish
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Highlands Age: 10
Glass Weight: 489g

Up to Brora for a 10 year old Clynelish that spent its days maturing in an ex-bourbon barrel. 210 bottles were produced and you’ll still find a few at The Whisky Shop Dufftown for £85.95.

Nose: Warmed fruits – apricot and nectarine alongside a lemon posset. Sunflower oil joins Milky Bars, whilst Honey Nut Loop cereal sits with orange oils and a scattering of ginger. All very fresh. Water presents fleshy peaches and pink wafter biscuits alongside vanilla and young, sappy oak.

Taste: Tart and sharp. Green apples drizzled in grapefruit juice sit with gooseberries and pear drops. Syrupy in texture the development heads towards white pepper and split vanilla pods with licks of cask char in the back palate. The addition of water reveals a highly fruity core – peach melba with a splash of mango juice – alongside chocolate and tree bark.

Finish: Medium in length with hard candy sweetness and lingering char and pepper.

A solid young Clynelish that offers plenty of bright, fruity spirit character alongside a sympathetic 10 years of maturation. Not the most complex tool in the box, but delightful nonetheless.

However, at this juncture it’s worth pointing out that marque distillates (such as Clynelish) are increasingly commanding the silliest prices within an increasingly silly cask market. Desirability, particularly by the greedy/senseless/deluded (delete as appropriate) investment sector of the market is dramatically reducing the free circulating supply of such things, and where they are still available, everyone within the chain is wanting their 27 ounces of blood. As such, you will increasingly need to pay well over the odds to purchase and sample stuff like this. Stay tuned for a future piece on cask pricing.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky.

Score: 86/100

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Auchroisk 2008 13 year old

Bottle Name: Auchroisk 2008

ABV: 54.9%
Distillery: Auchroisk
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Speyside Age: 13
Glass Weight: 489g

Auchroisk meets tawny port cask for a 6 month secondary maturation. Interestingly, were the distillate from a better-known distillery, I daresay this would have sold out in a flash. But in this day and age underappreciated whiskies should certainly be appreciated (albeit quietly). 318 bottles at 54.9% ABV have been produced – you’ll still find some over at The Whisky Exchange for £68.95.

Nose: Raspberry jam is thinly spread over white bread whilst brandy snap biscuits join apple-filled stroopwafels. Berry oils and liquorice stick sit with a cream-filled sponge cake. Dilution reveals gingerbread and golden tobacco leaves alongside Cherrios multigrain cereal.

Taste: A big oil, berry-filled arrival. Lovely. Raspberries and cranberries sit with coffee and walnut cake slathered in caramel. Liquorice reveals itself again alongside dry dunnage earthiness, milk chocolate and hot house vinousness. Water retains the weight of the distillate offering dried berries, golden syrup and some dry oak tannins.

Finish: Quite long with resinous wine-like qualities (sticky red berries) together with a scattering of ginger powder.

A really likeable fruit-driven character throughout. Despite the tawny port finish only being 6 months – the level of required impact has been judged just right here. There’s always a temptation with secondary casks to keep pushing them to achieve the maximum level of extraction possible – but that’s invariably a mistake as there’s only so much wood contact that any spirit can handle before bitterness and grippiness become far more of a thing. Here we’re just on the right side of that tightrope.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky.

Score: 86/100

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Westport 2005 17 year old

Bottle Name: Westport 2005

ABV: 57.1%
Distillery: Glenmorangie
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Highlands Age: 17
Glass Weight: 489g

Over to Tain for sherry hogshead that’s been matured for 17 years and has produced 198 bottles at 57.1%. Bottles still available for £89.95 from The Whisky Shop Dufftown.

Nose: Tunnock’s Milk Chocolate Tea Cakes – and possibly one of the manufacturer’s Caramel Logs thrown in for good measure. Gingerbread and rosehips join orange peels and macerated cherries, whilst szechuan chilli pepper sits with well-lacquered oak. Reduction reveals brass piping and toasted oak alongside cinnamon spiced redcurrants.

Taste: A silky texture on the arrival. Dark cherries sit atop a toffee sauce drizzled chocolate sponge cake (indulgent stuff). Dark sugars and walnut oils join steeped black tea and pepper whilst zesty orange provides a mid-palate life. Dilution offers creamy marshmallow alongside toffee and a chilli-driven oak kick.

Finish: Quite long with piquant spice fading into black and red berries.

Not a sherrybomb, but the focus is still firmly on the cask here. Whilst there’s some taut spicy oak throughout, it nevertheless sits rather well with both the Glen-orange-y distillate and the sherry influence which feels suitably decadent with its combination of confectionary, dark fruits and sugars. Those whose preferences head toward the sweeter and darker probably won’t be disappointed.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky

Score: 85/100

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Campbeltown Blended Malt 2017 5 year old

Bottle Name: Cambeltown Blended Malt 2017

ABV: 57.1%
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Age: 5
Glass Weight: 489g

Bottled for Watt Whisky and Friends (WW&F) – I.E. only available in Campbeltown itself from Halls and the Ardshiel Hotel – this blend hails from more than one Campbeltown distillery. Interestingly, at the present time guesswork on which distilleries make up the components are quite possible….but fast forward 10 years and they’ll be 7/8 distilleries in the region where such a 5 year old may be possible. Times are a-changin’. Just 150 bottles of this at Mark’s presently favourite ABV of 57.1%.

Nose: Jolly Rancher green apple candy and banana skins sit with sunflower oil. Salted caramel joins cut grass and hay whilst vanilla extract is blended with almond paste. Simple but effective. Water reveals a malty core with cereals alongside a lime tang and earthiness.

Taste: Oily and full-bodied even at this young age. Estery fruits – apple candy and pear drops sit with barley sugars, whilst both salt and pepper lead into Rich Tea biscuits and puffs of coastal smoke. Reduction amps up the sweetness considerable with candies and gummies joining touches of char and earthy, ashy smoke in the back palate.

Finish: Medium with a mentholated tail that joins apple sugars and salt-licked minerals.

Lots of ‘ethyl flavours’ here – as you’d expect from such a young pup. But nevertheless, the quality of the underlying distillates is obvious – both from a textural standpoint and from the level of integration. Young and fun.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky.

Score: 84/100

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Inchfad 2017 5 year old

Bottle Name: Inchfad 2017

ABV: 58.2%
Distillery: Loch Lomond
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Highlands Age: 5
Glass Weight: 489g

Concluding our flyby of the Watt Whisky May 2022 releases is another youngster. This time a heavily peated Loch Lomond spirit (the distillery itself have stopped calling such things Inchfad). 300 bottles have been disgorged from an ex-bourbon hogshead and bottled at 58.2% ABV. Bottles are available via The Whisky Exchange for £59.95.

Nose: Meaty and industrial. Pan fats, greases and exhaust fumes (ack, the wife is moving seats again) join tart apples and lemons whilst cooling mind and pine needles as a degree of crispness to what is otherwise a rather dirty whisky. Water offers ferns and bracken alongside smoked lemon curd.

Taste: Sharp with lime and grapefruit – then immediately into the peat with surface cleaner, Swarfega and tarry felt roofing. Sunday roast gravy sits with intense mechanised aspects – lubricant and paint thinner whilst Frazzles are mingled with purple Monster Munch for that perfect combination of bacon and pickled onion that nobody thought they needed. Dilution here expresses fruit sugars – a bit nascent and under expressed – alongside golden barley and engine oil.

Finish: Quite long. Salinity and tarriness fade alongside green apple sweetness and sea shell coastalness.

Making up for its youth with plenty of energy and plenty of murky smoke – this ain’t the whisky you’re looking for if you’re unsure about whether you like peated whiskies. Those that do will find plenty of vim and vigour – but also an interesting peated style that can’t quite make up its mind whether it’s inland or coastal – and so it decides to be both.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky.

Score: 85/100



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