Finding a whisky good enough to celebrate 10 years

13th Dec. Maltjerry's Advent Calendar: Transported to a Swedish Summer forest.

Looking for a special whisky

Today, 8 Dec, is a special day. I celebrate it every year;  the anniversary of my brother-in-law donating a kidney to his sister, Cim, my wife. Part of the celebration is sending a bottle of whisky to Jonas. It’s a token of thanks and acknowledgement but cannot really express the depth of gratitude we both feel for how much of a difference that act of heroism has made to our lives. Going to Antarctica? Not even thinkable.

This year is ten years, and being a round number, I feel that this year’s whisky should be extra special in some way. On the 5th anniversary, I bought the Highland Park Hjärta, a limited edition whisky whose name (heart) spoke to the issue. Getting it to Jonas in the north of Sweden was a bit of an odyssey. How could I top that? Should I even try?

Another Highland Park might fit the bill, and there are some very fine, very expensive whiskies, some of which are even harder get hold of than the Hjärta. Perhaps one from the range named after Norse gods and warriors. I haven’t tasted many of them and it’s important to me that it’s something I know he (and I) will really like. Too risky? Continue reading

Mackmyra Svensk Rök: A Swedish dram to banish November

The best thing about dreary November weather is how well it works with a drop of in-yer-face whisky. Specifically, Talisker. Not a fancy Talisker bottling but the standard edition, common or peat bog 10-year-old. Its bracing forthrightness gives me strength to face the drizzle and biting wind. Other whiskies are available.
Mackmyra Svensk Rök

Swedish distillery Mackmyra present their first readily available smoke-forward malt whisky

Swedish distillers Mackmyra have two whiskies that must have been designed with the onset of winter. One is called, Midvinter, and one Svensk Rök. I’ll leave you to pat yourself on the head for knowing what the first means, but the second is  “Swedish Smoke”, which is the subject here. Extra points for guessing that “rök” has a close friend in the Scots “reek” (and German Rauch, for that matter).

Mackmyra have always done peated whiskies. Smoke is one of their two basic recipes; the unpeated is called Elegant. Svensk Rök is the first commercially-available bottling that is made to be smoke-dominant. They must have spent hours thinking up the name. Private cask owners have always been able to choose the smoke. In fact, I part-own a cask called “Smoky Baby”. You can bet I was keen to compare.

Continue reading

Why I write

George Orwell wrote an essay, first published in 1946, called Why I Write. In it he suggests there are four main reasons writers write. Heavily shortened the reasons, (not the writers) are:

George Orwell's collection of Essays: Why I write

  1. Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about…
  2. Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or …words and their right arrangement.
  3. Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them for posterity
  4. Political purpose. …to alter other people’s ideas of the kind of society they should strive after.

 

Can a blog writer possibly have the same motivations? To what good?

 

Not so long ago, I flew from London City airport. At the bar they had a tap purporting to serve Yakima Red ale from the excellent Meantime Brewing Company, a stone’s throw from the airport. OK, a fairly hefty stone’s throw, but anyway the beer had run out. I settled for an OK, but standard international lager. Then I went for a walk.

I found a nice restaurant with an impressive wine selection but dull beer list. Again. Things are changing, these are exciting times for beer, but things are not changing fast enough. So yes, no. 4: My political purpose is to spread the word. I want bars, restaurants, pubs, people to stock the kind of beers I want to drink.

To make beer appreciated like wine might be a start, but there’s a different political agenda there. Socio-political. The great thing about beer is that it isn’t wine. The credibility of beer as a “serious” drink, is the issue, and my way forward with that is through writing about food and beer, with beer as both accompaniment and ingredient.

Whisky is another matter – in the UK, at least.

No. 3: Historical impulse? Make the ephemeral searchable. Sounds grand? See Point 1.) I at least need an alternative to beer rating apps? I don’t often do beer or whisky reviews (not with star ratings, anyway), but I do take notes. I want to remember that limited edition bottling I found, or that magical, unexpected swift half on a Tuesday evening. Sometimes these get into posts. I also take photos and caption and annotate them. You might ask why ruin the moment by documenting it? How else to remember?

No 2. The part “words in their right arrangement” In writing about something that cosmically speaking, doesn’t matter, I had better be entertaining. I want people to read and not notice; it must please. So, a heavy dose of point 2 is a big reason for me. I hope it comes across.

No. 1: Sheer Egoism? Hey, it’s a blog, not Dear Diary! I publish and market (via the web) my views, constructive rants and opinions. It might not be The Truth, but it is out there. I like to think I’m knowledgeable to a degree, but I don’t attempt to be geekier-than-thou. I write to engage people who don’t read about beer or whisky.

My day job is technical communication, and writing about beer, whisky, food and drink culture is at least a kind of specialist communication. I try and put more more jokes here, though. I “need” to write this out of “aesthetic enthusiasm” (see point 2), and I would really rather prefer you to read it.

Why MaltJerry?

I don’t write about beer or whisky for money (yet), but I do like to get samples and I do like to get invited to events. But that’s not the main thing. I love to share fantastic beers and whiskies with friends, colleagues, and family. An enthusiast’s blog, is the best way I know of getting those experiences across. Like I said: spreading the word.

Why beer and whisky and food? Cross-pollination. Drink beer? you might like this whisky. Like making or eating good food? Then why wouldn’t you try a beer I recommend? I write also, then, to provide a place to find what to drink and why. And really,

I want to turn you on to the stuff I like, so in some idealised future London City Airport bar, or random restaurant, not even my own version of The Moon Under Water – Orwell’s ideal pub, I might find something I actually want to drink.

Had George Orwell’s essay been written 60 years later, it might instead have been a post on his blog. He wrote 1984 on the Scottish Isle of Jura. I bet he sipped a dram and daydreamed of The Moon Under Water.

Part 2 of So, 2012: Was it Maltier?

I don’t do resolutions, and I didn’t in 2012. Charlie Brooker doesn’t think it’s cool and neither do I. In fact I wrote about not doing resolutions in Part 1 of “So, 2012: Was it Maltier?” in which I looked at my post: “Wishes for a Maltier 2012” and checked how true the first three wishes came.

Here are the remaining three wishes, with the original comment indented followed by what became of them:

4. Breweries: tell us what’s in the bottle

“Brewed with the finest malt and choicest hops.” It says on far too many labels. Stop it now! Whisky is hardly better: “The purest water flowing down through the glens.” Rubbish. What if my headlines said: “Written with the most descriptive words and crafted punctuation”? Oh, and while I’m dealing with imprecision, stop this “Brewery Conditioned” nonsense. Beer: is it pasteurised? Filtered? Whisky: is it coloured? Chill-filtered?

Wish fulfilment score: 5/10.
Somewhat improved visibility of methods and ingredients. Or perhaps I’m just not buying the type of beer that caused my ire any more. I think this is pretty much essential for craft kegged beers, so people know it’s not Double Diamond. I haven’t seen that.

5. Buy stuff from specialist retailers

When it comes to malt-based beverages, supermarkets are, on the whole, beige with the odd touch of inspiration. And because their ranges are a bit slow moving, you are way better off buying the beer and whisky you really want to drink by going to specialist online beer and whisky shops…

Wish fulfilment score: 6/10 (but jury still out).
Supermarkets still mostly beige with the occasional pink fleck. But really, buy from specialist shops, online or retail, support your local brewery shop. What I’d really like to know is, did people, did you buy more for independent retailers, people like:

Beer Merchants Buy a mixed case in the Januar sales
Ales By Mail Buy Moor beer
Beer Ritz Buy Wild beer
Master of Malt Buy some whisky samples
The Whisky Shop Buy some whiskies of the world
Royal Mile Whiskies Guide to Burns Night
My Brewery Tap’s Pick-and-mix range
The Whisky Tasting Club

There are loads, so no excuse not to.

6. More food and beer together

Writing and talking about beer with food and cooking is the best way of introducing people to the diverse world of beer styles. I received an honourable mention in the Beer and Food category from the British Beer Writers Guild in December, (2011) and this made clear for me a direction for The Nightjar in 2012. I recommend you go to or give a beer dinner; I certainly will.

Wish fulfilment score: 9/10 for media, 4/10 for me and written media.
Ignoring the blindness of Saturday Kitchen, TV and radio covered more beer and more beer and food together than I can previously remember. Jamie Oliver continues to support beer. Dan Saladino’s piece for BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme, which I wrote about in “The Day the BBC went beer”, won a Beer Writers’ award, which recognition was very nice to see.

I gave some beer dinners and will continue to do so, but I didn’t write as much about beer and food for The Nightjar as I’d hoped. Beer and food writing is still very patchy, both in terms of quantity and quality. Either cooks don’t know enough about beer or (with a couple of exceptions) the beer writers don’t have the depth of knowledge of food.

Was 2012 a Maltier year?

Yes! Can we do better in 2013? What do we really want to see (or make happen)? Don’t tell Charlie!

Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar 2012: all windows in one post

Every day for the whole of Advent, I created my own “calendar”, in which each post represented a window, opened to reveal a beer or whisky that made an impression on me during 2012. Posterous’ limitations loomed large but committing to an entry a day was, for me at least, a lot of fun and very fruitful.

Resize_of_advent-calendar-3_sm

Here is the complete list, starting 1 December, linked to the posts.

  1. Summer Wine Brewery Rouge Hop
  2. Compass Box Hedonism
  3. Sharp’s Connoisseurs Choice Honey Spice Triple
  4. Meantime Friesian Pilsener
  5. Magic Rock Clown Juice
  6. Greene King 5x
  7. Thornbridge Tzara
  8. Highland Park Thor /18 year-old
  9. Stone Escondidian 15th anniversary
  10. Hibiki 12
    At which point I hit upon the idea of doing proper headlines.
  11. Stouts: Bristol-fashion
    Bristol Beer Factory 12 Stouts of Christmas
  12. Sweden makes Oktoberfest modern
    Mohawk Unfliltered October
  13. Transported to a Swedish Summer forest
    Mackmyra Special 09 Wild Raspberry
  14. Bishops got me drinking cans
    Ska Modus Hoperandi
  15. Driven to Abstraktion
    BrewDog Abstrakt series
  16. An Epiphany before Christmas
    Oppigårds Coast to Coast
  17. An English Beer from a different Kitchen
    Wadworth Beer Kitchen Wheat Beer
  18. Toasting the Higgs boson
    Hardknott Queboid
  19. The pub with Moor Beer
    So’ Hop/Queens Arms
  20. Buried treasure in IKEA
    Glenmorangie Finealta
  21. Hell’s Bells: a statement of intent
    Camden Town Unfiltered Hells
  22. Christmas Present and Christmas Past
    Great Divide Hibernation 2011/2012
  23. The best cask ale of Summer?
    Fullers Wild River
  24. Prince usurped by Empire
    Harvey’s Imperial Double Stout
  25. Christmas Day: From me to you, inspired by New Year’s Eve 2011

 

20th Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Buried treasure in IKEA

20th December: Glenmorangie, Finealta. 46% ABV
From: Highlands, Scotland. Type: Single malt Scotch whisky. Source: World of Whiskies, Heathrow

I taunt my Swedish friends that you can buy alcohol in IKEA in the UK. "No,no," they say, "You can buy it in Swedish stores, too". Which is true, but you buy beer or wine in the restaurant, not the shop, which you can in the UK. You can't buy Glenmorangie Finealta, there, though. But why spoil a headline…

No, the treasure to which I'm referring is a limited edition lightly-peated Glenmorangie I rediscovered in my IKEA cabinet. I didn't buy it this year, but one of the joys of keep a small collection of whiskies, is finding a forgotten bottle.

It has a tell-tale amount left: just less than a quarter full. This tale told is one of really liking it and not wanting it to finish. Was it as good as I (now) remember? Oh yes!

Finealta is Gaelic for "elegant" according to the label, by which they mean not very smokey for a peated, and lots of delicious spices, vinous flavours, and rich, creamy vanilla, all from the mix of sherry and bourbon casks. The peat is subtle; but is there on the breath at the finish, almost as if leftover from last night's dram.

I fear for a trip to IKEA at this time of year, but if the prospect of a dram like this could be found there, I would give it serious thought.

World of Whiskies Heathrow has Glenmorangie Artein, if you're passing through…

13th Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Transported to a Swedish Summer forest.

13th December: Mackmyra, Special 09: Wild Raspberry. 46.1% ABV
From: Sweden. Type: Swedish malt whisky. Source: Distillery sample

It’s not wild and there are no raspberries in it. Apart from that, the name is spot on. It is special, though, and it is the 9th in the Special series. And be sure: Mackmyra Swedish whisky is on the map. And one person, who happens to be a friend of mine, has been instrumental in this. Angela d’Orazio.

It’s not just me saying this, Jim Murray, he of the Whisky Bible, one man’s annual assessment of all the whiskies anyone can humanly lay there hands on, says so in the dedication to the Whisky Bible 2013. So if you haven’t already tried Swedish malt whisky, get with the programme!

Mackmyra_special09_frilagd

Why wild raspberry, if this is a “straight” malt whisky? Well, forest berries are dear to the hearts of most Swedes, to whom foraging comes as second nature. In Sweden, in the late Summer, when going out to the woods to find and pick your own fruit, you will find blueberries, lingonberries, and if you’re lucky, wild strawberries, and if you’re very lucky: wild raspberries.

And there is a forest berry character to this elegant whisky. Raspberries? yes, but I couldn’t say wild or tame. The 09 is also delicately sweet with aromatic spices from the cask. Perhaps with Winter revealing its claws, your hand reaches for a muscular, peaty Islay, but your thoughts turn to Summer. And this is the whisky to transport you there without fear of being fogbound at Gatwick.

All the whiskies in the Special seriess are worth trying, which is my roundabout way of saying, the Wild Raspberry seems particularly hard to find in the UK. But if you find one, I’m sure you’ll thank Angela.

Mackmyra’s own page for Wild Raspberry (in English)

Master of Malt’s selection of Mackmyra whiskies

Jim Murray’s Whisky Biblel 2013 on Amazon

Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: 25 choices from 2012. 10th Dec.

10th December: Suntory, Hibiki 12-year old. 43% ABV.
From: Japan. Type: Blended whisky. Source: The Whisky Shop

Wandering through Guildford one Saturday afternoon, whiling away the time, trying to get maximum value from my parking ticket, I spotted The Whisky Shop. I didn’t even know of its existence – the whisky retailer that is. I’ve been aware of Guildford for some years. What could I do but walk in.

It’s a very nice place, the Whisky Shop. Perfect for striking up conversations with the knowledgeable staff, sampling a dram, and well, buying whisky. I’d known about Hibiki for some while, having tasted the 17-year old and the 12-year old at the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival. These are great blends.

Hibiki-12-big

In fact, the 17 had recently been voted in Whisky Magazine as best blend since Jim Murray made it OK to like blends. But I was after the 12. It’s not a blend for drowning in mixers, even if you could afford to. You’d lose the subtle Umeshu cask (plum liqueur) finish – and all the other fruity loveliness too. This is not a wacky tasting note; Umeshu casks are used!

The Hibiki 12-year old is sooo, smooth, not a word I like using while describing whiskies, conjuring up images of bland, dinner jazz. This, however, is like listening to Miles through speakers made entirely of satin.

My parking time approaching its maximum value, I make my purchase, join the Whisky Shop club, get my discount, and I’m off. No doubt I’ll be back.

The Whisky Shop

Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: 25 choices from 2012. 8th Dec.

8th December: Highland Park, Thor/18-year old. 52.1% ABV.
From: Orkney, Scotland. Type: Scotch malt whisky. Source: Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival

I’ve picked a pair of Highland Park whiskies for today’s entry to celebrate and honour Jonas – I sometimes refer to him as “Malt-Brother-In-Law”. Just about the time these words are posted, he will receive a bottle of the 18-year old, as a small measure of my thanks. This year’s bottle. I buy him a different whisky every year on this date because in 2004, Jonas donated a kidney to his sister “MaltCim”. Today is eight years.

I was going to buy him the Thor – it’s an impressive whisky in an extravagant package. A symbol of Norse heroics – could it be more appropriate? But hey! he and I drink whisky for the liquid contents, not the box it comes in, so while we were at the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival together in September, we got a chance to taste them both together. A chance for me to sneakily work out which he would like. He preferred the 18.

Highland_park_18Highland_park_thor

HP 18 is a great whisky. Richer, fuller, softer, slightly spicier, slightly peatier than its 12-year old brother. Perhaps the Thor is more complex, but it is also wilder, with more spices, a touch fiery – as befits the god for whom it is named (apart from the “more spices” bit).

Jonas:
I’m doing this thing on my blog. It’s a sort of Advent calendar of 25 beers or whiskies that I’ve enjoyed during 2012. Hope you don’t mind. Thanks for these eight, health-filled years. Enjoy your dram. Skål!

You can get the 18-year old from the Highland Park online shop.
Thor is under Special Bottlings.

 

Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: 25 choices from 2012. 2nd Dec.

2nd December: Compass Box, Hedonism. 43% ABV.
From: Scotland. Type: 100% Blended Scotch grain whiskies. Source: Compass Box, London

I tasted this during a Twitter tasting hosted by Compass Box, blenders supreme of whisky. This is the latest edition of one of the first blends John Glaser, Compass Box blender supremo, did. Yes, it’s OK to like blends, Jim Murray of Whisky Bible fame says so.

Compass_box_hedonism_25pc

Very much though, not your usual, in that it contains no malt whiskies at all. The secret is just great, and old grain whiskies from very, very good casks. And of course, the knowledge of how to choose the whiskies and put them together. Rich and luscious, full of almost syrupy, honied fruit. The taste of hedonism.

Whisky making of such a high order doesn’t come cheap, but at around 50-something quid for a bottle from Master of Malt, it is approachable. Even more so if you go for the 3cl dram.

Read the whole Compass Box Twitter tasting post