Whisky

Ramón Allones Hunters & Frankau Aniversario 225

To commemorate their 225th anniversary, Hunters and Frankau (“Hunters”) chose to give the maestros at Habanos S.A. the task to produce a very special cigar to be made exclusively for the UK market. The Hunters’ committee sifted through their archives and chose Ramón Allones as the brand of honour. As one of the oldest brands (first registered in 1845), and accredited to be the first to utilise colour lithography, Ramón Allones is particularly well favoured by experienced passionados for their strength but also tannic and spicy flavours with great complexity and balance. The association between the brand and Hunters goes as far back as 1911 when it was first bought by them outright and held until 1927. Nonetheless, the UK rights of the brand remained with them for decades until the Cuban revolution.

Another area of interest was the instruction for the cigar to not only be based on the currently in vogue gordito vitola de galera, but for it to have a cabeza tumbada or “dropped head”. This was characteristic of the forms produced during Hunters’ control of the brand around a century ago. My curiosity was piqued by the fact that not only were the 50,000 cigars all rolled by just three top grade torcedores, but that their production was as early as February to May 2013. They were then shipped to the UK and aged in secret in a specially contained warehouse for two years before being unveiled at their 225th anniversary party in June this year.

With such a unique cigar and plenty of flavour expected to delight the palate, I did not take the decision of the digestif pairing lightly. One special whisky from Kilchoman (“Kil-ho-man”) which, in 2005 was the first Islay distillery to be constructed in 125 years, came immediately to mind. The gold medal-awarded Loch Gorm 2015 limited release was not only exclusively matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks as before, but for this release, they were also matured for a period in the smaller hogshead casks (being under half the capacity of a standard sherry butt of 500 litres). This would increase the ratio of surface area to whisky, intensifying the whisky contact with the sherry elements; giving not only richer colour, but more importantly, a deeper intensity, richness and sweeter finish to marry well with the earthiness and spice Ramón Allones is known for.

Having sifted laboriously through a full box of 25 to purchase one of the Aniversario 225, it wasn’t the best start, particularly with lack of uniformity in the colour of the relatively lighter shade of the capa and most of them too tightly rolled for my liking. Finally having made my choice, the wrapper of the cigar for degustation was colorado in colour and smooth to the touch. However, as aforementioned, the capa had uneven hues and was not as alluring as I like to see, with a couple of green spots visible on closer inspection.

Thankfully there were no issues with the pre-light draw, which was close to perfect. The two years of warehouse ageing clearly had an effect as no trace of bitterness expected of such a youthful habano was detectable. Instead, notes of straw and light earthiness delighted the palate. Bountiful smoke provided notes of earthiness and spice from the start. The Kilchoman Loch Gorm with its ex-Oloroso sherry hogshead ageing afforded the perfect balance of gentle smoke, peat and a soothingly long, sweet finish to refresh the palate. What’s more, at 46% it was the right strength to enjoy neat, unadulterated by extraneous meddling.

Subtle smoked tea and woody elements were later exhibited and towards the final part, elements of black pepper became more pronounced on the retrohale. The strength gradually increased and the earthiness developed in the second third, with a subtle, thin layer of burnt caramel and toasted flavours on the top notes. The spice on the retrohale intensified into white pepper notes.

The final third was a delight as the nutty creaminess of the smoke increased and there was still none of the bitterness detected from such a youthful cigar. Hints of anise and cocoa make their way through the tannic earthiness and spice on the retrohale to finish off what was a remarkably good-tasting cigar for its age. But then again, one may never discount the part the Kilchoman Loch Gorm had to play!

Tasting notes and details:

Ramón Allones Hunters & Frankau Aniversario 225 Edición Regional Gran Bretaña 2015

Factory NameGordito (with cabeza tumbada)

Size50 x 5.5”  (19.84 x 140)mm

Box code and dateMUR  MAY13

Wrappercolorado (but slightly patchy) in colour and smooth to the touch.

Draw – very good (after searching most of a box of 25). Pre-light notes without any bitterness but with lovely notes of straw and light earthiness.

First third – plenty of smoke with earthiness and spice from the start. Subtle smoked tea/woody elements and towards the end, black pepper becomes pronounced on the retrohale.

Second third – the earthiness increases with traces of burnt caramel on the top notes while white pepper tingles on the retrohale.

Last third – nutty creaminess develops in the smoke, still without any of the expected harshness. Hints of anise and cocoa meander through the elements of spice.

PairingKilchoman Loch Gorm (46%). This single malt Islay vatted from fresh (first-fill) Oloroso sherry butts and hogsheads has a delightfully soft, yet spicy and rich nose with gentle smoke, dark cacao nibs and some fruitiness. The palate provided soft fresh fruits with peat smoke enveloping the palate to give a long and rich, sweet finish and lingering smoke with great balance. A superb whisky in its own right.

Ramón Allones Hunters & Frankau Aniversario 225 001 Ramón Allones Hunters & Frankau Aniversario 225 003 Ramón Allones Hunters & Frankau Aniversario 225 004 Ramón Allones Hunters & Frankau Aniversario 225 005

© 2015, Harmic Davidkhanian. All rights reserved.

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Glenfiddich Cask Collection and Distillery Tour

My first trip to Scotland may have been organised at the last minute, but the experiences of the distillery visits during the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival with my dear friends Elie, Antoine and Jonathan only emboldened my passion for whisky – particularly the inimitable patriarch that is Scotch.

Glenfiddich (translated as “in the valley of the deer” in Scottish Gaelic, hence the stag iconography in its branding), was the one I most enjoyed from beginning to end. Located in the town of Dufftown (pronounced “Duffton” with a soft ‘t’), the vast site is impressive on its own, incorporating a coppersmiths to maintain the stills and a dedicated cooperage to repair the barrels and casks, which were both added in the 1950s.

The most striking element of all though, is the fact that the distillery is one of very few to remain in the same family hands of the founder. I am sure that William Grant, who saw the first spirit to run off the stills on Christmas Day in 1887, would be immensely proud to know his descendants have earned Glenfiddich the highest accolades of most awarded and best-selling single malt whisky in the world.

The welcome centre itself has a wonderfully illustrated poster to whet the appetite for knowledge of the distillery, and our guide in his tartan kilt certainly was the real deal brimming with enthusiasm and knowledge. Thankfully neither the expected weather, nor the prohibition of photography inside the warehouses dampened spirits (excuse the pun). The Solera Vat process unique to Glenfiddich and introduced in 1998, was the focus of our tour in “Warehouse 8”. This marrying method which was modified from the original process most commonly found in sherry and port production, is used for their 15 Year Old to ensure continuity in the taste and intensity of the blend.

Whisky that has been aged for a minimum of 15 years (in the casks from the date of distillation) in American ex-bourbon oak, Spanish ex-Olorosso sherry oak and finally ‘finished’ for 3-6 months in new American oak casks; are half-emptied into the enormous 35,000 litre Solera Vat sequentially at intervals to mix and settle in such a way that the vat itself is always half full of whisky. The ratio of the vatted malt is roughly 70% ex-bourbon, 20% ex-Olorosso sherry, and 10% new American oak and the oldest whisky in the mix is said to be 30 years old, which would certainly help to mellow out its feistier, younger brethren.

Once the interval for mellowing the whisky has passed, half the whisky is finally transferred from the Solera Vat to large 500 litre Portuguese oak tuns to further marry and compound all the greatness of the different casks into the single malt for at least 3 months. Thereafter, it is chill filtered and diluted to 40% ABV (alcohol by volume) with the natural spring water Glenfiddich uses in all its production, from the nearby Robbie Dhu.

In late 2013, three smaller vats were added to Warehouse 8 to be used for then new travel retail exclusive Cask Collection which comprises of Glenfiddich Select Cask, Glenfiddich Reserve Cask and Glenfiddich Vintage Cask whiskies. These were the drams we had the pleasure of tasting at the end of the tour and they were certainly different to the usual expressions I had previously come across, particularly for the fact that they are NAS (non-age statement) Glenfiddich whiskies. The characteristics of each of the three whiskies are a result of maturation in a variety of oak casks followed by a finish for at least 2 months in the new vats and they are bottled only when Glenfiddich’s Malt Master, Brian Kinsman is satisfied with them.

With a relatively short walk over to the welcoming oak interior of the warm and homely tastings suite, we got down to business:

Glenfiddich Select Cask

Glenfiddich Select Cask

The first of the three whiskies was matured in aged American bourbon, European oak and Californian red wine casks, then finished for at least 2 months in the Select Cask Solera Vat.

Nose: Floral notes apparent from the beginning. Some mild apple can be detected among summer fruits.

Palate: Very smooth, barley sweetness and flavours like the zestful pear character of Glenfiddich 12 Year Old with a touch more of oak spice.

Finish: Crisp and refreshing.

The balance of this whisky is very good and would probably be the one to convert non-whisky drinkers. A little more zing on the finish than the Glenfiddich 12 Year Old.

Glenfiddich Reserve Cask

Glenfiddich Reserve Cask

It was immediately apparent from the noticeably redder colour of the second whisky that it was clearly matured in distinctive Spanish sherry casks before being finished for a minimum of 2 months in the Reserve Cask Solera Vat.

Nose: A stronger aroma is present than the first whisky. Plenty of mandarin orange as well as oak spice.

Palate: The sweetness is greater than the Select Cask but the Spanish oak spice gives added complexity. With time, citrus flavours, chocolate raisin and cinnamon engage the palate.

Finish: Long, sweet and slightly drying with time.

Very smooth, exhibiting sweeter and spicier notes. Being a sherry cask fan, this was a little weak for my cask strength palate but still enjoyable.

Glenfiddich Vintage Cask

Glenfiddich Vintage Cask

Like most whisky until the onset of the 20th Century, the barley used for the fermentation process was dried by combusting local peat rather than heating by gas as is the case today, thereby adding smokiness to the flavour of the end product. The Glenfiddich Vintage Cask was born with this heritage in mind.

Peated barley was used specifically and only for the production of this whisky. It was then matured in American Bourbon and European oak casks, to then be finished for no less than 2 months in the Vintage Cask Solera Vat.

Nose: The distinctive salinity and smoke is evident from the start. Some dark roasted cocoa beans and a hint of spice later appear.

Palate: Vanilla sweetness bursts onto the palate and then peat and smoke crash by the wave on the palate. The sweetness and smoke interact like a tango on the tongue as citrus, crème brûlée and a touch of wooden spice appear as it develops in the glass.

Finish: Creamy sweetness and oak spice goes long into the dry smoky finish.

This whisky is a unique and complex iteration of Glenfiddich whose flavours certainly live up to being akin to the old taste of peated Glenfiddich from many decades ago. However, even as an Islay fan, the smoke does not seem to quite work for me, as you cannot help but feel it is too overpowering over the other flavours.

Another first for me at Glenfiddich and probably the most enjoyable moment of the trip I had, was to fill my own unique bottle straight from a single cask. As it was a first fill Sherry, cask strength whisky at 57.8% ABV and chosen to be made available only for visitors during the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival this year, it was a sagacious, yet sybaritic purchase. Having tasted a sample before getting my hands on the finished article, I knew from the profoundly deep ruby colour that it would live up to the “Sherry bomb” epithet our guide bestowed on it during the tour. Please watch this space for my first single malt, single cask tasting of this unique malt which will be coming soon!

Glenfiddich Visitors Centre Interior Glenfiddich Visitors Centre Heritage Poster Glenfiddich Site Casks

Glenfiddich Solera Vat

© 2015, Harmic Davidkhanian. All rights reserved.

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