the whisky lounge - a journal tracking a whisky maturation project involving a newly-acquired oak cask and a significant amount of patience

Monday, March 31, 2008

If Only I Could Unremember...

I blame Dr. Whisky. He seems like a nice guy and all, but he wrote a review that a reader posted to this blog, and which I read. The review said, among other things, that McClelland's Islay has, as a component of its taste, "a touch of dog poo." Don't believe me? Read it yourself!

Now, I have been having trouble shaking that description of the taste of the very cheap bottle of McClelland's Islay that I picked up for the purposes of continuing my experiments in cask-land. I thought he must be crazy, and had a few sips. Nope. Not crazy. It's there. Now maybe if I hadn't read the review, I'd not have had dog poo on my mind when tasting it and might not have thought of that description, but now it's the only bloody thing I find in there!

Sigh...

Anyhow, I admit that I didn't buy the McClalland's for its immediate tastiness. I bought it because it's cheap, available here in Ottawa, and rumoured to be a 5-year Bowmore. I have no idea if it's had a little or a lot of caramel added, or if it really is a Bowmore, but it's worth playing with.

My initial impression jives pretty well with what the doctor said. Its nose is definitely earthy. Barn-yardy is more like it, if you ask me. A bit biscuity, a bit floral. Tobacco? Jasmine?

On the tongue, there's that inescapable dog poo flavour. I don't find it exactly pleasant, but it's not as strong as you might expect. It's got a tarry finish. I find it a bit sour, actually, all the way through. Like black tea left to cool. It's drinkable, but it's not really to my liking.

But that's just fine by me! I want to see what will happen to it in the cask. And I think the only way it can go is up. But what I really am most curious about it will compare to the Whisky Works whisky that came out of the cask today. Same cask, very different whiskies going in. Will the cask make them more similar? Will they still be dramatically different when they come out? Who knows? Hopefully whatever happens, it'll be interesting.

If indeed this is a 5-year old Bowmore, then it will be very interesting to compare the results of my aging with a bottle of official Bowmore from the LCBO. With the Whisky Works bottle, there's no older equivalent against which I could compare. But I can go buy Bowmore at the store and see how the McClelland's rates after a few weeks. Buying a bottle of scotch to improve my experimentation sounds like a grand idea to me. :-)

In other news, I successfully made applejack from my friend's homemade cider. It's stronger, with a much bolder apple flavour than the cider alone, and is still even though the cider was not (no surprise). The 2 litres of cider produced about 500mL of applejack, which isn't bad at all in my books. It's sitting in my fridge with some oak chips in it.

"Oak chips?" you ask? Yep. I have only one cask, and it has whisky in it. Applejack is supposed to be made in an oak cask, but I'm not keen on buying another cask for one experiment. I fear that the apple flavour would infuse the cask too much, rendering it useless for anything else afterwards. I'm also not sure I'll even like the applejack when it's done. So, oak chips it is.

The pro: they're cheap

The cons: they're specifically made for home wine makers rather than home whisky agers, so they're not the right kind of oak for doing anything whisky-related. They're raw: not charred, barely toasted, and they smell mildly astringent. My cask, presumably because of the charring, smelled rather nice. These don't. Sure, I can tell they're oak, but they're lacking refinement. Maybe I could use them for brandy or sherry, and then use them for whisky, but I'll stick with the cask. I have no idea what effect they'll have on the applejack, but we shall see.

I also have to say that owning a cask is far more manly than owning a baggie of oak chips. I've had several guests exclaim how badass I am for maturing whisky in my own barrel. I can't imagine anyone going "Dude! No WAY!" when looking at a pile of oak chips. But you never know. My friends are weird. :-)

Until next week,

Ian

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dressed to the Nines

[clicking the photo will embiggen it]

And there it is. I know I haven't shown side-by-side photos of late, but I figured I should for this one last time. We have You can see that the whisky has transformed from a really pale yellow to a deep red-orange. In the bottle, it's even more pronounced. Come to think of it, why don't I let you see for yourself?

[clicking the photo will embiggen it]
From left to right, these are:
  • McClelland Islay
  • Longmorn 15
  • Té Bheag
  • Talisker 10
  • Oban 14
  • Whisky Works 9 week old
The Whisky Works is by far the darkest whisky I own. It's deeply, deeply, red orange. I don't know what would happen if I watered it down to 40% and I'm unwilling to do so, as it's an irreversible process, so we'll just have to live with the mystery.

The nose is wonderful and complex. I would say that this is the nicest nose of any whisky in my collection. It's a lot bolder than any of the others, that's for sure. It's robust. Oban and Talisker are also wonderful, but they're really delicate in comparison. I detect spices, raisins, brown sugar, oak, toffee, butter, chocolate and vanilla. The faintest salty tang, just a hint of grass, and such a subtle smoke that you'd miss it if you weren't looking.

The un-aged version is insipid in comparison. Malt vinegar, grass and grain. The transformation is astonishing.

The palate is also very, very nice, though different from the nose. The oak really comes through all the way from start to finish, as does a warming spice. A nice wave of butterscotch comes through right in the middle, followed by dried cherries, raisins and apricots. Underneath, a nice vanilla and dark chocolate combo. When I hold it in my mouth, the fruit becomes much more pronounced. It smells sweeter than it tastes. There's a pungency to it that's difficult to place. Marsh? Seaweed? Tar? Not quite any of those, but something along those lines. I don't know: it works, whatever it is. The finish moves from oak to prune and back again, with a nice warming glow throughout and unsweetened chocolate creeping through underneath it all.

This time, I added a splash of water to see what happens. The water is charcoal-filtered and thus pretty tasteless, which is good in this case. The nose becomes more subtle immediately. The spice drops right down, and the butter and brown sugar come together in dramatic fashion. It's also got more malt on the nose, and more smoke. It smells very smooth.

Water makes it sweeter on the palate. The bitter dark chocolate is replaced by milk chocolate, and the raisin-cherry-apricot combo is more apparent. The oak is still there, but it's more understated. More butterscotch as well. The finish remains long, but the dark chocolate undertones have turned into a semisweet chocolate wave. It's less pungent, less tangy, and nicer for it.

Overall, I'd say that neat, it's a pretty good whisky. With just a splash of water, it's a very good whisky. I'll be having some people over this week for a tasting party, so I'll pass on their judgements when I get the chance.

Now, I've already got the cask started on its next assignment, but I'm going to leave you in suspense and post that tomorrow. But if you think really, really hard, I've left you a clue as to what it might be in this very post. Good hunting!

Cheers,

Ian

350mL

I guess it's maybe a bit weird that I'd conclude the Whisky Works maturation project while listening to Bhangra. Some part of me feels that I should be listening to, I don't know, bagpipes or something to honour the homeland of great whisky. But I'm not exactly what you'd call known for doing things the normal or expected way. So Bhangra it is! I don't think Johnny Kalsi would mind.

So here we are at the end of the Whisky Works maturation project. Don't worry: this isn't the end of experimentation with whisky; I've been having far too much fun to just wrap things up after my first batch. But it is the end of maturing the bottle of Whisky Works whisky that came with the cask.

Which brings us to the title of this post. I had thought of subtitling it "Accursed Angels" but I can't really blame them for it.

For what?

For the 350mL that are no longer in the bottle. I measured the amount of whisky that came out of the cask, and have 400mL exactly. That's a loss of 46.67% from the original 750mL Nearly 8 1.5oz shots.

Now, I'm all for blaming the angels here, but that's not really fair. There are several factors at play which can account for the missing 350mL:

  • the shot of un-matured whisky I kept in the bottle for comparison
  • the several sips each week for the past 8 weeks (this week's samples are not factored in to the above numbers as I haven't tasted it yet)
  • the several more sips in the three weeks I compared it to Oban, Talisker and Longmorn
  • the week (or maybe 2 weeks, I can't really remember) that I decided I'd just drink the sample I poured rather than returning the remains to the cask
  • the dribbles out the hole in the cask that I didn't catch in time when I didn't have the cork in the right way (more on that later)
So, all in all, lots of contributions to the missing millilitres. If I had to estimate, I'd say about half of them were my own damned fault, and the rest went to those thirsty, thirsty angels. I'm not really too concerned or disappointed, though. It's still a strong whisky that will benefit from a splash of water. Most other whiskies I drink neat. So, even after a substantial reduction in volume, by factoring in a bit of water with each drink, I'm still getting plenty of enjoyment out of the bottle.

And it's impossible to ignore the enjoyment I've got out of experimenting. :-)

This post is getting kind of long, and I still haven't got to talking about the whisky itself, so I'll shut up and get to the goods in the next post.

Oh - I said I'd talk about the dribbles. Remember when I wrote about the dryness in the air here which I figured was causing some drying out of the cask which is turn was caused some dribbling? Well, some of that, it turns out, was just carelessness on my part. The rubber cork is not a cylinder: it's round in cross section, but tapered so that it's widest at the end which is inside the cask when it's plugged. However, I noticed that shoving the cork in all the way would allow a little bit of spirit to drip out, especially when it was upside down. This happens, I guess, because the cork is longer than the cask wall is thick. When the cork's in all the way, its widest part is inside the cask rather than shoved right against the wood. I discovered that there was a sweet spot for the bung: push only until you get a whole lot of friction, then stop. It's a difference of a millimetre or less, but it makes a difference. No dribbles!

Anyhow, now I'm going to shut up and actually get to describing the whisky. :-)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

NKOTB In the House

If you're of the right vintage to have caught my Right Said Fred and Europe references, you'll not need that headline clarified. If you're confused, don't waste the mental effort. Suffice it to say that my plan to make poorly veiled references to decent music I actually listen to has failed miserably.

The NK in this instance is a bottle of Longmorn. I've never tried it before, but I heard a few things about it that made me curious:

  • it has had a reputation of being hard to find
  • it has a reputation of being very good
  • it's cheap.
So I picked up a bottle a week and a half ago so as to broaden my tiny collection. I'd thought of grabbing a Cragganmore, but I realize that two of my bottles are presently "Classic Malts of Scotland," as is Cragganmore, so I figured I'd try something from a different producer. After all, what is life without a little bit of wild abandon now and again?

Unfortunately, my initial impression of the Longmorn was surprisingly underwhelming. I found it a bit on the dull side: no individual flavours stood out. It was just sort of plain. Generic. I was a bit dismayed by this, but it was cheap, so I wasn't heartbroken.

What I hadn't factored in was that I was getting sick, so my nose and tastebuds were way out of whack. Now that I'm healthy, it's a much nicer dram.

So how does the Whisky Works compare? It's got a more complex nose. The faint smokiness is stronger when compared against Longmorn. It's noticeably spicier and sweeter, like brown sugar and cooked fruit. The Longmorn is more medicinal and grainy. It's a fainter-smelling spirit as well.

The Longmorn is much more herbal on the palate. Its sweetness is like grass or straw rather than fruit. It makes the smoke in the Whisky Works really stand out. Really stand out. It's a nice comparison, actually. The Longmorn has a tad more alcohol than Oban or Talisker, so it's got a more comparable amount of heat to it. When the heat is factored out, the Whisky Works is a butterier, smokier dram, and the Longmorn grassier and maltier. The Longmorn is a bit smoother, but another week in the cask might take the last of the edge off the Whisky Works.

This time around I prefer the Whisky Works to its competitor. Longmorn is nice, but I still find it so well balanced with no stand-out flavours that it's a bit too subtle. But I'm more of a Lagavulin or Talisker guy, which pack more of a flavour punch than a lot of whiskies. Longmorn's nice, but a bit more oomph would be nicer. The Whisky Works holds its own and then some this time around.

Whom do You Appreciate?


Hmm. Notice something? Look closely...

That's right. Barry at Premium Bottlers thought it was unfortunate that I didn't possess a proper whisky glass and very kindly sent one along. I've used these before at my favourite haunt here in Ottawa, and it's even nicer to be able to have a proper dram while flaked out in my comfy chair in my living room. Thanks, guys!

The book under the glass, incidentally, is Histories by Herodotos. What can I say, I'm an archaeologist. I have peculiar books lying around. But on to more important things!

My nose is working this week, so I can provide a much better description of what's going on. And I'm very pleased with the progress. The nose is fantastic. Dried cherries, toffee and chocolate all duke it out for which one dominates; none of them win. It's very nicely balanced. There are faint floral notes underneath the big three, and a suggestion of seaweed as well, and the faintest whiff of smoke. As I expected, the predominance of the alcohol on the nose has continued to mellow out, letting the other flavours shine.

On the palate, it begins with a spicy oak, then chocolate, butter and dried fruit. I'd say cherries and raisins. It has a nice, long, warm finish where oak, chocolate and smoke alternate. It's still a bit hot for me, but another week will cool that down perfectly, I think. It has noticeably cooled over the last couple of months, which in turn is making it mellower and more subtle. The interplay between flavours is more up front, less camouflaged by the alcohol strength.

Right now, I think it's ready to return to the bottle. I'd be very happy to drink it as it is, but I'm going to wait one more week. At the moment, most people I know are off doing Easter-related things, and it's more fun to have a party to celebrate the maturation of the Whisky Works whisky than it is to just bottle it on my own. So a whisky-tasting party at Château Ian next weekend!

I can hardly wait...

Until then,

Ian

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Like the Steps to Heaven

Seven, that is.

Seven weeks.

It doesn't seem nearly that long, but time flies when you're having fun, and I've quite enjoyed myself so far.

I should warn you: I'm not going to be able to deliver a good review this week. I'm fighting a cold, so my sinuses are all stuffed up, interfering with my sense of smell and taste. If I'm feeling better in a few days I'll try again. In the interim, though, this'll have to do.

The nose has mellowed out quite a bit. The overpowering alcohol smell has greatly reduced, letting a cooked fruitiness challenge the toffee. There's a much stronger currant and raisin quality to it now, though the butterscotch is still there. The original spirit now has a bit of an iodine tang to it that I hadn't noticed before in comparison.

The heat on the palate is also calming down quite a bit. The wood is coming out more, as is the smoke now, which is nice. Raisins again, and butter. It's still quite spicy, but it's smoothing out. The sweetness comes early, then it dries out, leaving a warm, long finish. I didn't try it with a splash of water this time, as my tastebuds are sub-optimal, but my guess is that water would take the last of the edge off rather nicely.

When I can taste and smell again, I'll write up a short comparison against a bottle of Longmorn I just picked up. I hadn't tried Longmorn before, so I'm curious to see how the two fare against each other.

In any case, I'll be back when I'm healthy!

Cheers,

Ian

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Final Countdown

Do you have that famous synth riff stuck in your head now? Excellent. I figure if I'm gonna hit you with Right Said Fred, I might as well lay some Europe on you, too. One of these days I'll try to come up with a title based on music I actually listen to.

Why "The Final Countdown?" Well, I have a week to decide what to do next with the cask. In a week, I'll have hit the eight week mark of maturation, and that will likely (though not definitely) be the end of the Whisky Works portion of the experiment.

As I've said elsewhere, I have been graced with home-made apple cider. Free home-made apple cider no less. Should I go for making applejack out of it?

Or should I go for trying to make McClelland Islay drinkable? I was out and about the other day and found a bottle at the LCBO, and happened to have the requisite $32 on me, so grabbed it. Even if it turns out disastrously, I only wasted $32 on the experiment, and hey, you never know. If it really is a 5-year old Bowmore, maybe a bit of maturation will make it rather tasty.

So, folks: what would you rather have me write about next: applejack or whisky? Considering most of you found yourselves here by searching for whisky on the Internet, I have a sneaking suspicion what your answer will be, but it can't hurt to ask.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

David, Meet Goliath

I'm not shy about my appreciation of Oban 14. I like how it's not quite an Islay, not quite a Highland, but has hints of both. It's not overpowering. It won me over with subtlety and smoothness. It's got to be either my favourite or a close second. When I want robust and bold, it's Lagavulin. When I want smooth and sophisticated, it's Oban.

So, in a celebrity deathmatch of sorts, I figured why not pit the Whisky Works against the Oban to see how it fares? I admit right from the start that I expected it to fare poorly, given the pedestal upon which I have perched Oban. I also admit that I was pleasantly surprised.

Do you remember when I compared the Whisky Works to a Talisker 10 last week? I commented that both were nice, but the Talisker was the more delicate of the two, and the Whisky Work was the bolder. The same holds true here. If I can steal an analogy from music, I'd describe Whisky Works as a bass and Oban as a tenor. Whisky Works is the rhythm section; Oban is the soloist.

There's a lightness to Oban. A grass-hay-seaweed-malt touch to the nose that seems, well, light. There's a bit of butter and salt, but nothing like the toffee and chocolate of the Whisky Works. Coming at it from the other direction, the Whisky Works is all over the bottom end of the nose: heavy fruits, toffee, chocolate. The first word I came up with for the nose of the Whisky Works in comparison was "deeper." It doesn't exhibit the fresh herbal scent that you can find in Oban. If it's there, it's been overpowered by the strength of the butterscotch-ish fruit.

Both are quite nice on the nose, but are so unlike as to be only distant cousins.

On the tongue, the Oban stands out right away as having a thicker texture. Weirdly enough, its light smokiness makes the smoke in the nose of the Whisky Works much more apparent. As was the case with the Talisker comparison of last week, it's difficult to parse the flavours of the Oban after a sip of the Whisky Works since the latter is such a strongly flavoured dram. The malt, the grain, the smoke - they're all there, they're all subtle, and they're all very well balanced. The Whisky Works is less gentle about things, but exhibits a longer finish with a greater spice and more vanilla.

All in all, Oban still comes out ahead, though a 1-on-1 comparison is tough since Oban is a very subtle creature while Whisky Works is bold. I like them both for different reasons.

After another couple of weeks in the cask, I expect some of the drama in the Whisky Works will have calmed down a bit. I imagine it will always remain a more strongly-flavoured whisky regardless of how long it's left in the cask, but a bit longer being infused with casky goodness won't hurt, and might make it a mellower dram. And in my book, mellow is a good thing.

Until text time,

Ian

I'm Too Sixy

Sorry, Fred. I couldn't resist.

I can hardly believe it's been six weeks already. The whisky in the cask has at last crossed the threshold: Premium Bottlers recommends six to eight weeks in the cask for optimal deliciousness. And as I'm all about achieving optimal deliciousness, I'm happy we've hit the window.

So how are things coming along? If you remember, I was pretty impressed with where things stood last week. I'd found a strong toffee sensation in the nose, with hints of other flavours such as cooked fruit and a bit of grassy field. This week is very much along the same lines. The biggest change I notice is that the sharpness from the strength of the alcohol has diminished a bit, allowing the other flavours to shine. Plum pudding with butterscotch sauce? Brandy in front of a fireplace? Weird ways to describe the nose of a whisky, but those are the impressions I get. The butterscotch or toffee is still strong, the fruit is reminiscent of cooked plums à la plum pudding or of raisins, or of brandy. There's a small amount of smoke, and still some grassiness, but it's very very subtle.

On the palate, it's a bold dram still. It starts with a spicy butterscotch-chocolate combo which is quickly replaced by a really nice wave of oak and cooked fruit. The finish is very long and warm, with vanilla and spice. The butterscotch is maintained throughout, and the faint smokiness in the nose is also omnipresent, though it's buried underneath the other flavours.

Premium Bottlers had suggested that the most pronounced changes would be early in the process, and this week demonstrates that it seems to be quite accurate: I had noticed sharp, distinct changes from week to week in the first month, but this test is quite similar to last week's sample. The differences now are of refinement. It's not fruitier or smokier or saltier or what have you; it's simply a bit less aggressive in terms of the alcohol content, a bit smoother and mellower, and maybe a bit more refined.

I figure I'll leave it in for another 2 weeks to see what shakes. I expect few pronounced changes, but an increased mellowness, which should be nice.

All in all, it's coming along very nicely.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

You're About to be Robbed!

No, no, no. I don't mean someone is going to break into your place and steal your stuff. I mean you're going to make the acquaintance of my good friend Rob, who, in addition to an admirably lousy skill at billiards, resembles me in an additional important respect: he has a Whisky Works kit, and he's been maturing his whisky for a while and felt like sharing. He's actually a number of weeks further along than I am, so his results are very much of interest to me. Sadly, he lives in the rather-far-away city of Guelph, so I can't be there in person to sample his efforts.

So, in a Whisky Lounge first, I'm going to hand over the reins and let Rob take it from here.

Rob writes:

Today I tasted the whisky. A very small amount, about 3/4 of a shot. Here is the evaluation as promised.

Ageing conditions


I prepped my cask with only water. It has been in the wood for about nine weeks. It's being aged in my crawl space under the stairs in my basement. It's quite dark and the average temperature during the week is around 64 degrees [that's 18 degrees Celsius - Ian]. My basement has a bit of moisture in it. Not a lot, but it certainly would not require a humidifier.


Whiskies Left to right


The Balvenie 15 Year Cask strength
Whisky Works
Johnny Walker Red Label
The Glenlivet 12 Year

Colour - Darker than I was expecting. It is certainly darker than anything I currently have in the house. I was hoping to pick up a bottle of Laphroaig Quarter Cask (my favourite). I think it would be about the same shade.

Nose - Quite a difficult beast to get the nose. I would say summer and hay, with a hint of sea salt. I also caught whiffs of cinnamon.

Taste - Spicy with a very strong iodine taste. I think it will need to be watered down to acquire anything more discernible.

Finish - Very long and pleasant.

Overall evaluation - Quite good. I often drink my scotch neat. I think however, if a little water was added the flavours would open up.

[here endeth the quotation]

So, Rob describes his whisky rather differently than I describe mine, even though it started out as the same whisky and both were put into essentially identical casks. The sole different was that I sherried my cask and Rob did not. I guess the fruit that comes across in mine really is straight out of the sherry. Perhaps the basement-versus-living-room conditions or variations in humidity or air quality are also in play. It also must be emphasized that each of us has only sampled his own whisky, so neither of us can say how we'd describe the other's efforts. Perhaps this summer a taste-off can happen.

In any case, props to Rob from Guelph for letting us see how another casking project is coming along!

Cheers,

Ian

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Clash of the Titans

Harry Hamlin had better watch out

I decided to be wild and crazy this week, and compare the 5-week-old Whisky Works whisky to a Talisker 10. As I've mentioned many a time before, I quite like Talisker. I quite like whiskies from western distilleries in general, but I have a soft spot for our friend from Skye. While not my number one whisky, it's one that I can always come back to and never be disappointed.

The nose of the Talisker is drier. It's a lot less sweet, and the sweetness is herbal. It's definitely plant-based rather than just sugary, but it's not a fruity or floral sweetness. Like grass, or hay, or clover. Some I guess might say it's got more of an iodine tinge to it, but I haven't made a habit of smelling iodine since Grade 11 chemistry class, so I'm not really sure if that's what it is.

The Whisky Works, which on its own smells more of toffee now than fruit, changes in this comparison. The fruit comes forward on the nose, making it closer to raisins, dried cherries and the like. The toffee is still clearly there, but the fruit's more prevalent. Both the Whisky Works and the Talisker hold their own in comparison, but they're remarkably different.

The taste comparison is stunning. They couldn't be any different, but they're both about what I'd consider to be the same quality. The Talisker's medicinal smoke really stands out against the Whisky Works, but the Whisky Works has so much more depth at the sweet end of things. I would describe the Talisker as simpler than the Whisky Works, though I don't want to suggest that it's bland by being simple, or that the Whisky Works is bogged down by too much complexity. There is more going on in the Whisky Works at this point than in the Talisker: more juggling between toffee and raisin and vanilla and chocolate. Less body though: the Talisker has a denser, more oily mouth feel which I quite like. I suspect that, were I to clean my palate more thoroughly between samples, the delicate qualities of the Talisker would be more apparent. With the vestiges of the Whisky Works on my tongue, even after eating a bit of bread to mask it somewhat, the Talisker is still a little overwhelmed.

It's analagous to comparing a doughnut to a fruit brioche. I like them both, but for different reasons, and having one before the other kind of masks the good things about the second one.

Give the Whisky Works another week or three to cool off the alcoholic spiciness, and things will be different, I'm sure. But as it is now, I'm quite happy with the way it stacks up against one of my favourite drams.

I'm already wishing it was next weekend so I could sample it again without guilt. :-)

Until then,

Ian

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Goodness Gracious

Usually, when pouring something from a spigot, there's a single drop which hangs on for a while after you've finished pouring whatever it is you're, well, pouring. Typically, I'm too impatient to sit there and wait for the droplet to fall into the glass, so I just run my finger below the spigot to collect it. It's true: the first taste each week in this entire process has been a single drop on my index finger.

Why am I telling you this now?

Well, I never felt it was really important. I guess it's still unremarkable, but this week something happened which I think is worth reporting. I caught the droplet of 5-week-old whisky on my finger, stuck it in my mouth. And thought wow. Things are coming along very nicely. I'm almost inclined to title this post "greatness gracious" but that sounds funny. And I desperately try to avoid sounding funny. Ask anyone who knows me. It's true.

I'm not going to bother with a photo of the whisky against its unaged self this week, since it looks pretty much the same as last week and the week before. It's not changing in appearance any further, at least to my untrained eye.

The nose, though, is really coming into its own. There's toffee. Lots of it. A very smooth sweetness that's got just a hint of butter and saltiness to it. Some cooked fruit still, but it's being overtaken by the toffee. Lots of vanilla, undertones of milk chocolate (rather than dark chocolate like I'd found earlier), a whiff of a sea breeze over a grassy field. A quick swirl of the whisky around the glass really kicks up the butterscotch, with raisin undertones. Think rich and sweet but not cloying or acidic or fruity. Not as smoky as I had expected, given the charred changes to the water and to the sherry over its three weeks, but I'm not complaining. Very nice. Very nice indeed.

The immature spirit just smells watery in comparison now. There's not much there in comparison. Wet straw, grain, a bit of smoke, but it's all faint. I'm stunned at how much the nose has changed over 5 short weeks. Stunned, and pleased.

The taste is also coming along nicely. It still has more alcohol than I'd like in it, meaning it's a bit hot still, but it's really moving in the right direction. It starts with a spicy warmth, then nice, clean oak. Cinnamon and raisins are next, with a malty and smoky undercurrent. The finish starts with cooked cherries for just a second, then fades to cinnamon and brown sugar. And underneath everything is a nice buttery vanilla, fainter than on the nose, but unmistakable.

A splash of water really cools the heat, allowing the other flavours to come forward. Although I usually drink my whisky neat, I'd be willing to make an exception here. The spicy heat is nice, but a bit heavy. Water cuts it right down, and the dram is really nicely balanced.

At this point, I'm very happy with the Whisky Works whisky, and would be tempted to take it out of the cask, if not for my burning desire to see what just one more week will do to it. (Knowing me and my insatiable desire for tweaking and experimentation, I'll feel precisely the same next week, but you'll have to tune in to see what I decide)

This raises an interesting question: assuming I can determine how much alcohol is actually in the spirit, should I add enough water to reduce it to 40% or so and then cask it again for a few days to let things marry, or just leave it as is and let people add water to their taste, or just pour some water into the bottle at the end? So many options...

Cheers,

Ian