We can tell we’re entering the last quarter of the year because drinks businesses have started to promote their advent calendars. This is a subject we have studied in depth, having worked our way through numerous boxes of various sizes and shapes with every kind of drink you can imagine lurking behind cardboard doors and windows.
Last week we were sent a new advent calendar to consider when next writing on the subject and were so impressed that we have decided that it warrants a review all of its own. The calendar in question comes from The Really Good Whisky Company and contains 24 drams – most of them Scottish Single Malts, but also a few blends and unusual treats from elsewhere in the world.
The range and quality of these whiskies is exceptional – lots of new releases and limited editions* that will appeal to anyone with liking for whisky, from a host of distilleries that are well known for their excellence. There genuinely isn’t a dull of duff product among them. But what makes this advent calendar even more special is its presentation. The package is compact and orderly, each dram being tucked inside its own box with calendar number facing upwards. Lift out a box and the sides are printed with information about the whisky it contains – so not only do you get a 3cl taste of each spirit, but you also get to learn a little more about what you’re drinking.
We won’t spoil the surprise by listing all of the contents but to give you a flavour of what the The Really Good Whisky Company is offering, here’s the lowdown on three of our favourite advent drams…
Glenmorangie, Bacalta, 46%
Glenmorangie’s 10 year old is a popular Highland whisky, the kind that can kick-start a love of whisky, but it’s also one that will also be appreciated by those who already have shelves groaning under the weight of single malts. Bacalta is one of the distillery’s limited edition releases with a much higher price tag and more intense flavours than their classic 10 year old, making it a genuine treasure among the advent collection.
The whisky has been finished in heavily toasted casks that have previously contained Malmsey Madeira before being left to bask in the Meditteranean sunshine. There’s an initial fruity caramelisation to the aroma and taste that is quick to fill the palette, while some light and toasty spices give it the feel of a winter warmer. Reviewers of this whisky regularly refer to ‘white chocolate’ in their tasting notes, and while this is no booze-filled milky bar, we can certainly detect what they mean – it has a similar creamy texture and the kind of sweet, tingly sensation you get if you scoff too much. As with Glenmorangie’s 10 year old this is exceptionally easy to drink but provides a lot more interest for those with a gap to fill on their whisky shelves.
Bruichladdich, Islay Barley 2011, 50%
Islay distillery Bruichladdich was founded way back in 1881 but, after various changes of ownership and periods of being dormant, it wasn’t until the early 21st century that it sprang back into proper life with a mission to inject some excitement into the whisky market. Central to the brand’s beliefs is a dedication to the use of local ingredients in a forward-thinking way, but without ditching traditional practices. This is exemplified by their range of heavily peated malts under the Port Charlotte banner and their series of Islay Barley releases.
This 2011 release is made with grain grown at six different locations on the island, each of them imparting different characteristics into the whisky, which is then matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-wine casks.
It’s another great dram to pull out of our box, but one we find difficult to describe as their are no blindingly obvious flavour comparisons to pick out. There is definitely something biscuity going on: something light like a crispy wafer or one of those long, sugar-sprinkled thins with rounded corners and a habit of falling into your tea. There are also some light, fruity notes: maybe pear, perhaps dried apricot, and certainly a zesty acidity from the wine casks. And continuing with this light theme we’re even going to allow ourselves to be seduced by the notion that Islay whiskies have something of the sea breeze about them: a splash of water added to the serving makes it feel as if the flavours are floating across the palette on a coastal drift.
It’s not until the finish that a murmer of something darker stirs within the grains: almost certainly tobacco and perhaps a burnt edge or two to those unidentified biscuits. But however we try to describe those individual flavours there’s one word we can use to cover the overall effect: excellent.
Glenglassaugh, Evolution, 50%
The Glenglassaugh distillery, based in Portsoy, Aberdeenshire, is another old name that has been through turbulent times and has only recently started selling new bottlings. Boxes of miniatures – like this advent calendar – are a good way to discover what such new operations are capable of and Evolution is our first tasting of a Glenglassaugh release.
It’s young and pale looking, but still has lots of flavour extracted from the ex-Tennesse whiskey casks in which it has been dwelling, and is mature enough to have any rough edges smoothed out. The aroma is certainly enticing, with the alcohol vapours wrapped in a sugary, creamy coating and a hint of fruit salad. Sup it neat and the 50% ABV thrusts forward lots of peppery spice; open it all up with a touch of water and the spice mellows to reveal more distinctive oak flavours and subtler notes of burnt fruits. Another distillery we’ll want to keep our eye on.
To get your hands on this ace box of drams click here
*Box #10 is definitely one to get excited about