Alfred Barnard - Whisky Writer

Alfred Barnard: The Wandering Whisky Writer

How envious we are sometimes of people like Anthony Bourdain, Ian Wright or Michael Palin. Offered a chance to travel the world, explore new places and try new cuisines. And getting paid to boot! Amazing, right? But now imagine the same job, all the while being able to sample the finest of whiskies at some of the most scenic distilleries. Such was the luck of legendary whisky writer Alfred Barnard. Sure, the geographical spread of distilleries at the time wasn’t very global, and indeed Barnard’s assignment was limited to the UK. But for someone who likes whisky and writing, it still seems like a dream job! Sent out on an epic assignment to chronicle every known whisky distillery in the United Kingdom, Barnard’s grand tour took over two years to complete. The result is considered by many as the most important book about whisky ever written. Despite this, relatively little remains known about Barnard beyond his epic journey.

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Arran Port Cask Finish

Arran Port Cask Finish 01Distillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 50%

It seems natural to compare the Arran Port Cask with the Madeira Cask, given the similarities between these two types of fortified wine. I tend to contrast it with the different effects that an Oloroso or Pedro Ximénez sherry finish can have on a whisky, but since I’m by no means a wine expert, I will quickly move to safer (whisky) ground. Because despite their similar maturation, it’s striking how different the Arran Port Cask and Madeira Cask actually are. Sure, they share the same Arran characteristics, but underneath this there’s a completely distinct flavour profile for each.

The Arran Port Cask was aged in American oak for about 8 years, before being transferred to ex-port casks. This extra maturation has enhanced Arran’s fruity flavours even further, but has also mellowed some of the freshness usually found in Arran whiskies, substituting it for an enigmatic finesse.  Many other cask finishes have come and gone from Arran’s core range, but the Port Cask remains. While this may have something to do with the availability of casks, it’s certainly also an indication that Arran Port Cask has been a big hit. I for one am thankful that this whisky is still on the shelves, as it’s a dram I love to come back to!

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Ardbeg An Oa

Ardbeg An Oa whisky review 01

Distillery: Ardbeg
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.6%

With LVMH’s PR machine grinding at full gear, much has already been written about Ardbeg An Oa since its unveiling in August 2017. This new whisky is named after the Mull of Oa, a rocky peninsula in the southwest of Islay that shelters Ardbeg distillery from the Atlantic Ocean’s often stormy conditions. An Oa is meant to reflect these calmer waters by offering a mellower version of Ardbeg, in what amounts to a nice bit of meteorological marketing. The whisky comes in some stylish packaging, and is a vatting of several different casks, including new charred oak, PX sherry casks and first-fill bourbon barrels. I have been eagerly awaiting this release, but have also taken care to manage my expectations. The other members of the Ultimate Range are an extremely hard act to follow, so let’s hope Ardbeg An Oa doesn’t disappoint.

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Caol Ila Moch

Caol Ila Moch 01Distillery: Caol Ila
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Gaelic for ‘dawn’, Moch is supposedly Caol Ila’s first ever whisky selected purely on the basis of taste, rather than age, bottling strength or cask type. Arguably this is just marketing fluff, since Caol Ila’s master distiller will have evaluated the taste of each of the distillery’s whiskies prior to bottling. Even so, there’s no denying that Caol Ila Moch is a very tasty dram. It provides a bit of a lighter version of Caol Ila, without compromising on flavour and complexity. The result is a dram that juggles a softer side with the bold profile we’ve come to expect from Caol Ila. Enjoy the balance of this elegant Islay whisky!

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