Picture this: it’s 27 degrees centigrade, and I’m in Amsterdam. No wait, the picture isn’t complete. I’m in Amsterdam with a 20-month-old toddler strapped to my chest, searching up and down roads to find something that looks vaguely like a whisky shop, in this ridiculous heat – and the toddler is cute but understandably grumpy, which makes me understandably grumpy.
Whisky shops in Amsterdam don’t really look like whisky shops, from what I can tell; they’re glorified off-licenses. (I should clarify that they carry a range of spirits, not just whisky.) So it’s easy to miss them when you’re walking by (in the heat, wearing a grumpy toddler). In a way, it’s quite charming to find everything flung on the shelves in a haphazard manner, though you think you might be finding a bargain among the chaos (there are no more whisky bargains – that age has gone).
But I was in the Netherlands, and it was important that I bought a Dutch whisky. It’s one of those things that seems essential, whenever you’re in a foreign country. And I’m probably paraphrasing the best whisky writer, the late Michael Jackson (if I recall without reaching towards my bookshelf), when I say that if you’re abroad you seek out that nation’s drinks. Sometimes that involves a different species of drink entirely – I recall a splendid holiday to Belgium in which I drank much of their particular kind of beer – but in the case of my trip to Amsterdam, I was focused entirely on whisky (with a minor detour to a remarkable natural wine bar called Glou Glou).
So I entered the look-alike off-license with my toddler, started browsing a pretty large selection of whiskies – and the lovely ladies who ran the place immediately came to my aid. One, in her more senior years, offered my toddler a box of raisins, which he promptly devoured, allowing me to calmly explore the rest of the shop. When I said that I had been more impressed by European whiskies than Scotch whiskies of late, the lady literally applauded the statement. I knew was at home.
I was after a Dutch whisky, and I was presented with several from the Millstone brand, which both Adam and Phil have admired recently. Indeed, Adam is deeply in love with these people, giving a thumping 10/10 to their 20 year old, which is at least 8 years older than Adam himself.
It turns out this distillery – Zuidam Distillers – has more than one trick up its sleeve, for there were also ryes and single malts on display. Peated and unpeated, French oak and American oak, all sorts of ABVs, it’s a properly interesting range. In fact, Zuidam produces all sorts of stuff, not just the whisky, which it releases under the Millstone label. But what to buy when spoiled by choice? Seen as though we’ve covered rye and unpeated single malt, I opted for their heavily peated cask strength American oak. I paid about €70 for this (about £65 in real money, when the exchange rates and whatnot balance out).
Millstone Heavily Peated Cask Strength – American Oak – 2010 – Review
Colour: deep gold.
On the nose: very tropical at first: pineapple, mango. Vanilla (which becomes more dominant in the glass with time). Not much note of peat, though there’s an Assam like maltiness to it. Baked apples and honey. It becomes something really quite alluring. Toffee fudge, slightly biscuity. In Dutch terms, a stroopwafel. Some lovely layers to it.
In the mouth: thick, silky stuff, full of flavour. The peat comes across more in a sort of coriander, tea-like way again, warming, not aggressive. Toffee fudge, honey, and then the fruit: baked apples, pineapple, lime marmalade. Quite a good expression of the barley – lovely maltiness, biscuity, which just seems to work really well with the peat (it merges well). A little dried apricot on a medium-length finish.
Yep, very well-made spirit, very good wood, which comes together to make a very good whisky. The £65 or thereabouts feels just a shade on the steep side, but then again I have no idea what whisky is worth these days. People pay silly money for shit whisky, and you can get amazing whiskies for less than £40. It is what it is.
What’s remarkable is that a few of us have already covered some fantastic whiskies under the Millstone banner, and we’ve liked them all, no matter what form they take.
These people clearly know what they’re doing.