Mail order whisky samples are certainly nothing new; over the last couple of years the whisky-curious have had a number of options available in order to expand their whisky horizons or simply dip their toe in the waters without the significant outlay (not to mention risk!) of purchasing full-size bottles. This model is to be applauded and I always recommend this as an option to those looking to try something new.
One of the more established players in the market is The Dram Team, offering both the odd one-off sample box as well as a subscription model where a selection of whiskies will find its way through your letter box on a monthly basis.
Recently I have discovered a new use for these sample packs: instead of lugging a full size duty-free bottle when travelling (with the associated monotony of drinking the same whisky every evening!), a sample box or two provides the perfect transportable variety pack. Combined with a travel Glencairn case, the whisky enthusiast is all set for a trip of dramming diversity!
Earlier this year at the Spirit of Speyside festival I had the pleasure of meeting Whisky Rover of the fabled Tormore Four. Over dinner and a few drinks generously provided for a handful of whisky writers, we discovered a shared interest in rye whiskey which led me to send across a few samples from a distillery I have been particularly enjoying. As an altruistic soul, Whisky Rover took some time out from his busy schedule of Jura bottle-smashing to send me some samples in return in the form of a Worldwide Whiskies selection from The Dram Team. Composed of six global whiskies from “new world” countries such as Sweden and Australia as well as some relatively new players in more established markets such as USA and Ireland, this would be the perfect set to take on my summer vacation! So I set the box aside ready to pack with sunglasses and celtic-strength suntan lotion.
Fast forward a couple of months and the whiskies have added a few thousand more miles to their journeys and are ready for sampling!
The English Whisky Co. – The Norfolk Farmers
Nose: Fairly light initially with some dusty cereal, before richer notes of orange peel and oak polish appear. On the sweet side there is vanilla toffee. Given some time a note of roast coffee can be detected.
Taste: A pleasant palate with a buttery mouthfeel delivers a balance of cereal, rich fruit and toffee notes. Behind this lie the darker notes of polish and roast coffee from the nose.
A balanced (if not too complex) and very moreish whisky. I was quite surprised by some of the older character present considering the spirit must be fairly young.
Mackmyra Svensk Rök
Nose: A balance of fruit and botanical notes – like a fruit-infused aquavit (which I am sure the Swedes would consider blasphemy!). In time a sweet note of malt and vanilla appears and builds, begining to dominate the back end of the nose.
Taste: Quite malt-forward and oaky, lots of dry woodspice. These aspects provide a nice balance of richness and astringency. Some tart fruit brightens the midpalate before a drying finish with the woody astringency beginning to dominate.
I have tried a handful of expressions from Mackmyra and always find them quite interesting and impressive – there’s a definite spirit character to be found here.
Teeling Small Batch
Nose: Starts off fresh with citrus peel before slightly richer orchard fruit and spice (poached pears) take over. Behind this is a pleasant and subtle earthy note.
Taste: The palate has lots of stone fruit alongside gentle vanilla (peaches and cream!). This is balanced with damp mossy notes which linger in the background and continue on the finish.
Retailing at around £35 this is not bad value for a high-malt-content blend. The rum cask finish does just enough to give the whiskey an extra dimension.
Starward New World
Nose: Fairly light with cocoa and malt notes: maltesers! Behind this lies light perfumed fruit notes; red apples and berries. There is a gentle warm vanilla towards the end.
Taste: The malt and cocoa powder from the nose is present in abundance, almost like an alcoholic horlicks! There is some orchard fruit on the midpalate to provide some depth and complexity, with the finish seeing a return to the dominating malt alongside some earthy spice and nuttiness.
This was my first experience with Starward (and not far off my first experience with Australian whisky as a category). It’s a pleasant enough sipper of a dram, a suitable aperitif perhaps?
Nose: This starts off as a typical rye with spice in abundance: cloves, all-spice and pepper. The nose then becomes increasingly fruity with notes of apple and the richness of dried fruits.
Taste: In a similar fashion to the nose, the palate kicks off with classic rye notes: cinnamon, ginger and pepper. After this the typical FEW distillery character appears, bringing herbal hints of grass alongside a resinous astringency. Leading toward the finish are further notes of spice and cocoa to balance the woody astringency.
FEW is another distillery which has an identifiable character about it, possibly due to its wider-than-normal spirit cut. I never fail to find their estery floral/botanical notes intriguing although I do have to be in the right mood to appreciate them.
That Boutique-y Whisky Co. Paul John 6yo
Nose: A very assertive nose brings lots of leather alongside barfi sweets. Balancing the sweet side is an almost salty note, with some earthy smoke providing additional depth.
Taste: A creamy palate delivers hazelnuts and dark chocolate, with a hint of gentle smouldering peat in the background. This leads to a fairly sharp finish introducing tart fruit and pepper.
This was the bonus sixth dram, where The Dram Team give a smaller sample of something generally in a higher price bracket. With this in mind, being extra-critical I’d find it hard to justify the additional cost for this bottle over Paul John’s standard range, and for a similar price the distillery-bottled single cask expressions tend to offer a more polished dram.
And with that, my glass was empty and my case packed ready for a return to the British summer – luckily today’s rain is tomorrow’s whisky! This was a well-curated set showcasing the diversity of world whisk(e)y today, and all in handy travel-friendly packaging – well done The Dram Team!