So, it’s been a while….

…this is because it’s taken so long to sober up after the Edinburgh Whisky Solstice.

Yes, the summer is finally upon us, sort of, and with that brings both the Edinburgh Whisky Solstice (20 June) and The Whisky Fringe (7-9 August).

After the disappointment of this year’s Whisky Stramash, I had high hopes for the Whisky Solstice. And it did not disappoint. Even the sun made an appearance to make what would’ve been an incredible day, almost perfect.

The Whisky Lounge and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) once again teamed up to put on an event in Edinburgh, taking a bit of a gamble in the process by making arrangements for an outdoor event in Queen Street Gardens.

It was a gamble that paid off by the bucket load.

For the afternoon we had a member’s tent, the main marquee with a fantastic mix of distilleries and independent bottlers, a BBQ put on by SMWS Queen Street, a bike selling alcoholic/whisky infused ice-cream and bars selling cool refreshing beer. All in the stunning setting of Queen Street Gardens.

All the exhibitors had a varied and good selection of free drams to try as well as the special white and black drams you could buy tokens for.

I think I can safely say within the first 15 minutes of arrival I’d had more interesting whisky than I did at the whole Stramash, such was the quality and selection on offer, and it didn’t take forever to get a sample.

There were numerous whisky highlights from the day including something very special from Compass Box, a cask strength Peat Monster. As good as this was, the stand out was the 21 year old Springbank.I don’t really need to say anymore than that.

SMWS’ bottling for the occasion was another cracking single cask offering, so much so I took a bottle of it home. A rather tasty 11 year old Clynelish.

SMWS 26.114 Grandma's summer jam receipe

For the evening we had the main marquee with live music, more ice-cream, whisky and a bar. (In the evening the bar wasn’t really needed but was used to very good effect).

If there was one disappointment (if you can call it that), it was a slight lack of atmosphere and people at the evening event. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a huge amount of fun, with an excellent band and plenty of fun to be had. It just needed a few more people and a little more atmosphere. Less blank spots in the memory banks would also help, especially the dancing bits. I’ve seen photos and it’s not a pretty sight.

I’m hoping my (incredibly) drunken ramblings to Jan from SMWS were taken on board for a repeat next year.

So what’s next I here none of you asking…..

This weekend (07/08-09/08) sees Royal Mile Whiskies annual Whisky Fringe take place at Mansfield Traquair in Edinburgh. To say this event is popular would be an understatement it sold out this year in about 5 minutes. Thankfully we got tickets and will be attending again this year.

After a disastrous attempts at a live tweet from it last year, we had some whisky then gave up trying, we will be trying again this year, hopefully with a few more folk lined up to join in and tweet as they sample some whisky.

Like all my prospective plans this will fall flat on its face within 10mins of starting but we’ll try our best to do some tweeting.

An incredible surprise….

I had a message from SMWS Queen Street on Monday saying they’d had a letter delivered that was addressed to me, from New York. I know all of one person in the US of A, but they’d not have contacted me through SMWS.

So rather than wait patiently until after work I went along at lunchtime to pick it up. I’m so glad I didn’t wait!

A few months ago two teachers from New York were visiting Edinburgh for a conference at Edinburgh Uni. One of them enjoyed a dram and had had a recommendation to try out SMWS. They just so happened to visit when I was in doing “research”.

After sampling a few, they wanted to buy a bottle, which is reserved for members only. So being the only member standing at the bar, I offered to purchase the bottle through my account so they could have a memento of their visit to SMWS.

I never thought anything more to it until I received a letter thanking me. I’m rarely stuck for words, but when I read the letter I was:

picture of letter from Holly in New York

It just goes to show, small gestures go a long way even when they are to complete strangers you meet in passing from thousands of miles away.

Just to finish off….

A very quick shout out has to go to Rob and Sofia from Camden Brewery who with the help of the guys at Spit/Fire put on an incredible evening of fantastic beer, more lamb to eat than I have ever seen and beer/brewing based chat from guys that actually know what they’re talking about. Both John from Be3rcast and myself had a great night.

If you haven’t tried any beer from the Camden Brewery, I’d recommend you try it. Some truly incredible beers.

Just need to hope Rob gets a twitter account soon.

Until the next time….




So I had this plan right….

…and it was going to be great.

But like most of my great plans, this one didn’t quite work out as planned.

I never make New Year’s resolutions, ever!

However, maybe it was the whisky, the food or more likely the company, at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) on Hogmanay, I made kind of a joint resolution with Nicole that we’d try and attend at one tasting a month or organise at least one society share a month to get the most out of our memberships.

The net result of this is an average of 2 “tastings” a month for the first 6 months of the year. So, I’ve been lucky enough to taste an awful lot of good whisky. I mean some truly spectacular whisky.

I’ve not been alone in tasting this whisky. For most of the tasting I’ve been to it has been with my joint resolutionist, Nicole. There have been a few with my fellow EH10 founder, David and also our newest recruit, Niall. I’ve also been lucky enough to attend a few with Tom from Tom’s Whisky Reviews, someone that has forgotten more about whisky thank I will ever know.

So, rather than bore you all with all my favourites, I had hoped to get all the above named involved to put together a list of all our favourite drams for the first 6 months of the year.

The first part of my plan to get the input went kind of well. When I say well I remembered to ask 75% the group for their favourite dram. I forgot to email Tom to ask him if he’d mind providing something! Not off to the best start then.

The second part of the plan didn’t go much better. Everyone works and has commitments, so 5 days to think of the best drams, possibly re-taste, put something down and send it to me was a little hopefully of me, especially when one of those 5 days had 3 of us brewing our own beer at Krafty Brew in Leith.

Throw in a visiting family member, a birthday and (of course) work, I realised that I’d probably not given anyone nearly enough time.

EH10 Whisky Society LogoAnd to be honest, I’ve spent more time this week designing our new logo and the label for our EH10 Whisky Society beer. Yes, we have our own beer now!

So after all that rambling what you’re getting is two of my favourite whiskies, until I can beg and plead for my fellow whisky drinkers to provide me with their favourites. Then you’ll get our 2015 highlight reel.

Last year I was all about Speyside, I couldn’t get enough of anything from Speyside, Glenlossie specifically, it was all just so so good.

But since the turn of the year, it’s been all about peat for me. I cannot get enough of peaty whisky at the moment.

With that in mind, my number one pick for 2015 so far is….

SMWS 124.42 – Peat Freak Heaven

This was one helluva a dram and probably one of the few and truest examples of a 12 year old Port Charlotte I’ll taste this year, maybe even ever. It was incredible, by far and away the best Islay whisky I’ve had this year and one of the best I’ve had ever.

That could very well change though if the society keep producing bottles of whisky like my number two choice.

SMWS 29.161 – A bodega is burning

I had to think long and hard if this was better than my number one choice, I wavered for a bit then decided it was an incredibly close second. This was quite simply Laphroaig at it’s finest and when the society keep bottling gems like this, there is going to be another one soon that will be even better.

There are so many other stand out whiskies this year, but none have made such an impression as these two have. If the next 6 months provide as many good whiskies, I’ll be a very happy man, probably drunk, but definitely very happy.

Before I go, I have to say a sad farewell to one of the most incredible SMWS Ambassadors I’ve been fortunate enough to meet. She has been an incredible host, picked some amazing whiskies I’d never have contemplated trying and a joy to talk to when I’ve been in Queen Street. All of us at EH10 wish you well for the future Antea and hope this is farewell, not goodbye. You will be missed!



Did someone say Whisky Stramash?

…unfortunately they did and rather than a Stramash it was it a bit of a damp squib.

I like drinking whisky.

I like going to whisky events and tastings.

So, I was quite excited about going to my first ever Stramash on 24 May at the Surgeon’s Hall in Edinburgh.

On reflection I can come up with is two positives:

  1. My drinking companion (Nicole – who loves a big sausage)
  2. Pickering’s Gin (I’ll come back to this shortly)

I’m still trying to figure out why it was such a let-down and three possible reasons come to mind:

  1. Was it a complete lack of any interesting new whiskies to sample?
  2. Was it the 10ml samples? (I mean come on, how are you supposed to get an impression from a 10ml sample.)
  3. Possibly a complete lack of atmosphere in the venue?

In the end it wasn’t just one of these things it was a combination of all three, complimented by some of the least friendly, uninterested staff I have ever come across. I should quantify, not all the staff were like this but some were bordering on obnoxious and seemed put out by you asking a question.

I still can’t figure out why they had to spend 10 minutes telling you what the whisky tasted like when they could have just poured you a sample and let you find out for yourself!

Oh, best not forget some of the most unmemorable whisky at this kind of event. There was no real stand out whisky to be tasted.

Don’t get me wrong there was some nice whisky on offer from Laphroaig and Bowmore, as well as a slightly interesting new bottling from Highland Park. But nothing I’ve not had before and nothing I would run out and buy.

That being said the corner between the Bowmore/Laphroaig stall and the Yamazaki/Auchentoshan/Highland Park stall was a great spot for getting a bit of space and easy access to some of the better whisky of the day.

Maybe, I’m being overly critical, I’d just attended back to back tasting at SMWS Queen Street (@SMWSQueenStreet) which were both fantastic, incredible whisky, excellent food and similarly good quality company.

So I’ve had to ask myself, had I set the bar too high for the Stramash? – I don’t think I did!

Where my expectations to high? – I really don’t think they were!

One thing I have taken from the Stramash is a change in my attitude to gin. It took a bit of prompting by Nicole for me to try some. I’m glad she did convince me to try it.

In my head up to this point, all gin tasted like Gordon’s, awful!

Pickering’s gin could not be further from that and it was such a pleasant surprise. So needless to say I’m going to explore gin a lot more carefully going forward now. If I develop a bit of a gin habit, it’s all Nicole’s fault for convincing me to try it!

So, first time at the Stramash will quite probably be the last. This will be confirmed in the next few weeks at the Edinburgh Whisky Solstice and this summer’s Whisky Fringe and seeing how both these measure up against the Stramash. Last year both were excellent and a class above my experience of the Stramash, so may make the decision not to go back next year a lot easier.

Massive thanks to Nicole for accompany me to yet another tasting/event and convincing me gin is not evil after all.


4 June 2015


Whisky Tasting or Golf?

Usually it’s not as simple a question to answer as one may think, although on this occasion it was….

Robert Graham (the independent bottler not the fashion designer) arranged a private tasting on Thursday the 28th of May at their Cannongate store in Edinburgh to launch some of their new whiskies. We (EH10WS) were lucky enough to be part of the small number of people invited along to the tasting.

So along I went with fellow whisky lovers Niall (EH10WS) and Tom who runs the Tom’s Whisky Reviews website. The other member of EH10WS, Stuart, for reasons unbeknown to mankind decided to play golf instead.

First dram of the evening was the Dancing Stag Ben Nevis 18 year old, which has just won Bronze in International Spirits Challenge 2015. The nose of this dram packs a punch in a fantastic way, honey and heather aroma with a hint of soft tinned fruits. The flavour is very syrupy, with Werther’s originals/travel sweets mixing through added with a subtle peppery spice, the finish was medium to long which remained sweet with more fruits, I found the more you tasted of this dram the more complex it becomes.

This was a fantastic dram to start the night and I can see way it won bronze at  the International Spirits Challenge.

Second was the Bunnahabhain 25 year old from the Robert Graham Treasurer range, I’ve never come across a whisky with such a shy nose, faint hint of peat with hint of damp wood, this was hiding what was to come up next. Full metal jacket of leather, polished wood engulfs the mouth wrapped with sweet fruits and citrus. The finish was long, oaky, slightly drying and very satisfying. Niall and I were totally overwhelmed with this dram and it was so very yummy.

The next two drams are new into Robert Graham and this is them being opened for the first time.

So third up was Benrinnes 19 year old again from the Treasurer range, the nose reminded me of the growth of spring after a April shower added with apple and  pears. The taste was smooth, well balanced and fresh which reminded people of pick n mix sweets. The finish was short to medium in length but again balanced. This whisky is very balanced from start to finish and i can see the contents of the bottle being finished quicker than expected.

Last up was a 30 year old grain whisky from Invergordon, as with all grain whisky’s I’ve tasted the nose is acetone with the hint of  coconut glue and a bit of boot polish. The taste has the classic intense grain notes, super sweet, nutty and brown bread with a kick of warmth with minimal burn. I found the finished to be short with floral sweetness and woodenness to it. I’m not a huge fan of grain whisky at this point of my journey into whisky but a number of the other people at the tatsing really enjoyed this dram and I was informed that it’s a bit of a bargain price for a 30 year old grain.

So a quick recap the Ben Nevis was all about the nose, the Bunnahabhain all about the taste, the Benrinnes was a perfect balance between the nose and taste and the Invergordon just grows on you.

Big thanks go to the staff at Robert Graham (@WhiskyCanongate) for inviting us and being an excellent host and for providing a great venue.

Just in case you are wondering how Stuart got on at the golf, he lost, all whilst he got battered by high winds, heavy rain and had miserable time of it in general.

So next time you have a choice between golf or tasting whisky go for the latter as the whisky gods are far more powerful than the golfing gods.

Dram on


2 June 2015

I love a big sausage…

…was the quote of the evening from the lovely Nicole, who I had the pleasure of accompanying to The Vaults for last weeks tasting.

Sausage, Beer and Whisky Tasting – 17 February 2015 – SMWS The Vault, Edinburgh

The full quote went something like…

“Chocolate and sausages are my two favourite foods and I love a big sausage.”

I must point out however that this was after a few beers and 4 whiskies and we were beginning to feel the effects of both just a little bit. We had just sampled Crombies Chocolate and Chilli sausages and that started the whole conversation going.

Hosted by society ambassador Ryan McCafferty, we were treated to 5 excellent whiskies, 3 beers (2 were very good, 1 not as good) and a selection of Crombies butchers sausages.  Each beer, whisky and sausage was paired together, each pairing selected especially to enhance the flavour profile of each.

So the ingredients for the evening…

The Beers The Sausages The Whisky
Vedett Extra White Honey Mustard 37.60 – Oranges, spices & London honey
Innis & Gunn Rum Finish Whisky Hog & Thyme 9.88 – A Heart Starter
Schlenkerla Smokebeer Innis & Gunn (main course) 4.202 – Salt & Pepper
Chocolate & Chilli 76.118 – We love whisky
127.42 – Peat Freak heaven

When you put all these ingredients together, you end up with…

The Pairings
Vedett Extra White & 37.60
Honey Mustard & 76.118
Whisky Hog & Thyme & 4.202
Innis & Gunn Rum Finish & Innis & Gunn (main course)
Chocolate & Chili & 9.88
Schlenkerla Smokebeer & 127.42

Rather than provide a full description of everything,  I’ll just run (briefly) through my 3 pairing highlights for the evening.

Pairing 1 – Vedett Extra White & 37.60

This pairing was the perfect introduction to the evening, a fantastic light and fruity Belgian Wheat beer paired with a sweet and spicy Speyside whisky.

I’ve kept my distance from Belgian beers for quite a while after years of drinking Leffe and Hoegaarden by the bucket load, (for me they are like rocket fuel). Whilst initially slightly hesitant about what could possibly happen, I was happy to spot the beer was only 4.7% (ABV).

I find some Belgian beers can be quite heavy to drink, maybe not as much as a stout or 80/-, but still quite heavy. So I was pleasantly surprised with the Vedett on the first taste. Whilst retaining all the flavour and character of some of the more well-known Belgian beers, a citrusy floral taste, it was much lighter and more like a light summer ale than the Belgian beers that I’d been used to.

The lightness and delicacy of the beer served only to open up the palate to an incredible first whisky.

I like Speyside whisky and have found a few absolute beauties in the last few months; this is most definitely one of them, a 29 year old, re-fill ex-bourbon hogshead from Cragganmore coming in at 52.4% (ABV).

The initial burst of spice really woke the palate before the sweetness came through. Two of us at the table likened it to lemon and orange Opal Fruits (Starbursts), that sweet, chewy mouth-watering flavour and texture that leaves you wanting more.

A perfect pairing to start off the evening and it has to be said a very difficult one to beat, especially with the whisky.

Pairing 3 – Whisky Hog & Thyme & 4.202

The second sample of Crombies sausage to try was one of my favourites. The hog and thyme on their own would be a fantastic combination, but add in a dash of SMWS whisky to the mix and you have an incredible taste profile.

Crombies produce an extensive range of specialist sausages and in my opinion this is one of the best. If it were to be served on a roll with some Dijon mustard, it would be absolute taste heaven.

That is until you add a 17 year old, 54.6% (ABV), single cask Highland Park.

I’m not the biggest fan of Highland Park; I’ve never found them that interesting. I prefer a smoky whisky from Islay. But this was just incredible!

Rather than try and explain it in my own words and make little to no sense, below is the society tasting notes for it (and they are very accurate, even the Dr Pepper according to Nicole):

We found ourselves in a garden shed on the Atlantic coast. The salty sea breeze impregnated everything – work bench, wooden shelves, compost, window flower boxes, used paint tins and in the corner an old leather couch where you can find rest whilst enjoying smoking a pipe. The taste neat had all that raggedness, oiliness and saltiness with the smooth finish of a sweet, well hoped Porter beer. Water added aromas of a camp stove with Earl Grey tea brewing and strawberry jam filled doughnuts, and in the taste mackerel pate on a salty cracker washed down with Dr Pepper.

A great pairing yet still not my favourite of the evening. This was an incredible whisky that has managed to convince me to try a few more from Highland Park.

Before I move onto my favourite pairing, I’m going to give an honourable mention to the 4th pairing of the night. Both the whisky and the sausage deserve a mention of their own.

The fourth whisky of the night was an incredible 29 year old refill ex-sherry butt from the Glen Grant distillery. Everything you’d expect from a nearly 30 year old sherry cask Speyside whisky.

The final sausage sample of the evening was the cause of the conversation that provided this week’s title. It was a chocolate and chilli sausage, and as it turns out, chocolate and sausage are two of my evenings companion’s most favourite foods. I got the impression chocolate may be the more favoured of the two, especially the large Easter egg variety, but it was definitely the comment about “the sausage” that appealed to my childish sense of humour.

Pairing 6 – Schlenkerla Smokebeer & 127.42

The final pairing of the evening was my favourite by some margin.

If you like heavily peated whisky and all things smoky, you won’t fail to enjoy this pairing. If, on the other hand, you prefer your whisky without any peatiness, this might not be for you.

Germany provides us with some of the best beers you can hope to drink. Islay gives us some of the best whisky you can hope to drink. When you pair two together that complement each other so brilliantly, it’s difficult to put into words exactly how good it actually is.

The beer was an incredible Bavarian Smokebeer, from the Schlenkerla brewery. I’ve never had a Smokebeer before, but I will be having one again.

Schlenkerla Smokebeer has a red ale look to it, maybe a bit darker, more a ruby brown with a creamy tan head. First nosing of this and you could almost swear there was an opened pack of Smokey Bacon Walkers crisps near buy, I kid you not. There is a light sweetness to the taste but the thing that really stands out is the incredible smoky flavours. I am a fan!

The final whisky was something very special. Aptly named, Peat Freak Heaven, this was to me perfection in a glass or as I tweeted at the time, the Holy Grail of whisky. 12 years old, 63.0% (ABV) and from the Port Charlotte distillery. I don’t really need to say any more. I honestly can’t do any justice to how good this was so all I will say is get yourself to The Vaults or Queen Street and try it.

I’ve attended a few tastings at SMWS over the last year and a half and of all those, this one is my favourite to date. The combination of beer, sausage and whisky, plus excellent company created a great evening.

Big thanks go to Ryan McCafferty (@RyanMcCaffterty) for being an excellent host and The Vaults (@smwsTheVaults) for providing a great venue.

Finally, a big thank you to Nicole, for organising everything, putting up with me once again and being excellent company for the evening.


23 February 2015