Scottish rum, oak-aged gin, and low-alcohol beer are among the latest treats to emerge from Scottish Field drinks blogger Peter Ranscombe‘s notebook.
AFTER the Christmas rush of spirits reviews, January offers a bit of welcome relief.
Catch your breath, refresh your palate, and give your liver a rest.
That break makes February’s new releases all the more exciting though.
A new gin from an old favourite, an impressive Scottish sipping rum, and the latest arrival from Islay have all featured in the pages of my notebook over the past few weeks.
But, just to prove that taking alcohol intake seriously isn’t a fad for #DryJanuary or #SoberOctober on The Grape & The Grain, let’s open with a stonkingly-good low alcohol beer.
Bristol Beer Factory Clear Head Beer (£22 for 12 bottles, Bristol Beer Factory)
This new bottle could give my favourite low-alcohol beer – Jumpship brewery’s Yardarm lager – a run for its money. There are tonnes of lemon and peach aromas and flavours, in the style of a modern India pale ale, thanks to its mix of Citra and Mosaic hops from North America. The body still feels a bit thin compared to “normal” alcoholic beers, but it’s by no means metallic like the rubbish low-alcohol brews of old. Plus, 5% of the profits from the beer goes to Talk Club, a male mental fitness charity, which has a branch in Glasgow.
Hallertau Blanc Single Hop Pale Ale (£16.50 for 6 cans, Flavourly)
Edinburgh online beer retailer Flavourly has teamed up with the awesome First Chop Brewing Arm in Manchester once more to stock this impressive single hop pale ale. Hallertau Blanc is the inaugural brew in First Chop’s “One” series of beers, which will be released over the course of the year. It’s hard to see how the brewery will top its maiden effort though – a heady mix of apricot and mandarin aromas and flavours, with a touch of creamy texture and a deliciously-bitter finish. Some of Flavourly’s collaborations with First Chop have been among the highlights of the website’s range.
Eden Mill Distiller’s Choice Oak Old Tom Gin (£40, Eden Mill)
One of the very first bottles that made me sit up and take notice of Eden Mill distillery near St Andrews in Fife was its oak-aged gin. It was like nothing else on the Scottish gin scene at the time. Fast-forward the best part of a decade and it’s great to see the distillery still experimenting with its flavours. The first release from its limited-edition “Distiller’s Choice” series is an “Old Tom”-style gin that’s been aged with American oak chips. Old Tom is a lightly sweet style, and the Distiller’s Choice version weighs in at 49% alcohol-by-volume (ABV), compared with the standard oak gin’s 40% in the core range. The step up in strength really works for me, helping to carry the subtle vanilla flavours, which don’t overpower the classic juniper, lime, and herbal twang.
Brass Neck Spiced Rum (£38.99, Brass Neck)
Launched recently by a group of entrepreneurs who enjoued sipping-style rums, Brass Neck is made at Strathearn distillery in Perthshire. I was really impressed by the bright tropical mango, banana, and peach fruit aromas, along with the vanilla and sweet cinnamon spice. On the palate, the sweetness of the brown sugar and honey flavours came to the fore, without masking the bright fruit. There’s a really fun Islay-like TCP note on the finish too. But not a pirate in sight.
Ardbeg Arrrrrrrdbeg (£249.95, Master of Malt)
Those roles are reversed with Arrrrrrrdbeg, the latest single release from the Ardbeg Committee, a fan club set up by the Islay distillery for its followers. Its seven Rs – I counted them – and heavy pirate branding are there to celebrate the retirement of Mickey Hands after 13 years “at the helm” as the distillery’s manager. It’s Ardbeg’s first whisky to be matured solely in rye casks and it’s much sweeter on the nose than many of the whisky’s incarnations, with more honey, vanilla, and tinned pineapple. The peat comes swinging back on the palate, wielding its cutlass, but not getting in the way of the sweet toffee, creamy fudge, or crisp citrus notes. I reckon this could be my favourite Ardbeg yet.
Read more of “Peat Skulldugger Pete’s” wine, beer, and spirits reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.