Last week, I attended a wonderful portfolio tasting with the invitation of Specialty Brands, one of the most important spirit companies in Uk. The tasting included brands in all categories such as whisky, cognac, gin, mezcal and vermouth, tequila. During this one-day tasting, I focused more on whisky, rum and agave-based spirits.

Especially this year, I get the chance to attend very special tastings almost every week. The fact that I want to improve my palate and of course being in London, the center of the drinks culture, played a big role in this. I didn't share much on veviski.com because I tasted dozens of drinks at these tastings and most of them are quite hard to find. But when I received messages about sharing my notes from such tastings on social media, I changed my mind and decided to write.

In this article, I will briefly share my notes about the spirits I tried at the Specialty Brands tasting and give some information about their brands.


Whisky

  • The Nikka: My first stop in tasting was the Japanese brand The Nikka. Even though the variety on the stand made me a little disappointed, I didn't want to miss the 2 expressions I haven't tried before.
    • The Nikka Tailored (43%): A blend of Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. Much sweeter than I expected. Caramel, vanilla, citrus and chocolate on the nose. On the palate it is similar but in a slightly younger.
    • Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt (43%): A malt blend that replaced old black bottle in 2020. On the nose barley, cereal and fruity. Red apple, tangerine, caramel, chocolate and sweet spices on the palate. I've seen those who say smoky for this whisky, but frankly, I didn't get much.

  • Amrut: Amrut is a brand that I really like (especially love Fusion). In this tasting, I tasted the Peated and 3 times distilled Triparva bottles.
    • Amrut Peated Single Malt (46%): "Sweet peat" with the first sniff. Caramel, sweet spice and peat on the nose. On the palate, there is hardly any peat, malt and fruity.
    • Amrut Triparva (50%): A 3-time distilled Amrut that only produced 5,400 bottles. Quite tropical, sweet and light on the nose. Fresh fruits, biscuits, vanilla, barley and oak on the palate. One of my favourites.
  • Kavalan: The Taiwanese manufacturer is one of my favorite brands, especially the Solist series. With different cask details, this trio was an enjoyable vertical tasting.
    • Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask (58.6%): This batch, which I have tasted for the first time, is a very fruity and full-bodied. A whisky that fills the palate with notes of tropical fruit, vanilla and honey.
    • Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: (58.6%): One of the whiskies that tells a lot with its color. A full and powerful whisky with notes of intense black fruit, grape, caramel, bitters, black pepper and roasted oak.
    • Kavalan Triple Sherry Cask (40%): Although it was a little weak compared to the Solist bottles, it was a bottle that I enjoyed with its lively character reminiscent of fresh fruit and Jamaican rums.

  • Michter's: Produced in the town of Louisville, Kentucky, USA, Michter's is produced it whiskies with a motto it calls “Cost be Damned”. They do small touches like heating the casks before they are charred, filling the casks with lower alcohol. Even though I am not a fan of this brand's Bourbon, I wanted to give Rye bottles a chance at this tasting.
    • Michter's Rye (42.4%): Balanced and light on the nose with rye, oak, vanilla and brown sugar. On the palate, it has a strong structure with sweet spice, orange peel, brown sugar and dried herb flavors. As a rye lover, I found it quite satisfying.
    • Michter's Barrel Strength Rye (53.9%): It is a very warm and striking bottle, as you can imagine with the combination of rye and high alcohol. On the nose cherry, chocolate cake and cedar. Intense spice, cinnamon, rye and coffee on the palate. It can be quite enjoyable with a big single ice.

  • Port Askaig: It is a brand that I had the chance to meet for the first time. Bottled from the Islay distilleries.
    • Port Askaig 8 (45.8%): An 8 year old bottle said to be from Caol Ila. A warm whisky with intense smoke, black pepper and coal notes.
    • Port Askaig 100 Proof ( 57.1%): Despite its high alcohol content, it is slightly more balanced, fruity and slightly salty compared to 8 years old. We do not know which distillery this whisky came from.
    • Port Askaig 28 (45.8%): This whisky from the Laphroaig distillery is quite balanced on the nose with tropical fruit, vanilla, oak and smoky notes. On the palate, it is complex and balanced with its smoky, salty and sweet character. One of my favorites in tasting.

  • Single Malts of Scotland: This is another brand that I had the opportunity to taste for the first time. This independent bottler, owned by Elixir Distillers, is bottling casks from different parts of Scotland. Information about the bottles is shared in great detail on the label.
    • Single Malts of Scotland – Parcel 8 Glen Elgin 13 (48%): Vanilla, honey, fruit, floral and slightly waxy scents. A rich and full-bodied whisky with similarly tropical fruit, cinnamon, vanilla and honey flavors on the palate.
    • Single Malts of Scotland – Parcel 8 An Orkney Distillery 13 (48%): A very full and aromatic bottle from the Highland Park distillery. A balanced “sweet peat” bottle with aromas of chocolate, caramel, cinnamon and toasted bread.

  • Elements of Islay: It's one of the brands I first met at the London Whisky Show in 2019 and have followed ever since. Elements of Islay, owned by the Elixir Distillers, is an independent bottler from the Islay region of Scotland that makes some very interesting bottles. The expressions I tried in this tasting are the new core range bottles recently added to their portfolio.
    • Element of Islay Cask Edit (46%): Matured in Bourbon and Sherry casks, this bottle offers fruity, herbaceous, vanilla, light smoke and white chocolate scents on the nose. On the palate, it is similarly fruity and slightly smoky. I can say that I find it balanced but a little young.
    • Elements of Islay Bourbon (54.5%): It is matured in bourbon casks and bottled at 54.5% abv. On the nose, oak, smoke and moss accompany by pineapple, banana and vanilla. Vanilla, Cappuccino, caramel and smoky aromas on the palate. Aromatic and delicious. My favorite among the 3 bottles.
    • Element of Islay Sherry Cask (54.5%): Matured sherry in barrels and bottled at 54.5% abv. It has an amazing color. Tobacco and red fruits on the nose, dark chocolate, ginger and burnt wood aromas on the palate. Although I find it a bit unbalanced at first, it is a whisky that softens and becomes enjoyable as it airs.

  • Waterford: Waterford, one of Ireland's new distillery, is a brand that I have come across frequently, especially in the last 1-2 years. Emphasizing the effect of terroir in whisky, Waterford is a brand that my star has not yet reconciled with. In general, I find most of the bottles I have tasted youthful. Still, keep giving a chance and tasting…
    • Waterford Cuvee (50%): An interesting whisky produced by maturing and blending whiskies produced from 4 different barley types and 25 different farms in different casks. The bottle, which is about 4.5 years old, contains intense notes such as barley, biscuit, straw and anise. It reminded me a lot of new make spirit.

Rums

  • Hampden Estate: The year 2022 has been a rum year for me. I've been to numerous rum tastings and introduced to many great brands. One of these brands I met is Hampden Estate. This brand, which produces Single Origin Jamaica rums, has made a quick entrance among my favorite rums and I guess I wouldn't be exaggerating if I say it's my favorite brand right now.
    • Hampden Estate HLCF (60%): An interesting rum that offers intense banana, vanilla, orange, oak, spice and menthol characters with its high abv and high ester content.
    • Hampden Estate 206 LORK The Younger (47%): Another high ester rum with 5 years of maturation. Tropical fruit, banana and mildly spicy.
  • Renegade: A brand of rum owned by the Waterford. Just like Waterford, Renegade is a brand that emphasizes the terroir effect. Of course, what they emphasize here is not grain, but sugarcane, which is supplied in different regions. I haven't warmed to Waterford yet, but Renegade has already been added to my favorite rum brands.
    • Renegade Dunfermline Old Bacolet (50%): Produced in Grenada with cane sugar from the Old Bacolet farm. A young, vibrant rum with notes of vanilla, cinnamon and caramel.
    • Renegade Dunfermline Column Still (50%): Distilled in column stills from Lacalome Red sugarcane. It has a very fresh, vegetal and fruity character. My favorite bottling.
    • Renegade Dunfermline Pot Still (50%): Made from Lacalome Red sugarcane but this time distilled in traditional Pot stills. A slightly denser, heavy and aromatic bottle compared to the column bottle.

  • Clairin: Clairin is an island-specific type of white rum produced in Haiti. Produced using traditional methods, Clairin is one of the purest rums you can drink.
    • Clairin Communal (43%): It is a blend of Clairins produced in the Cavaillon, Barraderes, Pignon and St Michel de l'Attalaye regions. An interesting sweet/sour rum with pear, kiwi, banana flavors on the nose and pear, peach, white pepper and pepper on the palate. Clairin Communal was a rum that changed my view of white rums, delicious!

Agave

  • Illegal: Another category that caught my attention in the last 1 year is Mezcal. Especially after seeing how the Negroni is amazing with Mezcal instead of Gin, I started to explore different Mezcal brands. Ilegal Mezcal is produced by distilling Espadín agave twice in the Oaxaca region of Mexico.
    • Ilegal Joven (40%): Unaged, slightly smoky, eucalyptus, citrus and chili pepper aromas. Soft and elegant.
    • Ilegal Reposado (40%): Reposado, aged for 6 months in old and new American casks. Sweet agave, caramel, oak and bitter flavors. Would be perfect in Negroni!
    • Ilegal Anejo (40%): Matured for 13 months in old and new American casks. It has a full bodied structure with sweet agave, caramel, dark chocolate notes.


In addition to tasting, I attended the "Cane vs Grain" masterclass at the Specialty Brands event. In this session, we talked and discussed the similarities and differences of the whisky and rum categories by tasting samples from each category. I always call rum my second passion after whisky. For me, it is difficult for rum to beat whisky, but I can say that the gap is closing...

I hope this article was useful for you to get to know new brands. See you in the next tasting notes…

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