I am a proud member of a private Twitter group of whisky fans called The Whisky Circus, created at the beginning of the lockdown my Sorren “@ocdwhisky” Krebs, a well-known whisky blogger and now a brand ambassador for The English Whisky Company. The Whisky Circus is about 50 members big from several countries (UK obviously, but there are also people from Ireland, France – this humble writer included, Belgium, Sweden, Norway…). We meet every Sunday afternoon on Zoom and thanks to Sorren’s relations in the whisky industry, we now have one or more guests from the industry who come to discuss with us every week. Though you cannot participate in those Zoom sessions if you’re not a member of the group, you can watch the replays on Sorren’s Youtube channel, as our sessions are recorded for their most serious part. All the secrets from the trade, however, are not, sorry-not-sorry!
A few weeks ago, Sorren, with both his Whisky Circus ringmaster and The English Whisky brand ambassador hats, contacted the most regular members of the Whisky Circus to offer an English Whisky tasting with a then yet unannounced new release: the new English 11-year-old single malt. So I guess it was an English Whisky Circus Tasting. After all, the English language loves contractions. Julien tasted an English whisky bottling by SMWS before and liked it a lot, but we didn’t introduce the distillery then. So let’s talk about The English Whisky for a moment before diving into the samples.
On the 20th of May I was one of the lucky people who were selected to participate to another Tweet Tasting. Hinch Distillery was the centre of the attention for that evening. Hinch is a very young distillery (so young that their own liquid doesn’t flow off the stills yet) from Northern Ireland, south of Belfast, in the town of Ballynahinch. The distillery obviously takes its name from the city’s name, which translates in Irish as “town of the island”. The distillery is in fact still on construction (a project of a mere £15 million!) and they plan to start distilling in 3 months’ time.
So, in order to have cash flow while waiting for their spirit to 1, flow, and 2, be old and mature enough to be called whisky, they do what many new Irish (and Scottish) distilleries do: they bought casks elsewhere. They sourced malt and grain whiskies from another distilleries : Great Northern Distillery, aka GND, or Cooley for the older stock (before it was sold to Beam Suntory) and blended and finished them, playing around with different casks for the finish.
On Friday the 10th of April, I organized a small blind tasting with friends I had sent samples to almost a year ago. Lockdown due to the Covid-19 crisis is keeping us to meet and go to festivals, but it does not prevent us for sharing whisky with friends. Back in November 2019 we did our first kind-of-blind tasting with 4 Yoichi, and last Friday we went to another country, my (and Julien’s) country: France. On the lineup: an Armorik and Eddu, from Brittany, and an Elsass from Alsace. So like last time, we knew what drams we were going to taste, but had no idea of the order. Myself included. But let’s start by introducing the distilleries.
Whisky is not a simple drink, at least for many people. For many of us whisky amateurs, this is a social drink. Sure we drink whisky alone more or less often, by ourselves, in our home, be it because we’re a whisky blogger or just someone who enjoys a good dram. But we crave for drinking whisky with friends, having the same passion, or at least the same interest. Drinking with friends, sharing a dram, that’s what makes whisky alive. And that’s what makes us alive too. In these strange times of pandemic, confinement and isolation, pubs are closed, clubs cannot organize their usual whisky tasting sessions (and the whisky club I’ve founded with a couple friends had to cancel its… second tasting, we had just started with difficulty and already we have to stop, at least for now!), and so the social side of whisky must be on hold as we need to stay home to stay safe. But whisky fans are obstinate. We can’t drink in the same room? Pff, hold my glass: we’ll do it online. And for that, we can count on Steve Rush to organize even more Tweet Tastings. And so, on Wednesday the 25th of March, we were two dozen people to join Steve and the Cù Bòcan team to taste their range for this Cù Bòcan Tweet Tasting.
On Saint David’s day (the 1st of March for those who don’t know all the saints by heart, myself included), I participated to a Penderyn Tweet Tasting organized by the unmissable Steve Rush. Saint David was a Welsh bishop of Mynyw (now St Davids) during the 6th century. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales. Fast forward to the end of the 20th century. A group of friends while having a dram, decided to start a distillery, and in 1998, The Welsh Whisky Company was born. Two years later, it started distilling, and this was the first time a Welsh distillery did this in more than a hundred years. Finally, in 2004 on Saint David’s day, Penderyn Whisky was launched in the presence of HRH Prince Charles. Penderyn distillery is located in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales.
Back in November, I was supposed to be one of the lucky whisky enthusiasts invited to a Walsh Whiskey Tweet Tasting, as usual organized by the indefatigable Steve Rush, from The Whisky Wire. Buuuut… I missed my train back from a business trip, and was back unfortunately too late to attend the tweet tasting. Oops, since I really enjoyed the previous ones I attended, like the A.D. Rattray or the Bimber. Anyway, let’s discover who are the people at Walsh Whiskey and taste the four drams they sent us.
On Friday 22 of November, I organized a
small blind tasting with friends I had sent samples to months ago. After a few
last minutes cancellations, we were finally able to have that tasting, and the
theme was 4 Nikka Yoichi non-age-statement single malts: the classic Single
Malt one available in your usual liquor shop, and three distillery exclusives
named Woody & Vanillic, Sherry & Sweet and Peaty & Salty. I’ll come
back to it later, but tl;dr: it was a great evening, and the drams were really
good. Oh, and I said blind tasting: well, kind of. We knew what drams we were
going to taste, but had no idea of the order. Myself included. But let’s talk
about Yoichi first.
As I would reveal at the end of the tasting when everyone would have made their final guesses, the fourth and last dram we tasted was the Yoichi Single Malt Peaty & Salty. It is a distillery exclusive bottled at 55% abv, without age statement, in a 50 cl bottle. I paid 130€ on auction for this bottle including 60€ in shipping cost as the seller was from Hong-Kong.
As I would reveal at the end of the tasting when everyone would have made their final guesses, the third dram we tasted was the Yoichi Single Malt Sherry & Sweet. It is a distillery exclusive bottled at 55% abv, without age statement, in a 50 cl bottle. I paid 110€ on aution for this bottle, including 60€ of shipping cost as the seller was from Hong-Kong.
As I would reveal at the end of the tasting when everyone would have made their final guesses, the second dram we tasted was the Yoichi Single Malt NAS. It is widely available, bottled at 45% abv in a 70cl bottle. You can find it at Master of Malt and The Whisky Exchange for about £75, and in France 75€ on Amazon.fr or LMDW.