Friday, July 31, 2015

Hopefully, Comments are working now...

A comment about comments...

A few of you have said that they have tried to comment on my blog but the process took you to a Blogger signin page and asked for all kinds of stuff. They all gave up.

I have now selected the second option in the Comments List which is Google Users or OpenID.

Now you need some kind of user profile in order to leave a post. Please try this and let me know if this is better.


Reb Mordechai

Monday, July 27, 2015

Kitron Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006, Psagot Viognier 2014

Arch of Titus

Last Shabbos (Parshas Devarim) fell on the Hebrew date of 9th Av, the most important fast in the Jewish calendar, bar Yom Kippur. So this year, because Tisha BeAv fell out on Shabbos, the fast was pushed off until Motzei Shabbos (After Shabbos) and Sunday which is technically the 10th Av! That meant that this year, instead of fasting, we got to actually eat meat and drink wine (two things forbidden during the Nine Days which lead up to Tisha BeAv) on Tisha BeAv itself!

Actually the Rabbonim tell us that when Mashiach comes, (Please G-d in our time), Tisha BeAv will be a great “Moed beSimcha” - a festival full of Joy and Chaza”l teach us that there is no Simcha - Joy - without Meat and Wine! (Pesachim 109a). Perhaps this year we got a taste of things to come, Be’ezras Hashem because not only was the Chopped Liver and Salt Beef we had for the Shabbos seudos (Shabbos meals) delicious but, unlike last Shabbos where both wines were disappointing, this Shabbos, both were simply delightful!

Actually, the Rabbonim who survived the destruction of Yerushalayim and made their way to Yavneh where they began the work to adapt Torah Judaism to a post-Temple era, were compared to rows of grapes in a vineyard. Their yeshiva was called Kerem Yavneh because they were planting the future of the Jewish people's survival and hope.  Yavneh means "We will build". The vineyard of Yavneh, planted and grown in sand has lasted until this day.

Chopped Liver
Salt Beef

Let’s start with the red for Friday Night Kiddush.

Kitron Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006

I have to tell you, Kitron is a difficult wine to find.  I went to every wine store in Machaneh Yehudah today and could not find any Kitron except a Merlot from 2008 (Hehter Mechira). However, they do stock them in Aleph Aleph Piup in Bar Ilan, Jerusalem and I believe in the Ramat Eskol branch as well for 150 shekels a bottle. This is where I bought my bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006. When I saw the bottle, I remembered how much we had enjoyed the Merlot of the same year back in 2011 so thought it a good idea to try the CS now. I'm glad I did.
The winery is situated in the village of Mitzpeh Hoshaya, north of Natzereth Elite. The Internet site takes you to their Zimmer Self Catering and Boutique Hotel site. Not much about the winery there.

Tasting notes

So, what we are dealing with here is a Cabernet Sauvignon, matured in French Oak for 14 months and has been sitting in the bottle for over 9 years.
I opened the bottle just before we went to shul at about 7:00pm. I couldn’t help noticing already a sublimely heavy rich juicy aroma wafting up from the bottle. Promising indeed! We returned home from shul very late at around 9:15pm. Shalom Aleichem, Aishes Chayil and the kid’s brachos said, we all gathered around the Shabbos table for Kiddush.

I poured the wine with great anticipation. The delightful aroma filling my nostrils. I poured a small amount of wine into my wife’s glass and gave it two swirls before putting it to my nose.
What hit me was a glorious aroma of lush black dark wild forest fruits, lightly cooked and matured in a wooden bowl. Black berries oozing juice. Slight caramelised burnt oak. (not smoke but burnt toffee treacle).

Knowing instinctively that this wine was a winner, despite the late hour, I took my time over the Kiddush, confident that the wait would be worth it. I then took my first swallow and swirled it around in my mouth. Ohhhhhh - Wow. Silky smooth and deep chewy tannins. Big mouthful taste with rich charming sweet spices. A hint of cloves, cinnamon and parave chocolate sprinkled over a wooden bowl of dark fruit compote and vanilla ice cream. I was blown away!

I had a mouth full of thick oaky black berries cocktail. The luscious finish refused to finish. It seem to go on and on forever. So lengthy was it that I had difficulty calling out everyone's names at the table before passing them their wine because I was still enjoying the aftertaste.
Now we recently tasted another excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, namely, the Ben Zimra CS 2011. I asked everyone around the table how they compared? I myself was in no doubt. This Kitron was in a class of its own. However my middle son exclaimed that he preferred the Ben Zimra. When asked why, he explained that it was more interesting with a lot more range of tastes like different spices and also had more of a defined fruit taste where as the Kitron was a mish mash of unspecified dark forest fruits. I could understand where he was coming from. The Kitron was indeed lacking the black pepper and dry spices of the Ben Zimra but I still insisted that the Kitron was a bigger event, a more complete experience and overall more enjoyable. He disagreed. My wife commented that she thought that it did have recognisable taste. To her it tasted of juicy sweet ripe black red plums.
Bottom Line:
Despite our disagreement as to whether the Ben Zimra was tastier, we all agreed that this was delicious, especially when it came to drinking the wine with the challa and hors d'oeuvres.  Everyone was in no doubt that teh Kitron was the perfect accompaniment to the chopped liver. Simply devine.
Psagot viognier 2014

Viognier is a white French grape not often used by Israeli wine makers who tend to stick to either Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Viognier is similar to Chardonnay in the sense that it is capable of producing full-bodied wines with lots of fruity tastes but unlike Chardonnay, the fruit tastes tend to be greener in nature.


We have been steadily going through the new range of Psagot wines. We really enjoyed the Chardonnay but gave the thumbs down to the Rose. My friend and wine expert, Matitiyahu told me that I just had to try this Psagot Viogner as it was something really special. OK.
I placed the Viogner in the fridge before we went to shul and it was nice and chilled by the time we got back, hot and thirsty.
As soon as we opened the bottle and despite the wine being cold, we were greeted by this wonderful aroma or Pine trees and evergreen. Then when warmed up slightly the smell turned to fresh pears. Drinking the wine brought us freshly squeezed pear pulp juice and green melon. When I say green melon, I don't mean that it was unripe, just that it wasn't yellowy honeydew melon like some chardonnays. No, this was a rich, sweet crispy ripe green melon. Delicious! The bottle was empty within seconds.
Bottom Line:
Simply excellent for a hot summer's day. It made a lovely change to Chardonnays. This was a very different experience but just as enjoyable. The only other Viognier I remember tasting was from the Golan Heights. I didn't really get on with that finding it a bit heavy, almost sickly, like some German wine. This Psagot was completely different. It could well become a regular guest at our Shabbos table and definitely a wine which I would pour to friends who I wished to impress.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Yatir Petit Verdot 2009, Psagot Rose 2014, Psagot Chardonnay 2011

Yatir Petit Verdot 2009

In Israel, the most popular grape by far used to make wine is of course the Cabernet Sauvignon. This is followed by Merlot and then Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Barbera. Israeli Petit Verdots are quite rare so it was with quite some surprise that I was offered two Petit Verdots to try in one week. Gvaot has just released a very limited edition of this grape with a 2013 vintage. In total they have bottled 900. 500 have been sold abroad and 400 distributed around Israel. I know that two major wine shops in Jerusalem have had this wine on order but so far it has not arrived. I however found it in "HaGefen" in Machaneh Yehudah. Each bottle is numbered and mine are 893 and 897. Mammash from the last few bottles! My friend and wine expert, Mattitiyahu, adviced me to wait another six months or so before opening this so look forward to a review of this wine some time in 2016, beli neder.
Gvaot Petit Verdot 2013
Typical characteristics of this grape are hard, dry and flinty tannins (described by many as pencil shavings)  when young and smooth, heavy creamy fruits like banana and custard when mature.
For some reason, the entire Yatir range is on special offer this month in a number of places around Jerusalem, selling for 2 bottles for NIS 200 to NIS 220. I was particularly interested in the Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 or 2010 and the Petit Verdot 2009. Two wine experts independently advised me to go for the Petit Verdot saying that it was excellent. Being now six years old in the bottle it was ready to drink now. OK. Sold.
Yatir Petit Verdot 2009 Tasting Notes
So Friday afternoon, after I had set up the Platter with chicken and potatoes (cooked in half a bottle of "Yisraeli" Zinfandel wine, onions, fresh garlic and rosemary), I opened the Yatir and left it to breath until returning from Shul some two and a half hours later.   
Shalom Aleichem, Eishes Chayil, brachos for the kids and some last second table setting, we stood around  our beautiful Shabbos table for Kiddush.
At this point I wish to pause and go completely off subject to talk about my new Challah cover which I have completely fallen in love with. Some might consider it "Touristy" and kitchy but for me it is beautiful as well as immensely practical.
Challa Cover with Kiddush Text
I always insist on reading/singing Kiddush from a text and not to try and recite it from memory. Like all tephilos and brachos, you get so used to them, you start to mispronounce words and begin to lack kavanah (intention to perform the mitzvah).  Having the text in front of you helps to stop this, nevertheless, squeezing a Siddur between you and the wine glasses only adds another item to our already over crowded Shabbos table.  Having the Kiddush text printed on the Challa cover is for me, the perfect solution. They cost around NIS 50 down Geula, Me'eh Shaarim and come either with nekudos or without. (I prefer with). Where as others see this and turn their noses up at it, I love using it and am not embarrassed to say so.
Before Kiddush I poured a small amount into my wife's glass and gave it a swirl before putting it to my nose. Some unspecified dark berries and dusty rain water. Not much else. Not unpleasent but not wow wow. Kiddush said, we drank and briefly discussed our views before getting up to wash for Lechem Mishneh. (The second or should I say, the first use for the Challah Cover?). Initial reactions were rough, rough and really rough. It was like a wine which had just been opened. Yes, "closed" would best describe it. Hadn't all that breathing time opened it up enough? It seems not. Dry harsh dark fruits, thin and watery. Had I not known I would have said that this was a young wine, still no way fully matured and mellowed in the bottle yet I knew that this was six years old! Besides this, two wine experts had told me that this wine was great! What was I missing? I was glad that it wasn't just me though. Everyone agreed that it was rough and harsh. OK, we left it for another 30 minutes or so until we had began the hors d'oeuvres. I was serving chopped liver and onions so it would make the perfect companion for red wine. Unfortunetely the wine did not improve very much. Our guests actually left the wine and the rest of us finished it off and went onto the whisky.
Personally it left me very confused. When I spoke to Mattitiyahu he told me that his recommendation was based on tasting notes from a year ago. Perhaps, he suggested, it was now past it's prime? This leaves me even more confused because this wine was exhibiting all the characteristics of a young immature wine. However, maybe I was confusing the roughness of a young wine for it being stale? Too much oxidization either in the bottle over years or becsuse it has been opened for too long will show stale, watery, dry dusty fruit flavours. This sounds more like what we experienced. Hmm. Was it a bad bottle? Well I bought two so the next one I open, I'll try drinking let's say only an hour after opening. Let's see if it tastes any better? The other alternative is to return it to the shop and swap it for a Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon?
Psagot Chardonnay 2011
I have only ever tasted two Psagot reds and was not impressed by them. Psagot winery has an excellent visitor's centre and a great story behind them. I always used to say, It's just a shame about the wine! Well that was my experience until I tasted this Chardonnay. I saw a whole load of then sitting on a barrel in a store in Machaneh Yehuda on special offer, 2 for NIS 100. When picking one bottle up to examine it I was immediately pounced on by the salesman who assured me not to be put off by the bits floating around in the bottle. He explained that the wine was "lo mesunan" - unfiltered! I assured him that I was certainly not put off and in fact even more interested in it now that I knew. I was a bit disappointed that they do not mention this on the bottle. If they are going to take the trouble and, frankly, risk of not filtering the wine in order to preserve the maximum amount of flavour then the least they could do is inform us on the label don't you think? I find this rather  strange.
Tasting Notes
Anyway we opened both bottles on Shabbos morning straight out of the wine fridge which was reading 16 degrees Celsius on the display. As soon as  my daughter had opened them and brought them to the table I knew we were onto a winner. I could smell the exquisite aroma even from two meters away.
Pouring some into my wife's glass and swirling some of this liquid around I didn't have to bring it up to my nose to smell lush honeydew melon, yellow apples and vanilla oak. Actually it reminded me very much of the "The Glenlivet Nadurra". I wonder if Psagot matured this Chardonnay in American oak like the Nadurra? It would seem unlikely. As far as I know, all Israeli wineries use French oak but you never know. The similarity was indeed remarkable, When I mentioned "Nadurra", heads began to nod around the Shabbos table. I was not the only one!
No this is not the wine. It is is melon juice.
The next thing we noticed was the peculiar greeny yellow colour, indeed the whole look of the wine in the glass was unlike any wine I had ever seen. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it looked like cloudy honeydew melon juice with pith floating around inside. Without a doubt, this wine was absolutely unfiltered. To me it was a glorious site. To others at the table (my guests) they were really put off by it. You could see it in their faces. It didn't look very appealing to them at all and I believe that this biased their ultimate opinion of it as they left most of it. (My family on the other hand managed to empty both bottles, no problem! My kids were haggling over the last drops.)
Taste was very much the same as smelling. Rich thick, honeydew melon certainly, crisp custardy yellow apple juice as well, vanilla essence , spices and wood in a heavy liquid. Yum Yum!
No gueses for which whisky we poured out after this wine. Yes, it was Nadurra 16 all round. The perfect follow up to this wine.
Final Words
The greeny yellow look of this wine with bits floating about may well put off many but to us it only added to its charm. We loved it and I went out the next week and bought some more before the current special offer expired.
Psagot Rose 2014
Well, after the success of the Chardonnay, I was in the mood to try another Psagot and as my dear wife's favourite wine is Rose, I decided to purchase a couple of bottles of this for the following Shabbos lunch. This wine was not on special offer. I've seen the price of this Rose vary from NIS 65 to NIS 79.
OK, let me say from the start that last Shabbos was very hot and I decided to put both bottles in the fridge before we went to shul. Consequently, despite waiting around 10 minutes after opening them and before saying Kiddush, the wine was still too cold. When I poured the wine it looked slightly fizzy although showing a lovely glowing colour.
The smell was pleasant enough exhibiting rose garden floral notes but still closed due to its low temperature. Kiddush said, we drank the wine. It tasted slightly fizzy with a short fruity peach taste. We decided to leave it to warm up a bit so after washing and HaMotzi we retried the wine with our starters. The fizziness had almost gone but was replaced by a strange sweet and sour taste. Initially fruity sweet then turning fruity sour. It was drinkable but my wife who enjoys sweet wines was disappointed by that sour finish.'
Bottom Line
For the price, not recommended. There are cheap NIS 30 bottles of Rose on the market that are far more rewarding to those who enjoy this type of wine.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 Year Old: Travel Retail 48% abv versus Cask Strength 55.3% abv (Also, the E150 debate)


The Glenlivet is the second largest distillery in Scotland as far as the amount of bottles of Single Malt Whisky sold and, according to industry figures is slowly catching up with the largest producer, that being Glenfiddich.

The Glenlivet distillery is in green.
Because they are such large producers of Single Malt Whisky they consider it very important to maintain consistency from batch to batch so all their products are chilled filtered for that pure clean and clear liquid look and of course, coloured with E150a caramel colour so that every batch looks the same as well as giving the whisky that orangey/golden fudge look that everyone associates with "good" whisky.

When it comes to say, boiled sweets, I'm sure that most people know that the natural colour of the sweet is colourless and that they add colour in order to indicate the flavour they have given to the sweet. I once bought some sugarless Fruit flavoured sweets and it was clear that the manufacturer had added the wrong the colour so that, for instance, strawberry flavour sweet ended up looking like their coffee ones.

However, when it comes to whisky, I'm not sure that most people know that that fudge caramel gold colour is not the natural colour of whisky.

When I say "all" The Glenlivet whiskies are chilled filtered, that isn't quite right. Since 2011, they have been producing a rather special whisky for the more discerning whisky drinker (like you and me!), called "Nadurra", the Gaelic for "natural".
Matured until very recently for 16 years, (now unfortunately the latest version is a NAS whisky, see my earlier post on NAS whiskies), matured in 100% first fill quality ex-bourbon casks, natural taste (that is, unchilled filtered) and bottled at higher strength to conserve all the taste. The actual strength has varied quite considerably from batch to batch with the regular 70cl bottle batches ranging from 53% up to 57.7% abv.. However the Travel Retail 1 Litre version is a standard 48% abv.
Natural Colour? Hmm….

I believe I am on my fourth bottle of The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 having bought my first bottle a good few years ago, and I cannot help notice that despite its claiming to be completely "Natural", that there are definite signs of the use of E150a colouring in these latest batches. I definitely remember the colour of the earlier bottles being a pale yellow and distinctly remember comparing the colour to the Tomintoul 14 (natural colour stated on the label) and seeing that they were more or less the same pale yellow colour which is what you would expect from whisky matured in 100% ex-bourbon casks.

Indeed, when I went into YouTube and watched early reviews of this whisky by the likes of Ralfy, the bottle colour is indeed a natural looking pale yellow! Doing a Google Image brings up similar results for early batches.
Looks like a pale yellow colour to me.

 Now compare this with the latest bottles:

Colour: Orangey glow/brown fudge wouldn't you say?

So I brought down a "The Glenlivet French Oak 15 Year Old" which I know contains E150a colour and some Tomintoul 14 and Glencadam 10 which I know has no colour added and put them side by side on our white Shabbos tablecloth for comparison.

Nadurra and French Oak, side by side.
In my opinion, all three bottles are very similar in colour.

Whisky Colour Chart

Next I placed the Nadurra against Tomintoul 14 and Glencadam 10...

Wow! Just look at the difference! All three are 100% Ex-Bourbon matured whisky. The Glenlivet however is suspiciously darker.

Close up. "Natural" Nadurra on left, Tomintoul 14 on right.

Placing Tomintoul 14 up against the latest batch of Nadurra you can clearly see the difference. It's shame I didn't take a photo of the comparison a couple of years ago but I think my case is pretty strong even without this.

A bit of a chutzpa!

Reading the label it states that it is only "non-chilled filtered" but no where, (unlike Tomintoul and Glencadam) does it claim to be natural colour. Even so, to add E150a colour to a whisky called "Natural" is in my opinion, a bit of a chutzpa! Googling old reviews from 2011 you get loads of results telling you that this whisky is natural colour. Now it seems, it is not.

Can you taste E150 colouring?

Well, initially I thought that this was a no brainer! Of course you would be able to taste caramel in the whisky Surely it is like adding cooked sugar to a liquid. You must be able to taste it! However, in the UK online Whisky store, "Master Of Malt" blog, they describe carrying out a blind experiment and concluded that you could not taste the E150 even in water at the quantities which whisky producers put into the spirit. On the other hand, Whisky Science Blog says differently:

"So, [from our experiments] caramel does affect the flavour and it is not inert in whisky, but are the quantities used in Scotch whisky industry enough to affect the overall flavour significantly? No reliable scientific fact exists, but my guess is that they probably are significant. Does caramel impair the flavour? It could, but then again in some cases caramel might even improve the taste."

Tasting Notes

Let's start with the Retail Travel version. On the nose initially quite a lot of alcohol heat but with a few drops of water it calms down and becomes wonderfully rich and mellow. Bottling at high strength (46% alcohol by volume or higher) means that all those flavours are preserved within the alcohol but in order to release them one must add water.

For 16 years in the barrel, this whisky certainly does have a lovely fresh and clean aroma. Freshly picked, highly fragrant crispy green apples, wet after a rain storm, rich clear honey, a tin of travel barley-sugar sweets in icing sugar and sweet pickling spices.

The Nadurra has this amazing ability to bring a smile to your face like recognising an old friend. I believe it has this affect because its tasting notes almost exactly match the list of smells one experiences except that they are amplified and more focused. It is a very reassuring and satisfying feeling. The green apples are there but also some Scrumpy (strong homemade English West Country cider), chewy honey and digestive biscuits, roasted barley, homemade apple jam, with a long and substantial soft fudge, polished wood and sweet pickling spice finish.

Highly complex yet wonderfully focused, this whisky is one of the few single-malts I know which I would recommend to beginners and experienced alike. It is highly approachable and enjoyable from the first sip, yet offers so much more when taken time over. It’s terrific stuff!

Naim Amplifiers

Back in the 1980s I was really into high end British HIFI and remember with great fondness a very long listening session I attended at a Hi-fi shop in Bishops Stortford one morning. There we were, my friend and I, sitting on a comfortable settee, drinking coffee in an elegantly decorated dedicated listening room listening to some great music on a Linn/Naim setup. First we started off listening through Naim’s budget amplifier and the sound was exquisite with so much detail. We were both very impressed. Then the salesman switched to the bottom of the range Naim pre-amp and power-amp. The difference blew us away. It was all there but now even more details and so much sweeter. Then, when we were convinced that it could not get any better, he switched to a higher end Naim pre-am/power amp combination with a dedicated power supply. The leap forward in musical involvement and clarity shocked us to the core.

This is what going from the Travel Retail Nadurra to the Cask Strength Nadurra is like. Everything is there still. The clarity, the balance, the freshness and all the tasting notes. It was just that everything was amplified and tastes were even more focused - the same experience but simply more involvement and interaction with all those flavours.

Bottom line

If you bought the 1 Litre Travel Retail version you will surely love it. However, if you’ve already been spoilt and tasted the cask strength version, you might be slightly disappointed. In Israel you can buy both versions in the shops. Obviously, the Cask strength version comes in a smaller bottle and costs around NIS 50 more. My advice, it’s worth the extra money.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Ileach Single Malt Whisky Mystery (Not a Review)!

I've seen this whisky in alot of  wine stores around Yerushalayim. It states that it is a Single Malt Whisky which means that it is whisky made from malted barley from a single distillery. It is a NAS (No Age Statement) product and does not even mention the distillery where the spirit comes from except to say that the whisky is peated and comes from Islay.

Last week, a wine seller friend of mine in one of the local stores, knowing that I am a bit of an expert on Single Malts, asked me if I knew from which distillery this whisky comes from.

So, putting on our Sherlock Holmes hat, let's try and work out from which distillery on Islay it does come from.

These anonymous Single Malts should not be confused with independent bottlings which do almost always tell us from which distillery the whisky is from. Independent bottlings, which may well be sold under a different name from the distillery, such as "Port Askaig" (aka, "Caol Ila",  the only distillery in Port Askaig - Dah!), are companies that make a special order, say from particular cask types and sell them as special bottlings, usually at cask strength, non chilled filtered and premium prices. However, these anonymous distillery single malts like the ones sold in supermarkets are at the exact opposite end of the scale, sold as cheap alternatives to the regular distillery bottlings. They are usually NAS whiskies (young matured spirit, anywhere say from 3 to 7 years old) but not always. You do find 10, 12 or even older supermarket branded malts. Waitrose in the UK for instance, sells 16 Year Old single malts under their own brand names.

There are good reasons for both parties why a distillery would sell its whisky to a third party supplier like a supermarket anonymously. From the retailer's side, they could set up their own brand, for example, called "TescOpSainsbWaitrAldi's Speyside Single Malt" and every year negotiate a deal with any number of distilleries. The product obviously remains Speyside Single Malt but not necessary from the same distillery or even of the same style!

From the distillery's point of view, the whisky they are passing on at a discount undercuts their own pricing. The whisky may very well be young rough spirit which might have a negative impact on their brand image so it is no wonder that they would not want the consumer to know from where "Ileach - The Peaty Single Malt" actually comes from. So why do it? I suppose its a good way to receive an injection of cash for a surplus of stock.

Anyway, back to our mystery.

We know it's an Islay distillery and that it's a peated whisky. There are 8 working distilleries on Islay. We can rule out the smaller distilleries of Kilchoman and Bruichladdich and also Bunnahabhain which does not as a rule produce peated malts. So that leaves Caol Ila, Bowmore, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg. Ah, but there is one more clue which while not mentioned in the marketing blurb is ironically and conveniently supplied by the Kashrus label on the side. It says "BeChaviot Yayin Nochrim" - that the whisky was matured in non-kosher (literally "Gentile") wine/sherry casks.

So this is ex-sherry matured peated Islay single malt. All these clues very strongly point to Lagavulin which uses predominantly ex-sherry casks. Being that its NAS, I'd guess that this is 5 Year (or there abouts) Old Lagavulin. Elementary, my dear Watson!

This all brings up another question. Some of the more observant of you (in the religious sense as well as being sharp-eyed) might have been scratching your heads at something. A Kashrus Certification that states that the whisky was matured in non-kosher ex-sherry casks does seem somewhat contradictory. Well, I would agree with that sentiment but that's just my personal choice. I'm not going to go into the whole ex-sherry cask kashrus discussion again here but just to say that there are some recognised Kashrus authorities such as the London Beis Din who do allow even heavily sherried whiskies. Others (the majority I believe) take the position that if they mention anything about being matured or finished in ex-sherry casks then they are not recommended for the observant whisky consumer. (Notice that I did not say "not-kosher"). The question here is what is this particular Authority with the K inside the Triangle?

Well, after doing some Googling it seems that many recognised and reliable Kashrus Authorities such as the OU and CRC do not recognise this particular organisation, the "Triangle-K" from the United States as meeting sufficient standards  that it can be relied upon.

See here for instance:

As mentioned above, I do not personally drink any ex-sherry influenced whiskies but I have been informed by my friend, that this is strongy peated but pretty young rough whisky, say around 5 to 6 years. For the price, in my opinion, it represents poor value for money. There are plenty of budget priced Bowmore Single Malts around that, despite also being NAS whiskies, do actually contain enough older whiskies in the final blend to be worthwhile drinking.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The NAS (No Age Statement) controversy - my tuppence worth.

Evolution of The Glenlivet Nadurra.

Beli Neder, very soon I will be a doing a comparison of two versions of “The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 Year Old”.

However, before I commence my review I would like to state my views regarding the NAS (No Age Statement) controversy.  It is in fact very relevant to this whisky as The Glenlivet “Nadurra” has up until now been 16 years old.

Look at the picture above. Spot the difference?

I'll make it easy for you...


Even though The Nadurra 16 is still readily available in the shops, Pernod Ricard have decided to discontinue this fine whisky and have now released a much younger whisky with almost identical packaging, with no age statement under the same name: Nadurra. Furthermore, the news is that their best seller, “The Glenlivet 12 Year Old” might also be discontinued, replaced with something called “Founder’s Reserve”.

What does an Age Statement actually mean?

The Age Statement on the label guarantees that the youngest whisky in the blend that makes up this whisky has been matured in oak casks for a minimum of X years. Let’s just understand what an Age Statement means. Even if 95% of the final bottling was made up of whisky matured for 25 years say, if only 5% of the final blend was matured for only 12 years then the Age Statement would be “12 Years”. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the manufactures stating in addition that “the majority of the casks were made up of 25 year old with some 12 year old to balance the final result” or some such statement. In my opinion, the more information stated on the label, the better!

The older the age, the better the whisky?

The marketing guys in the Scotch whisky industry will argue that they are only releasing NAS whiskies in order to disprove a fallacy that the older the whisky, the better it is. Ironically, this is exactly the message which they have been pushing on us consumers for years, charging more for their 15 Year Old, even more for their 18 Year Old and a small fortune for their 25+ Year old.

The truth is that the age of the whisky is not necessarily an indication of the quality of the product. It very much depends on the quality of the casks used to mature the spirit. For instance, a whisky matured in quality virgin or first fill casks for four years will very likely produce a young but nevertheless, very enjoyable whisky whereas a whisky matured for 15 years or more in poor, tired out (say third fill) casks will almost certainly produce a very poor final product as the tired out wood, already drained of its essence, will have very little influence upon the spirit. (When they realise this, the distillery might very well “re-cask” the whisky for a few months in either virgin oak or heavily sherried casks in order to dramatically boost the flavours. Hence the more and more commonly found “Finished whiskies”).

Instead of addressing the myth of “Age is better” by giving us, along with the age statement,  more information regarding the quality and type of casks used to mature their whiskies and promoting this as a selling point, they have chosen instead to withhold information and release more and more NAS whiskies.

Many of us are against NAS whiskies not because we believe that “Age is better” but because we believe that reducing information to the consumer will decrease our appreciation for  Scotch whisky and ultimately harms the industry. As already explained, there is in fact nothing intrinsically wrong with a young 5,6,7 or 8 year old whisky and as many Distilleries have shown, there is much to enjoy and learn from young spirit, if matured in quality casks. The whole problem is that the Whisky industry doesn't trust us, the consumer to understand this and is not willing to take the trouble to educate those who believe the “Age is better” myth by giving us more information! Instead they patronize us by purposely withholding the age of the whiskies used and think that giving the product some fancy name, (or misuse the good name of an existing product previously released with an age statement) in the hope that we won't notice.

The bottom line is that the whisky industry is afraid that stating the age of the youngest whisky in this bottling will negatively affect sales. To this I have two responses.

1. By giving us detailed information regarding quality of casks and the right marketing with words like fresh, clean, youthful, vibrant, these young whiskies can be made to appeal.

2. The age statement does not have to be brazened across the front but can appear at the back somewhere if they are afraid that it might put some punters off. You can even be very clever(like Benromach distillery for instance), and state the age of distilling and year of bottling then leave it up to those who want to know to work it out.

Be'ezrat Hashem I shall be reviewing this next month.

Benromach Peat Smoke 2006” states on the label that it was bottled in 2015. So 2015 – 2006 means that this is a 9 Year old whisky! It’s not Rocket Science.

Withholding information like the age of the youngest whisky used or indeed the types of casks used is never a good thing and leads to a feeling by many consumers of dishonesty in the industry.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask

Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask

Second Edition NIS 370-399.
First Edition NIS 320 in Yayin BaIr, Kfar Saba.

First Edition Left. Second Right
First Edition Left. Second on Right

A review of the First and Second Edition

Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask has been matured in Ex-Bourbon American Casks for 14 years and finished in Caribbean Rum Casks for a few months to impart extra flavour. It has Kashrus Mehadren Certification by the Manchester Beis Din.

The Second Edition (The Dark Brown Canister):

For reasons which will become clear soon, let me review the Second Edition first!
The second Edition (the dark brown box) is a Single malt whisky unlike any I have experienced up until now. It is obvious from the start that all casks involved, from the American Ex-Bourbon to the Caribbean Rum casks, were of top top quality.

What a shame that they chose to add E150a caramel colouring giving it that Orange tinge that ends up making it the identical colour to the First Edition. Had I been involved I would have made sure this was bottled with its natural colour if only to differentiate between these quite different whiskies.

Yes, this is a sweet whisky but compared to the whiskies known for being sweet, like Glenmorangie, Singleton of Dufftown, Glenfiddich...the Balvenie is positively dry and so so much more.

Cruzan Rum distillery

Sugar cane for Rum production, Jamaica

I have read and watched a number of reviews of the 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask and based on these I would have definitely given this a miss had it not been for a private tasting of this Balvenie a month ago at Aleph Aleph Piup wine store in Ramat Eshkol, Jerusalem.

My good friend, Matitiyahu, the resident wine expert at "Aleph Aleph Piup", Ramat Eshkol

An ever growing selection of Single Malts

So impressed was I that I ended up taking this lovely dark brown bottle home. The reviews seemed completely at odds with my own tasting experience. I could not understand why.

As mentioned above, the Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask is Kasher LeMahadrin (Manchester Beis Din) which makes it an excellent (although somewhat pricey) choice for strictly observant Jews who wish to experience something other than ex-bourbon matured or virgin oak. What an experience it is. I spent 15 minutes delighting in its maltifaceted aromas. It’s almost worth buying for this Wonderland of smells alone! This proved to be a most complex (but not complicated) whisky with layers and layers of flavours. I would describe it as a Caribbean voyage of adventure for the senses.

Don't tell me you've never sucked on
the end of a matchstick?

You start off with delicious homemade unsweetened black brittle toffee and roasted walnuts. There is a hint of new sweet and bitter matchstick sulfar tip as well. (If I was poetic I'd describe it as the smell of canon gun fire from 'Man of War' Caribbean Pirate ship but I'm not so I won't!). Behind this is an apple crumble and a complete kitchen shelf of exotic spices.

Definitely Cinnamon sticks, a hint of unsweetened baked Coco powder. Spicy Vanilla and of course, rum essence soaked in planks of wood. Even straight after popping the really thick cork, this is a deliciously smooth balanced malt with no hint of spirit burn.


"Aih Aih Ye Maties, this be a real Caribbean treasure chest of tastes!"

Warning! Despite being bottled at 43%, this is a delicate whisky and easily drowned. One or two tiny drops of water will do.

The First Edition (The Light Beige Mushroom colour Canister):

Two weeks after opening the first bottle (the Second Edition Dark brown box) I came across an old bottle of The Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask in a wine store in Kfar Saba going for NIS 320, some NIS 80 cheaper than I’ve seen this whisky in Jerusalem. It wasn’t until I got it home and placed it next to the first bottle I bought did I realise that they were not same! I had bought an old First Edition bottle. I immediately became excited at the prospect of a direct comparison. First verses Second Edition!

The First Edition (the light beige box) I'd describe as very sweet with hints of sweet black cane sugar syrup, liquefied blended Mars Bars and rounded off with red hot chilli peppers. Oh, did I mention that it was mind blowingly sweet? It is at the same time very spirit driven which gives it a spicy hot smell and rather harsh taste. Overall impression is of a two dimensional whisky with little depth. It seems to me that the original Ex-Bourbon casks were tired and lacking flavour so they decided to spice the whisky up by finishing it off in Rum casks. This obviously adds sweetness but cannot hide the harsh immature spirit underneath. Even a week after opening and leaving the cork off for a few hours, the harshness remains. Adding water simply waters it down. No improvement in flavour was detected.

This explains the awful reviews. They were obviously talking about the First Edition.

Bottom Line:

My advice, seek out the Dark Brown canister (and avoid the beige Mushroom colour canister like the scurvy - “Haha you Limeys”). You won’t be disappointed and can look forward to your own wonderful Caribbean voyage of adventure.