Friday, September 1, 2017

Stina's Indie Presents Night

The evening's line up of indie bottlings.
August's tasting took place on the last day of the month, and there was a great turnout of faces old and new to enjoy five independent bottlings selected by Stina.

7yo Fettercairn
We got started with a whisky brought back by club members who attended the recent Dramboree weekend. It was a 7yo Fettercairn, bottled at 46% by Mike Lord of the Whisky Shop in Dufftown.

There was a real sweet shop vibe about this one - one bizarrely specific tasting note even suggested pineapple upside down cake mix - especially on the nose. In fact, the nose got much better reviews than the palate which some found "a bit harsh" and betraying its relative youth. There were some Fettercairn sceptics among the membership anyway, but one conceded "This is the best Fettercairn I've had!" although this may have been a slight case of damning with faint praise. We paid £46.

Spice Tree Extravaganza.
Next it was Compass Box, and the Spice Tree Extravaganza. The original Spice Tree was fleetingly banned a decade ago because it breached Scotch Whisky Association rules, as the maturation process involved putting new bits of French oak into used whisky barrels, borrowing a technique common in winemaking. Instead, the Spice Tree expressions are now matured using specially-constructed barrels with French oak heads (rather than the inserted staves which proved controversial) and so everyone's happy now, apparently.

The Extravaganza version, a no age statement blend of again 46%, was very pleasant and smooth. It was considered more drinkable than the standard Spice Tree. But then, as well it might be for a £83 price tag (higher with some other retailers). While an undoubtedly nice drop, the consensus in the room was this probably wasn't worth that kind of cash.

A Small Glass of Happiness.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society provided dram number three, and in their tradition of giving their bottlings enigmatic titles, this was was called A Small Glass of Happiness. Underneath all that, it's a 12yo Speyside from the Dailuaine distillery, bottled at 57.3%.

This tasted like all of your favourite caramelised products. Someone offered those little Lotus biscuits you get with your coffee, and others thought toffee, crystallised ginger and even a bit of pineapple again. Costing £54.70 for those with a SMWS membership, there was a lot of love for this one.

18yo Arran.
After a half-time break and some Chinese baked products brought along by Katharine, we took our seats again for the last two drams of the night. Number four was from a bottler that we've not had at a tasting before, Rest and Be Thankful, which has close links to club favourite Bruichladdich. This particular bottle was from Arran and, at 18 years old, would have been distilled not long after it began production in the mid-1990s.

This was surprisingly light in colour for a whisky of that age, and it was certainly sippable, with a creamy sort of taste, and hints of baked apple. At 55.3% it was certainly strong too, but for some members it seemed to be lacking something, somewhere. It's £90.

As We Get It.
It was certainly a night of strong drams and Stina took things up even further on the last whisky of the evening, an Ian Macleod bottling of a Highland whisky called As We Get It, which clocked in at 65.1%. Funnily enough it didn't quite taste that strong, because it was quite sweet. Although not as sweet as the Fettercairn from earlier in the evening - "nothing's as sweet as that one" said someone - it was generally agreed this was sweet by the standards of a drink with 65% ABV.

Tasting notes included barley sugars and damson jam. It's undoubtedly good value at £45.

There wasn't much doubt that it was one of the top two drams of the evening, along with number three. But when it came to the voting, it was the SMWS A Small Glass of Happiness which won out, with 11 votes.

Thanks to Stina for putting on another great evening, and thanks too to all at the Britons Protection for hosting us once again.

Tickets are already available for September's tasting with Martin, which is going to be based around grain whiskies. And there's something special coming up in October too, which will be well worth keeping an eye out for.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Speyside Special

Six Speysiders.
Matthew lined up a series of six whiskies from Speyside for our blind July tasting. It's by far the largest of Scotland's whisky-producing regions, with more than half of the country's distilleries squished into the area around the River Spey in the north-east. Among the best-known Speysides are Glenlivet and Glenfiddich. But perhaps unsurprisingly, we didn't drink either of those.

Monkey Shoulder.
Well, actually we sort of did. Our first dram was a bit of a warm up for the evening. With notes of chocolate and burnt orange, it turned out to be none other than Monkey Shoulder. Widely available and often used as the basis of whisky cocktails, it's a blend of three Speyside whiskies, including Glenfiddich, and acts as a pretty decent benchmark for what a middle of the road Speyside might taste like.

It's £27 (although you can often find it cheaper in the supermarket) and 43%.

14yo G&M Tormore
On we went to something a little further up the whisky scale, and a dram that certainly split the room. For some it had a sticky sweetness, reminiscent of Scottish tearoom favourite Millionaire's shortbread. But in another corner this "packed a mouth punch" and was "a bit gut rotty".

It turned out to be a 14yo Tormore, bottled by Gordon & MacPhail, clocking in at £65. A finish in a wine cask and some slightly peated barley gave this a bit of a dry feel, certainly a bit unusual for a whisky.

Whisky number three tasted perhaps the most obviously Speysidey of the drams so far, with quite a lot going on: sweet on the nose, notes of fruitcake and honey and a long finish, although perhaps not quite as distinctive overall as the Tormore was.

18yo TBWC Mortlach
And it was another independent bottling, this time by That Boutiquey Whisky Company. The distillery was Mortlach, not a name you often see in its own right as its output generally ends up in Johnnie Walker.

It was an 18yo whisky which helped explain the £93 price tag, but as it was 50cl rather than the standard 70cl (as is always the case with TBWC's bottlings), we felt this was a bit overpriced.

G&M Cask Strength Ardmore
There was time before the mid-tasting break to squeeze in a fourth whisky, and this was a bit of a departure: an immediate blast of peat giving way to lots of contended murmuring around the room. Tasting notes ranged from "barbecued gingerbread" to the perhaps less likely "Germolene and Frazzles" which is probably best avoided.

Some thought this might have been a Ben Riach, in mind of some peaty Speysides they've produced in the past. But in fact, it turned out to be an Ardmore, once again from Gordon & MacPhail, from their Cask Strength range. At 57.5% and just £62, this sent some drinkers reaching for their phones to snap up a bottle (or even two).

25yo Hunter Laing Braeval
After the break we had another taste of the Monkey Shoulder as part of a little experiment planned by Matthew. The first whisky of the night often seems to be forgotten by the end of the night, once we've had a few more powerful and memorable drams. Revisiting it after a gap it certainly did taste better, and notably sweeter.

A few people suggested it had developed some butterscotch notes, which led us to a side discussion about why butterscotch was undoubtedly the best flavour of Angel Delight. Yes, it was that time of the evening.

The peated Ben Riach
The next whisky was a much lighter drink. "Incredibly light" in fact, while someone else suggested it would do for breakfast time. The official tasting notes proposed brownies and caramel, although one suggestion in the room - a nearly-banana sort of sweetness, like plaintain - got plenty of nods of agreement.

Another independent bottling, on this occasion from Hunter Laing, it was a 25yo Braeval. Another less familiar name on the whisky scene, the distillery used to be known as Braes of Glenlivet. At 44.7% and £100, this was good but a bit on the expensive side.

The last whisky of the evening went down extremely well. Smoky, peated, again reminiscent of a barbecue, everyone seemed to like it very much.

And it turns out we were drinking a Ben Riach a couple of whiskies later than we'd thought. This was a 56% no age statement expression, romantically called Cask Strength Batch 1 Peated. We fancied at least some of this was probably quite young indeed, but it worked well, and at 56% and £58 it was decent value.

The dram of the night voting came down to a battle between whiskies four and six, with the Ardmore taking 9 votes to the Ben Riach's 5, and a smattering of support for the others. Matthew had thought the Ben Riach might take it, but either would have been worthy winners. Thanks not only to Matthew but to everyone who attended yet another successful evening!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Bottle Your Own Whisky

The line-up.
June's tasting gave us another first for the club: a night of cask strength whiskies all hand-filled at distilleries, and collected by Martin and Anna during a recent 1,000 mile journey around Scotland.

Another good turnout.
And what a series of drams they treated us to. We tasted them all blind, and right from the off the first one announced itself pretty definitively. "I can feel my nose unblocking itself" said someone, as we generally agreed there was something broadly familiar about it. There was vanilla but also a notable spicy, peppery quality to it. Very nice all round.

The room thought this was a Speyside, and sure enough, it was. In fact, it was an Aberlour, a 13yo from a first fill bourbon cask and coming in at a weighty 58.1%.

The Aberlour.
If your only experience of Aberlour is a bottle of the supermarket staple 12yo, then this was a bit of a revelation. Not because the 12yo is a bad whisky but, well, this was certainly a step or two up from that. It's £70.

There were more shouts for Speyside on dram number two, which had a sherried, honey and syrupy quality to it, almost like an exceptionally boozy flapjack. Hot, strong and salty all got mentions, although at the same time, others thought it was quite mellow, which perhaps suggests that we were all over the place much earlier in the evening than is normally the case!

It was a 15yo Glenfiddich, and there was some surprise that it was 'only' 54.8% as it felt even stronger, especially on the nose. Sherry, bourbon and new wood were all involved in ageing this one.

The Glenfiddich.
It was the most expensive whisky of the night at £95, but even then I think there'd have been a few takers had it been available to buy online.

Onto whisky number three and the treat of a very sweet nose. In fact, it was "like an entire sweet shop" for one member, while other suggestions ranged from cream soda ("is it aged in cream soda casks?") to toffee and banana fritters.

Everyone was pretty convinced it was an oldish whisky, and how wrong we all were. Martin revealed that it was, in fact, just three years and ten months old, so only just about in nursery as whiskies go. It was a Tomatin, a Highland distillery, and was bottled at 61.4%. The colour for a whisky of that age was a particular surprise, but that's apparently what you get when it's in virgin oak.

The Tomatin.
If you happen to be passing by Tomatin, and it's certainly worth a substantial detour to make sure you are, it costs £75.

After a half-time break and fortified by Anna's brilliant homemade sausage rolls, we carried on with the fourth dram of the night. And straight from the first taste, this one was "like being caressed". Someone suggested it would be ideal as a winter warmer on Bonfire Night, presumably with a slice of parkin.

And it turned out to be another name familiar from the spirits aisle in your local Asda: Glen Moray. A 13yo finished in Chardonnay casks, it was 59% and, perhaps most impressive of all, just £50. "Suddenly I like it even more" was one response to the price tag. Unfortunately, it's sold out.

The Glen Moray.
The next had another distinctively sweet nose, but this one was all rich and fruity. Someone suggested apple strudel straight away, and after that it was more or less impossible to smell anything else. Maybe a bit of butterscotch or toffee or something along those lines.

There was a strong feeling in the room that this was a port wood, but it wasn't, instead being a first fill American oak sherry cask. It was also 13yo once again, prompting some to wonder if this wasn't in fact the perfect age for this kind of bottle-your-own dram.

The Glenturret.
It turned out to be a Glenturret, a distillery better known as the home of Famous Grouse. The latest in a new series of expressions named for well-known Scots (we had the 'Andy Murray' cask at the club last year), this was called the Gerard Butler.

Apparently the actor is actually teetotal, but I suppose that at least means there's more of his delicious whisky for the rest of us to enjoy on his behalf. It's 56.8% and cost £75.

The sixth and last whisky of the evening was "medicinal" and "chewy" with a distinctive floral bouquet. Other suggestions included blackcurrant and Jaffa cakes, although that could have been someone trying to order some unusual bar snacks. Someone else suggested they wanted to sit and smell it for half an hour, but there was no way anyone else was going to join in with that.

The Auchentoshan.
It was an Auchentoshan, and another highlight on an evening full of them. From a Pedro Ximenez cask and bottled at 59.8%, this was another drink well worth the asking price, which on this occasion was £80.

Reflecting the consistent high quality of the whiskies on show, the dram of the night voting was quite evenly split. The Glenturret was the only one not to attract any votes, rather unfortunate because on another night it could easily have been the pick of the bunch.

Both the Aberlour and the Auchentoshan got five votes apiece, but our choice turned out to be the Tomatin, backed by eight members. So congratulations to them! All we have to do now is, er, drive to Tomatin to get a bottle each for the cupboard.

Special thanks this month to Martin and Anna for sharing the fruits of what sounds like a great trip across Scotland, as well as to all the members old and new for taking part, and to the team at the Briton's Protection for putting us up once again.

We'll be scrapping over these at the Christmas party.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Born In The USA

The Town Hall in Thursday's sunshine.
It would be easy to write that it was a different sort of Manchester Whisky Club this month, coming as it did three days after the terrorist attack at the Arena. If you looked around the city centre on Thursday you could see the odd unusual sight: the armed police strolling through Albert Square, for example, and the extra bag searches taking place outside the Bridgewater Hall.

But inside the Britons Protection there was nothing out of the ordinary at all. If to carry on as normal in the face of terrorism means settling in for an evening of American whiskies, then I suppose we all carried on as normal, which is as it should be.

We ended up tackling no fewer than seven bottles for our Born In The USA night, including a surprise bonus bottle at the end, more of which later.

The first six.
It was our first American tasting in almost three years, and Martin kicked the evening off with a bottle he returned with from a recent trip to Florida, and the Winter Park Distilling Company in Orange County. The Bear Gully Classic Reserve, a bourbon, is the first craft bourbon made in the state, and to our palates had the distinct taste of walnuts about it.

It's very corny too, in that it tastes like the sort of thing you might have at breakfast time (not that having whisky at breakfast is necessarily recommended). It's very sweet too, and at 53.3% and a US price of about $40, it's good value as well.

Bear Gully Classic Reserve.
From the south-eastern United States, we moved to the Pacific north-west, and in particular Spokane in Washington State for dram number two: the Triticale Whiskey from Dry Fly Distilling.

Triticale is not exactly a word on many people's lips. It's a hybrid of wheat and rye, which was first bred in labs in Scotland and Germany in the 19th century. Dry Fly's bottling stakes its claim as the world's only straight triticale whiskey, the 'straight' tag meaning that it's been aged for at least two years and has no additives.

Dry Fly Triticale.
The Dry Fly is actually a 3yo, and we liked this one too. It's an easy drinker, a bit oily, a bit grassy, a bit gingery, and it tastes stronger than its 45%. It's available here for about £48.50, which represents reasonable value. Dry Fly also has a 10yo single malt on the way, which should be well worth keeping an eye out for.

After those independent distilleries, we went to one from the Jim Beam stable next: Booker's True Barrel Bourbon. Very strong and spirity, it comes in at a weighty 63.7%. Its notes of Christmas cake were perhaps a little out of place on such a baking hot late spring evening, but this got approving nods all round as well. One to sip.

Booker's True Barrel.
A 7yo, we got ours for about £45, but rumours abound that price is about to increase significantly as Beam Suntory aim to make it more of a premium drink, so it may well be worth grabbing a relative bargain while you can.

We had a half-time break next, and with the temperature rising throughout the pub the staff opened the fire escape at the Britons to help get the air through. This gave us a rare opportunity to get a slightly different view of Manchester and, in particular, the Beetham Tower, against a cloudless late evening sky.

The view from the back.
But after getting our breaths back it was onto the fourth drink, and like the Booker's True Barrel it was another one from Kentucky: namely the Pikesville Straight Rye from the Heaven Hill distillery.

This 6yo was named the second best whisky in the world by Jim Murray as recently as last year, and picked up the World's Best Rye award at the World Whiskies Awards, too, so it's got quite a pedigree. And we certainly enjoyed this one as well.

Very smooth, and someone suggested a touch of Parma Violets on the palate. Quite how anyone has the recall to remember exactly what Parma Violets taste like is beyond me, but we'll go with it anyway. It's 55% and £70. Whether that price tag is quite worth it was up for a bit of debate. But there's no question it's a very pleasant drop indeed.

Pikesville Straight Rye.
Next we went to Texas, and the Lone Star State's best-known distillery, Balcones. Based in the city of Waco, it has become quite the craft distilling powerhouse in recent years, previously under the stewardship of the now-departed enfant terrible of American distilling, Chip Tate (for more on the history of that relationship and Tate's new venture, check out this profile from the excellent Texas Monthly magazine).

We got stuck into their Texas Single Malt Whisky, the Balcones take on a Scottish single malt. Made using a process known as 'yard ageing' - allowing staves to be seasoned for two to three years rather than the more typical six to nine months before they are made into barrels - is what helps make this distinctive.

Balcones Single Malt.
It's absolutely terrific on the nose, and very biscuity. If anything it's not quite as spectacular on the palate, but regardless, everyone loved this. At 53% and £95 it's not cheap, but it is a great whisky (and yes, they call this one whisky rather than whiskey).

It was back to Kentucky for whisky number six, its capital city Frankfort and a name you may well be familiar with: the Buffalo Trace distillery. One of its best-known expressions is the George T Stagg, and we had a go at its little brother, the Stagg Jr.

Matured for nearly ten years and bottled at a not-insigificant 66%, it certainly packs a punch. Another great, bold whiskey, although for some in the room this was almost a bit too strong. Others picked out a bit of black cherry on the palate, although whether this was actual black cherries or black cherry yoghurt, is a discussion that may yet be continuing. It's £76.

Stagg Jr.
At this point we took a poll for dram of the night, and although there were a few votes elsewhere, there was a 9-9 draw between the Pikesville and the Balcones. Thankfully, we got a surprise opportunity to break the tie! There was an extra bottle for us to enjoy at the end, courtesy of Gareth from Maverick Drinks who joined us for the evening.

And it was another Balcones! This time, the Balcones Brimstone, a bottle dating from the days when Chip Tate was still involved with the distillery. After distillation he smoked the spirit and yes, it was certainly smoky.

Balcones Brimstone.
For folks who enjoy a peatier Islay this was something to savour, almost like a barbecue whisky. Or, as someone put it, it tastes of Frazzles (again, who has had Frazzles recently and can genuinely remember what they actually taste like? I think we should be told). Opinion was divided which led to a some memorable exchanges ("It's sooty!" "No it's not!") but then this was the seventh whisky of the night, so we can be forgiven for not exactly being at our conversational best. It's 53% and £78.

We re-ran the dram of the night vote and someone switched sides, giving the Balcones Texas Single Malt a 10-9 victory over the Pikesville Straight Rye. But in truth, this was a truly excellent tasting, one of the best ever: some of the other whiskies which didn't even feature in the voting might even have been drams of the night on other occasions. I think we'll all be taking a closer look at the American section of our favourite whisky retailers in future.

And so thanks to everyone for an excellent evening, but in particular Martin for selecting such a great group of drinks for us, Gareth for joining us and supplying that extra bonus bottle, and thanks also to everyone at the Britons for hosting us once again.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

These Are The Resurrected

This month's line up!
For April's tasting, Stina put together a line-up of whiskies from distilleries which had closed for a time, but which are now firmly back in production. Resurrected distilleries if you will. Well, it is Easter (ish).

Glen Keith 17yo
We tried them in pairs, with two bottles apiece from three distilleries. And the first place we visited was Glen Keith which hails from, perhaps unsurprisingly, the town of Keith in Aberdeenshire.

Probably best known as a regular in-joke on Sky's Soccer Saturday - where host Jeff Stelling enjoys kidding on that the town's Highland League side consists of just one bloke called Keith (Nurse! My sides!) - the town's eponymous distillery was mothballed for 14 years and only resumed service in 2013, under the ownership of Pernod Ricard (via Chivas).

Glen Keith 10yo
The first dram was a 17yo bottling, by way of Gordon and MacPhail's Connoisseur's Choice range. Distilled in 1996, so before the mothballing, it's 46% and will set you back £76. And very pleasant it is too, certainly on the nose where there's a lot of fruit going on: apple and banana in particular. An "easy drinker" for some that's "very light" on the palate, it did have a slightly harsh finish. If anything, it's possibly not quite worth that price tag.

We moved quickly on to the 10yo, a re-release of an expression the distillery used to bottle before the closure. There's certainly a family resemblance to the 17yo, with pear drops on the nose this time, although a more spicy, peppery taste on the palate. At 43% and £100 though, again the value for money isn't quite there.

Tamdhu Batch Strength 002
Our second distillery of the evening was another Speyside, Tamdhu, which is not too far along the A95 from Glen Keith. It was out of action between 2009 and 2012 when it was relaunched under the ownership of Ian Macleod, the maker of Glengoyne.

We got stuck in to the Batch Strength 002, a sherry monster clocking in at 58.5%. This is a sweet one, with notes of golden syrup and glacĂ© cherries bringing to mind your nan's baking cupboard. For some, water took that away a bit and made it spicier. Other comments included "oily" and "lubricating". Certainly drinkable, it's also decent value at £57.

Tamdhu 18yo
The second Tamdhu on the menu was an 18yo, bottled in 2016 by Hunter Laing at 52.2%. If anything, and maybe unsurprisingly, this felt a little thin after the blast of the Batch Strength. Lemon and vanilla were picked out, along with that dryness you associate with shortbread (presumably also from your nan's baking cupboard). Some drinkers really liked this one. It's £86.

After a break we were back and refreshed, ready for the final distillery of the evening, GlenDronach. Technically a Highland, it's not actually all that far geographically from the other two distilleries, located near Huntly again in Aberdeenshire. It was among the brands acquired by Jack Daniel's owner Brown-Forman last year, as part of its £285m purchase of BenRiach.

Glendronach 8yo
And what sort of whisky did they get for all that cash? Well, our verdict was, some pretty good stuff. We began with the 46% 8yo, also known as The Hielan'. We were getting sweet green apples on the nose, and plenty of vanilla too. This got a satisfied reception from the first taste, with a lot of lip smacking around the room. That only intensified when Stina told everyone the price - just £36.

There was much animated chat at this point about whether it was actually better than some of the others we'd had earlier in the evening, but there was no doubt this offered excellent value at such a price tag.

Glendronach 21yo
This brought us to the 21yo GlenDronach, known as Parliament. This is nothing to do with politics, though - it's named after the rooks that live in the trees near the distillery, although whether local MP Alex Salmond enjoys a dram of this or not isn't clear (he's certainly well aware of the distillery, urging it and others to use more local ingredients in this 2015 statement).

This is a heavily sherried whisky, thick and juicy like walnut cake. With both Oloroso and PX used in creating it, some wondered whether actually they ended up slightly cancelling each other out, with the nose generally preferred to the palate. The finish definitely had a taste of ginger biscuits about it. At 48% but £115, there were mixed views about whether this quite lived up to that billing.

However, when it came to the dram of the night voting: it was the GlenDronach 21yo Parliament that came out on top. Although loyalties were split among quite a few of the drams we tasted, so it wasn't a clear cut victory. A hung Parliament, if you will.

Thank you to Stina for selecting the evening's whiskies and putting together such an interesting line up, and to all club and waiting list members who attended: thanks also as ever to everyone at the Briton's Protection for hosting us once again.

Dram of the night voting!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A March Down Memory Lane

This month's line up.
We were asked to suggest drams for this month's Manchester Whisky Club tasting. Or, to be more accurate, we were asked to try to look back into the darkest, fuzziest corners of our teenage minds, to recall the first whiskies we ever tasted. Matthew's plan was to select some different (and, inevitably, higher-quality) drams from some well-known brands we might have long since stopped drinking. To make things a little trickier, we were tasting them blind.

Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Select.
And we started off in America. Perhaps thankfully, not with Southern Comfort (still presumably trying to make 'SoCo' happen), but with a drop of Jack Daniel's. And where better to try it than the Briton's Protection, a pub with always has a wide selection of JD behind the bar and has even brought over its own 'Manchester cask' barrels of the stuff.

We weren't trying that, nor even the bog standard Sour Mash you sneaked out of your parents' booze cupboard when you were 15, but instead the Single Barrel Select, and an expression bottled for the French market. This was reminiscent of Speyside apple, and was, unsurprisingly for a bourbon, "a bit woody". We agreed we wouldn't normally have a JD but, yes, this was pretty nice. It's 47% and costs £63, possibly a bit over the odds all things considered.

BBR bottled Glen Moray 8yo.
The other four whiskies of the evening all came from Scotland, with two of them bottled by our friends at Berry, Bros and Rudd. The first was dram number two, an 8yo Glen Moray (Scottish pedants' corner: it's pronounced 'Murray'). Now, Glen Moray used to be the cheapest single malt you could get in most supermarkets, but it was probably always a bit better than that implied. And this particular bottling certainly went down well.

On the nose, this was all pear drops and green apples, and the taste was perhaps a little stronger than you might expect, although it still had a certain softness about it. For one club member this was "subtle, but it holds its own" while others described it as "quintessentially Speyside". This single cask expression comes in at 46% and is available at £45, good value indeed.

Glenmorangie Signet.
Onto dram number three, and this got mixed reviews on the nose. A bit rubbery, a touch of bubblegum, and soon we had it narrowed down to either Macallan or Glenmorangie. Those who went with the latter turned out to be right, but when Matthew revealed we were drinking a no age statement whisky with some 30yo stuff in it, there was quite a bit of surprise. Nobody really had it pegged for anything of that supposed quality.

The whisky in question was Glenmorangie Signet, 46% again, but setting you back £125. We didn't think this was worth it at all. As someone said: "the problem with this whisky is you can get three very good bottles for the same money," so it's doubtful this will be appearing in any of our kitchen cupboards soon.

Balvenie Doublewood 17yo.
The old yellow label of Balvenie was a familiar sight in supermarket booze aisles, and was presumably also familiar in the early drinking days of at least some club members, as we visited this distillery for dram four.  But we took things up a few notches for what turned out to be their 17yo.

This didn't have too much on the nose, but was very pleasant indeed on the palate. Dried fruit, toffee, banana and Christmas pudding all got a shout, so maybe it would taste a touch better in the depths of winter. But even so, this was highly drinkable and quite warming. At 43% and £93, this was certainly nice, but again, a bit expensive for what was in the bottle.

Another BBR, this one an 18yo Laphroaig.
And so to the end of the evening, and this one got quite a reaction as members took their first sniffs of it, with plenty of 'oohs' and 'aahs'. "You all sound like a bunch of drug addicts," said someone, which was probably fair enough, as everyone recognised the familiar scent of Islay in their nostrils.

This really was very pleasant indeed. There were quite a few suggestions of Lagavulin, but then, nobody could really believe that anyone's first whisky was a Lagavulin. And here I've got to declare an interest. My first whisky was a Laphroaig 10yo (a family thing, as there always seemed to be a bottle in the house, a tradition I somehow seem to have maintained) and this was a Laphroaig too, although something a bit more special. An 18yo from Berry, Bros and Rudd, and clocking in at 55.6%. It was £175, but good luck finding a bottle. It was, almost unanimously, dram of the night.

And that was it for another month. Thanks again to Matthew for selecting some great drams for us to try, and to the Briton's for again being excellent hosts. We've got the club AGM in April and then another tasting as usual at the end of the month. If there's anything we can be sure of, it's that ordering a 'SoCo and lime' still won't be a thing by then.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Homegrown Drams

This month's sheet.
Despite the best efforts of Storm Doris, club members gathered upstairs at the Briton's Protection for a night of 'homegrown' drams curated by Tom. The theme was that each whisky relies on locally-sourced ingredients as far as possible, and we certainly ended up trying a real range of drinks from different corners of the whisky world.

P&M 7yo.
We began in, of all unlikely places, Corsica. Perhaps best known as the birthplace of Napoleon, it's now also the home of P&M Whisky. A joint venture between the Pietra brewery and spirits maker Domaine Mavela, P&M has been producing whisky since 2004. We tried the 7yo single malt at 42%, which is made using not only local water and barley, but also old Corsican white wine casks for maturation.

This has a remarkable colour and smells more like brandy than whisky, with a real sweetness about it. But on the palate, the taste is much more dry and biscuity, and arguably this doesn't quite live up to the promise of the nose. A nice start to the evening nevertheless, though.

TBWC Slyrs 3yo.
It was on to Germany next. Or, to be more precise, Bavaria. Much better known for beer, sausages and, well, beer, the region is also the location of the Slyrs distillery. We got our hands on a 3yo expression bottled at 52.5% by That Boutiquey Whisky Company. In fact, it was bottle number 691 out of 691, although there are apparently others still available if you look in the right places (ours cost £65 including delivery).

Everything's local again for this one, except the American oak barrels. And as an extra treat, the malt is dried using the same method as Bamberg's famous smoked rauchbier. It's lovely on the nose, and smells a bit like pear drops. You certainly know you've drunk it too, and someone commented that it "sticks to the sides on the way down". In a good way, of course.

Gold Cock 20yo.
Next, we moved further east to try Czech whisky Gold Cock. If you've never heard of it, then you're not alone. Perhaps the owner, local brandy producer Jelinek, might consider a rebrand to help break the international market.

This is a 20yo at 49.2%, and a still-reasonable-despite-the-international-delivery £62. The oak is Czech, and the barley is from Moravia, so again it's got some impressively local credentials. But the drink itself is a bit of a mixed bag. With some spice on the nose, there's an overwhelming taste of salt and especially black pepper. Distinctive, although some were hoping for a bit more from a whisky of that age.

Tekton 4yo.
After the half-time interval, we resumed with a trip to mainland France. After Armorik of Brittany sauntered off with victory in our Six Nations special this time last year, the club has been well disposed to French whisky. But this time we were going to virtually the other end of the country, for a taste of Tekton whisky from the Alps.

A 4yo single cask at 52%, this has a nose you might charitably describe as "organic". Less charitable comments included "it smells like a pet shop". The palate also got a general thumbs down, reminding club members of cod liver oil, tins of sardines and a forest.

Ichiro's Malt MWR.
As someone put it: "I'm a little bit undecided. Actually, I'm quite decided." This is a special anniversary bottling at £129. It's fair to say nobody is rushing straight out to get one.

We've had a fair amount of Japanese whisky at the club over the years, not least at the recent Nikka tasting. But dram number five took us further south in the Land of the Rising Sun, to the Chichibu distillery and Ichiro's Malt.

This is named for its creator Ichiro Akuto, who wants to create whisky that is as Japanese as possible (a common critique of existing Japanese whiskies is that they are very Scottish in style), and this particular dram is the Mizunara Wood Reserve, the Japanese oak well-known for being both distinctively flavourful and extremely expensive. Sure enough it smells beautiful, and it has a very pleasant soft taste on the palate. But the club consensus was that, for £100ish, this 46% probably isn't worth the asking price.

Mackmyra Svensk Ek.
The night finished closer to home with a visit to Mackmyra of Sweden. Specifically, the Svensk Ek no age statement dram. This is a distillery which again goes to some lengths to make sure it keeps things as local as possible, even using oak originally planted in the 19th century to make ships for the Swedish navy.

This particular oak is said to give the whisky a bit of spice, and we certainly picked that up on the finish in particular. There are some other subtle flavours on show and, at £45 for a 46% whisky, it's good value, too.

The dram of the night voting went the way of... number two! The 3yo TBWC Slyrs from Bavaria picked up 11 votes. Probably the greatest cultural moment for Germany since Nena was top of the charts with 99 Red Balloons.

Thanks to everyone for coming to another successful tasting, and in particular to both the Briton's Protection for being gracious hosts once again, and to Tom for his excellent research and presentation of a series of fascinating and unusual drinks!