Flaviar is a club for premium spirits lovers and enthusiasts who are looking to discover new drinks. When you get a subscription (£ 25 a month), you will receive a tasting pack each month, containing five samples (5 cl) and a leaflet with specific information about each drink. The website includes an online community which allows you to discuss drinks, upload photos and organise your collection of drinks (taking part will get you free shipping).
Whisky is a big part of Flaviar: over the last 12 months, about half of the tasting packs feature Scotch single malts or American whiskey. On the other hand it covers rum, gin, cognac, Schnapps, grappa… as well. Their latest pack features tequila.
My first tasting pack was nicknamed Peat it, Peat it! so you can guess the contents. I would have liked some mention or explanation of the fact that most of them are non-Islay (therefore atypical as a peated selection), but that wasn’t the case.
The value of these five 70cl bottles is around £ 200 so you’re paying £ 25 for around £ 15 worth of liquid. Seems rather fair considering the overall presentation. They’re not aiming for geeks so don’t expect single cask releases or anything, but it’s still a nice way for enthusiasts to try different standard expressions and look beyond the world of whisky.
If you’re not inclined to get a monthly subscription right away, there’s a two month test flight or the option to buy one specific pack. Besides the tasting packs, they also offer bottle deals on drinks that were introduced in one of the packs. Signing up is free of charge, so feel free to look around.
Le Gus’t is a new bottler based in the South of France. Their first release was a Bowmore 1999 from the Signatory stocks (sold out). Today we’re introducing the second expression, a 9 years old Glenfarclas 2003 (Family Cask selection). Probably a first fill Oloroso like its sister casks.
Glenfarclas 9 yo 2003 (56,8%, OB Family Cask for Le Gus’t 2013, cask #1450, 316 btl.)
Nose: rather aromatic sherry. Cherries and strawberry jellies. Baba au rhum. Lots of cinnamon and big leathery notes. A little anise. Nice balance of drier notes and fruits. Walnut shells. Dried cigar leaves. Traces of antique wax. After a while fragrant raspberry comes out. Interesting for such a youngster. Mouth: a really zingy start. A tad spirity and extremely spicy. Liquorice, pepper, ginger and cloves. After some time it shows sour plums and oranges, dark chocolate. A little rounder with a few drops of water, with more dark fruits, chocolate and a little roasted coffee beans. Finish: long, a little hot (even with water). Some herbs, ginger and cocoa.
A surprising whisky for two reasons: its maturity and balance on the nose and its spicy, almost fierce palate. A great selection. Around € 120, quite heavy.
The Macallan Sienna is the second darkest in the new 1824 series, which contains naturally coloured whiskies sorted by hue. Check my review of The Macallan Ruby for more background information about the series.
Sienna is made from older stock than Gold and Amber. It is composed of both American and European oak casks – all first fill sherry.
The Macallan Sienna
(43%, OB 2013, 1824 series)
Nose: plenty of orange aromas, both in a juicy and zesty form. Clementines and peaches. A little honey and melon. Freshly baked apple and raisin pie. Hints of cinnamon and vanilla in the background. Also the lightest hint of polished oak. Quite bright and mellow. Mouth: again quite bright and honeyed. Surprisingly sweet and malty as well. Yellow raisins, orange syrup and ripe yellow plums. Apricots. Even hints of mango. Soft spices (ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg). Hints of cocoa towards the finish. Finish: long and fruity, quite syrupy again with oranges, light spices and mint.
I find this quite a feminine Macallan with bright, fruity notes and a surprising sweetness. Not your typical sherry influence, but good whisky (that could have been even better at 46%). Quite possibly the best choice of the 1824 series. Around € 75.
This is the fourth an last new expression in the Stamps series. Inchgower 1985, 28 years old.
Inchgower 28 yo 1985 (53,8%, The Whisky Agency ‘Stamps’ 2013, refill hogshead, 266 btl.)
Nose: starts on acacia honey and almond paste. Hazelnuts. Also something of waxed oak and gooseberries. Maybe a little coconut butter. Soft vanilla. Some leafy notes in the distance. A fairly rounded and integrated profile in which nothing stands out much, but quite enjoyable overall. Mouth: again sweet marzipan notes but also grassier notes now, some peppery heat and traces of oak. Lemon zest. Herbal notes. Some bitter oranges and liquorice wood. Finish: long, still fairly herbal (on the edge of medicinal). Some oaky and a hint of salt.
I’ve never had an easy-going Inchgower, there’s always a funny twist. Of course this makes them really interesting. Around € 160.
I am suffering from a blocked nose, so it will take a few days before I can pick up my usual tempo of tasting notes. Sorry!
About two weeks ago I attended a tasting of Japanese whisky organized by The Bonding Dram. I felt I had to be there, as Stefan Van Eycken hosted the tasting and picked the whiskies. Stefan is Belgian, but he has been living in Japan since 2000, and he is currently managing Nonjatta, the reference website when it comes to Japanese whisky.
The line-up he prepared was a mixture of common Japanese releases and a few Japan-only expressions which he brought in his suitcase. I would have sworn there was going to be a single cask Karuizawa, but alas, due to customs restrictions etc. that didn’t happen.
Here’s an overview of the tasting:
Nine Leaves rum (50%)
An interesting project of a Japanese guy who owns a company that produces car parts but then felt the urge to produce something from start to finish, not just parts of a bigger story. Nine Leaves Clear is the first release. It made us think it was new-make whisky although I thought it was closer to grappa. It’s nicely fruity (pear / melon) but the taste is rather flat and a tad alcoholic as well. Promising but room for improvement.
Nikka Miyagikyo 12 Year Old (45%)
Light, fruity and floral with subtle hints of sherry. The body has more oak, honey, citrus, toast and soft potpourri notes with a slightly sharp, resinous finish. Blind score: 84/100 That’s the same score I gave to Nikka Miyagikyo 15 Year Old
Nikka Miyagikyo NAS (43%)
Waxy, very fruity again. Honeyed and smooth. A bit light on the palate. Some pepper and apricot. Blind score: 83/100
Nikka Yoichi 10 Year Old (43%)
Slightly disappointing to me. I have a bottle of this one at home (reviewed here) and I’m quite sure this time it had a lot more matchstick notes. Other than that, I found it surprisingly one-dimensional after the Miyagikyo’s. Probably a case of batch variation. Blind score: 77/100
Karuizawa 12 Year Old (40%)
Rarely seen in Europe, but this is part of the standard range in Japan. Very malty with hints of dried fruits and toffee. On the palate toffee and vanilla – way too caramelly for my taste. This has nothing to do with single cask Karuizawa. I even like the Karuizawa Asama expressions better. Blind score: 79/100
Ichiro’s Malt Wine Wood Reserve (46%)
The surprise of the evening. It contains only Hanyu whisky, finished in a French oak cask that contained Japanese red wine. Closer to a sherry finish than a wine finish, which is good news. Mint, figs, pine wood, ginger and grapes on the nose. Spicy palate with a chocolate background, nuts, ginger and candied banana. Very limited (no chance of still finding it here) but very good. Blind score: 88/100
Yamazaki 18 Year Old (43%)
Yamazaki 18 is one of my all-time favourites in Japanese whisky, but it didn’t shine as much as I would have expected. Polished oak, herbs, dried fruits, wax, mint and floral notes. On the palate more sherry goodness but also a slight soapy edge which set me off. Strange. Blind score: 85/100
Hakushu Heavily Peated (48%, first edition 2010, L9E01)
Nice, young peat – Kilchoman style. Mixed with some medicinal notes – Laphroaig style. Peat, pear sweetness and smoke in the mouth. Simple but well-made. Recent batches have higher ppm levels (50 ppm vs. 35 ppm) so this is one of the more gentle batches. Blind score: 83/100
Eigashima 12 Year Old (59%, 2010)
From White Oak distillery. Distilled in 1997 and bottled in 2010 from a Spanish oak sherry butt. Wrecked by sulphur and rubber. Add to that a winey, sharp palate that shows little more than rough peat. Not my style. Only 102 bottles were available and believe it or not, half of the audience was dying to buy a bottle. Blind score: 70/100
An interesting tasting. Too bad it ended in minor key for me, but obviously having the peated ones first would have been wrong as well. The highlights were in places you wouldn’t expect them. Also a good reminder of batch variation in official bottlings (Yoichi in particular has a bit of a reputation for this) – we don’t always pay attention to it, but trying different bottles over many years can be surprising.
I’ll try to revisit the Hakushu Heavily Peated and Ichiro’s Malt Wine Wood Reserve later in a proper review.
I quickly mentioned a new project when I was writing the whisky is dying article. That project is about sherry wines and it’s called SherryNotes. The past few weeks, I have been posting on www.sherrynotes.com already.
The sherry market is in crisis. Sales continued downwards for years while other fortified wines like Port are still gaining ground. I’m not going to explore this topic in depth here, but there are a couple of reasons behind this problem. There’s a lot of mediocre sherry, too sweet or too sharp, and this is the kind of sherry you’ll find in most places. Most people think all sherry is like that, and they don’t look further. There’s also a huge lack of education, both towards consumers and towards restaurants – a lot of half-baked information is found. Last but not least, producers suffer from inertia – they’ve waited too long to move forward and they don’t even commercialize their best products. Luckily, after some dark years, small signs of improvement are noticeable.
In 2008, Equipo Navazos started to sell its first public bottlings. Navazos is a small group of Spanish sherry lovers, and they can be described as the first independent bottler of sherry. They go out and hand-pick casks from different bodegas. Most of them are hidden gems and real eye-openers, but some bodegas don’t realize the potential of their products. Developing a new premium segment in the sherry market is certainly a good thing – the best old sherries offer huge complexity and are still underpriced in comparison to other drinks.
Also, there is a recent movement within the sherry world towards unchill-filtering and preservation of natural colour. Most sherries – especially the lighter ones like Manzanilla and Fino – underwent heavy filtering and cold stabilization before bottling. Producers claimed consumers want stable wines with consistent and very light colour, especially in Manzanilla (the exact opposite of the E150 story in whisky, but similar pseudo-arguments). It should be applauded that (especially smaller) bodegas are realizing they are taking away much of the complexity and richness of their wines as well.
Related to this is the rise of en rama sherry releases. En rama means “on the vine” or figuratively “straight from the cask”. Even standard sherries like Tio Pepe now get limited edition “en rama” versions that are much richer.
Single cask releases are also a recent development. Interesting for a drink that relies so heavily on the solera principle for its maturation.
Some of these evolutions can seem like a flash-back for whisky aficionados. The sherry world is lagging behind the whisky market in some respects, but it’s certainly true that a revival is noticeable. If they focus on natural, high-quality products, I’m confident this will work.
Anyway, through SherryNotes I hope to spread the word that sherry is a wonderfully diverse product (bone-dry to ultrasweet). I’ll introduce you to the better supermarket sherries but also to fabulous 100 year old wines. I’m also thinking of doing bottle shares, as the best sherry can be hard to get.
The posting schedule will be a lot slower (only a handful products are launched each year) and I will provide much more background information than I do on WhiskyNotes. In any case tasting notes are still my core business.
Have a quick look and let me know what you think. Here’s one to get you started. Salud!
La Bota de Amontillado n°31 (20%, Equipo Navazos 2011, 50 cl.)
Nose: fragrant nose with brown candy sugar, baked banana and maple syrup up front. Fresh figs and toffee. Also beautiful notes of polished oak and a little turpentine, I love that. Leather and tobacco. Evolves on herbs (rosemary bread), olives, roasted nuts and blood oranges. Indeed the coastal notes are in the background here, but there are chamomile notes and chalky notes that give away its origins. Hints of ponzu sauce. Just great, very smooth and complex. Mouth: very good grip. Dry and rich with nutty aromas as well as a powerful, refreshing acidity (ponzu again). Some roasted notes, and more saline notes as well. Fading on cashew nuts. Very long finish with an excellent sour edge.
A marvellous wine with a unique nose and a crisp, harmonious palate. Excellent with food or on its own. Quite possibly the best Amontillado I’ve had and a perfect example for the high quality of Equipo Navazos. Still available in some stores, e.g. La Maison du Whisky in France, Berry Bros. in the UK or Vila Viniteca in Spain. Around € 50 (50 cl.).
The excellent Private Stock range by The Whisky Agency is usually a combination of high age, exquisite profiles and low yields. Highly sought after by collectors, so they are usually sold out before you know it.
The latest addition is this Tamdhu 1980.
Tamdhu 33 yo 1980 (55,7%, The Whisky Agency ‘Private Stock’ 2013, bourbon hogshead)
Nose: nice old-school nose, fruity, full of honeysuckle and old roses. Honey, toffee, faint vanilla and sweet cereals. Buttercups. A little dusty oak and wood glue. Also a slight grassy prickle and hints of chamomile. Water highlights the floral elements. Mouth: thick and malty, with quite some oomph. Big honey notes, toffee, apricots and waxy oak. Cinnamon and wood spices. There’s still a slighty tangy sensation, something in between plain alcohol and a herbal sharpness. Some toasted bread. With water: a little smoother and rounder (apple sweetness). Finish: quite long, with a soft herbal bitterness, big pepper and grassy notes.
A rather remarkable whisky. A tad sharp when taken neat, but be sure to play around with water to get the most out of it. Around € 180.