Thursday, May 3, 2018

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Special

The line-up of SMWS bottlings.
For April's meeting of the Manchester Whisky Club we were in the hands of committee member Martin, who had been squirreling away bottles from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for us over a period of months.

The drams.
Some club members were already part of the SMWS, but for the uninitiated it's a society which offers exclusive bottlings from distilleries right across Scotland, as well as access to various events and the club locations in Edinburgh and London. Basic membership is £65.

All of the bottlings produced by SMWS are given wacky names based on the tasting notes, and so it was that we began the evening by drinking an Alluring and Amusing - in reality a Tullibardine. Coming in at no less than 60.9% it was quite a way to get the night started, and a welcome one as we think it's the first Tullibardine we've ever had at the club.

Alluring and Amusing.
This was "sharp" and "gorgeous on the nose" with bits of pear drops and stewed apple. Perhaps in fact, we preferred the nose to the palate, which was particularly spicy. This held true even with the addition of a few drops of water, although this did open things up a bit. It's £48, although as with all SMWS bottlings it's members-only, unless of course you can pick one up on an auction site, where chances are you'd be paying a good deal more.

Big Boozy Trifle.
Big Boozy Trifle was next, an alias applied to a 15yo whisky from Cragganmore.

This was as peppery as the first dram was spicy, so dry and peppery in fact the mouthfeel was more like a savoury popping candy than a typical drink. Matured in first-fill French oak, and a weighty 56%, with other comments from the room comparing it to Rich Tea biscuits and having "a light bit of smoke" about it. It was £61.

The third whisky of the evening was perhaps inappropriately timed, as it's known as Winter Is Coming. Underneath the label it's a 10yo from Craigellachie in Speyside.

Winter Is Coming.
This one also packed a bit of a punch, at 59.3%. It was "sulphury" with a "sharp apple nose". This was a real livener of a drink, certainly interesting, although it probably divided the room a bit more than the previous two, which had admittedly both gone down very well. The general consensus was that this was still a good whisky, but maybe just lacking a bit of the quality of the earlier drams. It's £51.90.

There are plenty of sherry monsters in the club and we got to try a whisky of the same name after the mid-tasting break. They actually called one A Real Sherry Monster. This time, it's a 19yo from the Ben Nevis distillery.

A Real Sherry Monster.
"My God, that's a sherry monster and a half" was one of the early comments, suggesting there's no danger of the SMWS being hauled in front of anyone over the Trade Descriptions Act. The distillery has a reputation for going particularly well with sherry casks, Martin told us, and so maybe it was no surprise that this whisky proved popular with us. Huge on the nose, albeit with a slightly short palate, but at £75 this was quite the bargain for a bottle of Ben Nevis.

Dram number five was a bit of a mouthful - Peat Smoke, Pipe Ash and Pata Negra was the title (the latter means 'black hoof' in Spanish and is usually used to mean some kind of high quality pork product). At 53.2% this was, incredibly, the lowest ABV of the night, and it came from the Bowmore distillery on Islay.

Peat Smoke, Pipe Ash and Pata Negra
This was billed as "moving into the peat zone" and so we were, with a lot going on here. Comments included "superbly smoky" as well as "gorgeous" and "a lovely dram". At £70, this was considered another bargain.

And we stayed on Islay for the last dram of the evening, moving to Laphroaig for a bottle called Sailing Ship in Stormy Seas.

Sailing Ship in Stormy Seas.
This was an 18yo, heavily peated, clocking in at a mighty 60.9%. This left us with the taste of saltwater all over our lips, indeed it was "lip smacking". Frankly, you could tell it was the end of the night because that was all I actually managed to write down about it, but suffice to say we enjoyed this one very much too.

On to the dram of the night voting we went, and amid a great field it was a big win for number five, the Bowmore, which notched 11 votes.

Thank you to Martin for collecting such a fine array of SMWS bottlings, and of course thanks to the Society for producing them in the first place! Thanks also to everyone at the Britons Protection for hosting us once again and all the members and waiting list guests who came along.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Whisky In My Water

Another whisky club line-up.
The March meeting of the Manchester Whisky Club took place on the Thursday immediately before Good Friday, which is of course (for most people at least) a four-day weekend. This sort of thing is either a brilliant or a terrible idea, and if you can work out exactly which it is, feel free to let us know.

Carn Mor Ben Rinnes 8yo.
Stina had assembled a line-up of six whiskies for the tasting, with a watery theme. That is, whiskies which perhaps come from a particularly noteworthy water source, might benefit from a drop or two in a dram, or have some other water connection. Hence the name of the tasting, Whisky In My Water.

We got started with an 8yo Ben Rinnes from independent bottler Carn Mor (we had a Laphroaig of theirs quite recently, back at Anna's November tasting). This was amazing for a whisky of just eight years. Sweet, with sherbet, vanilla and a hint of burnt orange about it, a few of us were reluctant to try it with any water at all: "It would be a crime to add water to this, surely!" as someone said.

Inchmurrin 17yo.
At 46% and just £40, it also represents great value. Unfortunately, we may have got the last one from Master of Malt, but if you can find one anywhere, it's well worth it.

Buoyed by this great start to the evening, and perhaps by the renewed realisation we were on the verge of a four-day weekend, it was on to dram number two. This involved a trip to Loch Lomond - hence the water - for a 17yo Inchmurrin, which is produced at the same distillery on the bonnie banks (we say that, but in reality it's just a little to the south of the Loch itself).

This was another good one. A bit of honey, an oily nose, and maybe a touch of molasses in there, or at least something along those lines. Certainly pleasant, but not for all of us at £90. It's 46%.

The mysterious Kirin.
Stina didn't know much about the third whisky, as it was something she picked up on a visit to Japan last year. Unfortunately for us, we knew even less about it, other than it was from Kirin, a company probably better known for its production of beer and soft drinks. More or less all we could decipher from the label, with the help of a translation app, was that it was a blend. So there we go.

It was nice, and quite malty, although as someone commented: "I'm not getting much more than PVA glue" (if you have children obsessed with creating slime, this is an occupational hazard, though). It had a short, but sweet finish, and we think it was probably a 3yo or thereabouts. It was £35 for a 50cl bottle, although goodness knows how much it would cost if you weren't picking it up straight from the distillery. Stina summed it up: "I'm so glad it's not disgusting."

SMWS Quince Jelly Baby
After the half-time break and a refresh of our pint glasses from downstairs at the Britons' Protection, it was back to the fourth drink of the evening and a drop from one of our favourites, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. This was the 'Quince Jelly Baby', in reality a 12yo Glenlivet.

And what a belter it was. A bit of apple tart, a bit of crystallised ginger. Absolutely lovely all round, and a surprisingly easy drinker for an imposing 58.8%. This went down so well it got an almost unprecedented round of applause after we'd finished. We got our bottle for just £60 as members, but wherever you can find one, it would be well worth a good bit more than that.

We were in Islay for the last two whiskies of the night.

Bhunnahabhain Cruach Mhona
First, to Bunnahabhain for a bottle of their Cruach Mhona, a no age statement whisky that started life aimed at the travel retail market, but is now available more widely. Cruach Mhona translates as 'peat stack' and we can confirm that yes, it does indeed smell like a pile of peated bricks. As if they've just put some peat in a barrel, perhaps.

It's recommended with a drop of water and it's not too difficult to see why once you've spent a little bit of time with it. At 50% and £85 for a 1 litre bottle, this was another good value bottle, we thought.

Laphroaig Brodir.
Onto the last drink and to Laphroaig, for another no age statement whisky, this time the Brodir which has a port wood finish. As such it has a distinctive reddish sort of colour about it, and is much more subtle on both the nose and the palate than a typical Laphroaig.

Given that subtlety, this makes the Brodir either an ideal candidate for someone who finds the standard bottling a bit, well, much - or is a bit of an expensive disappointment for those who go to Laphroaig for exactly that. It's 48% and £90, and was enjoyed by some, but most of the members preferred the Bunna.

And so that was it. Another great selection of whiskies and another tough choice in the dram of the night voting, with all of the drams getting at least one vote. But in the end it was the SMWS bottling, number four, which picked up ten votes and took the honours.

Thanks to Stina for putting together such a great selection, to the Britons for hosting us once again, and particular thanks to all of the members who came along.

Here they are.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Spirited Away

This month's line up. With added beers.
Matthew took charge of February's tasting, and as we huddled for warmth upstairs at the Briton's Protection and mercifully out of the Manchester winter, he laid on a tasting with a difference: three whiskies alongside three complementary spirits.

Patrick von Zuidam jenever.
We tasted these blind and the opening drink of the night immediately divided opinion about whether we thought it was a whisky or not. One thing we could all agree on was that it was particularly sweet. "An alcopop!" someone suggested. Others went for a brandy, while some believed it might have been some kind of new make, despite the colour.

As it happened, it was a Dutch jenever, a spirit that's a loose ancestor of gin popular in the low countries. From the Patrick von Zuidam distillery, it was a 5yo which cost £32 for a 50cl bottle. Our consensus in the end was that this was really nice if perhaps a bit on the sweet side, although maybe best enjoyed as a substitute for sherry. It's 38%.

TBWC Zuidam 6yo.
We knew the second drink was somehow related to the first, although the initial tasting notes from around the room didn't leave us much of a clue as to what the connection might be. Was it grainy? Grassy? Herby? We couldn't quite put our collective fingers on it, until somebody came up with Demerara, which felt a bit closer to the mark. Stina summed up the general feeling in the room with the following comment: "I know what it is but I just don't know what it is". Which I suppose is what you get when you hold a blind tasting.

It turned out the connection was the distiller: this was a Dutch whisky from Zuidam, although bottled by club regulars That Boutique-y Whisky Company. A 6yo drink called Millstone, it takes its name from the windmills which are quite literally used to do the malted barley. Very nice although with a slightly bitter, liquoricey aftertaste, it's £55 again for a 50cl bottle, and comes in at 48.9%.

Berry Bros 14yo Nicaraguan rum
Drink number three drew the immediate reception: "This smells of banana and glue". In fact it felt slightly illicit to be smelling the thing to be honest. Once we got it onto the palate, it was a little metallic and, if anything, disappeared a bit.

We didn't think it was a whisky and so it proved. In fact it was a rum, a 14yo single barrel Nicaraguan rum from none other than Berry, Bros and Rudd, again a club favourite bottler. Considering BBR's general output we weren't as thrilled about this as we might have been, although on the other hand, perhaps a room full of whisky monsters is never going to be too excited about a slightly more delicate rum. Having said that, it was better for having left it a bit. It's £56.

BenRiach 19yo
The next drink, number four, had a distinct menthol or eucalyptus feel about it. Some liked it straight away but others though it was a touch on the sweet side. The connection to the previous drink was the dark rum finish, but this time we were tasting a whisky.

Not just any whisky, though, but a 19yo BenRiach. A limited edition affair at just 227 bottles and 50.8%, this drew surprisingly mixed views, surprising as BenRiach is a particular favourite of several club members. The main stumbling block was the £127 price tag, which put off even those who enjoyed the drink. One of the official tasting notes which seemed particularly on the button was Brazil nuts. Or at least that's how it tasted to me.

Tesseron Lot 90 Cognac
Continuing the odd numbered theme, we didn't think dram five was a whisky. There was a honey smell about it, but it wasn't "smash, in-your-face spirity" as someone suggested. It turned out to be a Cognac, which prompted a bit of discussion in the room. We thought it tasted nice but didn't really go anywhere in terms of a finish. On the one hand this got it labelled "disappointingly thin" but then, was that not just a whisky drinker putting their own perspective on a different drink, which doesn't necessarily have a 'finish' in the same way?

This discussion is probably still continuing somewhere (I've summarised it here somewhat for brevity). We were drinking a Tesseron Lot 90, costing £65 for a 40% drink. More experienced Cognac drinkers than I thought this was notably softly spoken as Cognacs go. Perhaps we might have enjoyed it more without the whisky all around it.

Port Charlotte CC:01
And onto the last drink of the night we went, and it was smoky. So smoky in fact, someone thought it was like drinking smoked fish, which actually sounds kind of incredible the more I think about it.

Sure enough it was an Islay whisky, on this occasion a Port Charlotte 2007 CC:01 from friends of the club Bruichladdich. This had its full maturation in Cognac, hence the pairing, and cost £75 at an ABV of 57%. We thought it was absolutely smashing. It's only available in the travel retail sector at the moment though, so it's one to keep an eye out for next time you're going through an airport with a half-decent whisky shop.

The dram of the night voting was an overwhelming victory for the Port Charlotte. But perhaps more interestingly, a second vote for spirit of the night ended up as a dead head between the jenever and the Cognac. I think some of us will be trying a few more of those in future.

Thanks to Matthew for selecting such a great and interesting group of drinks for us to try, to all club members old and new for attending, and to the Britons for once again hosting us.



Sunday, January 28, 2018

Elements of Islay

It's been two months since the last update on here, and in that time we had another of our successful Christmas parties upstairs at the Britons Protection. It's the night when we bring back all the half-finished bottles from throughout the year and have another go at them, to remember whether they were really as good as we remembered. Martin and Anna saw that the leftovers were donated to a charity whisky auction event.

Matthew demonstrates the Christmas line-up.
Onto this month's tasting, and on Burns Night we welcomed Myriam Mackenzie from Elements of Islay to showcase a range of drams from one of more sought after independent brands around. Elements of Islay is a venture of one of the most prominent names on the UK whisky scene, Sukhinder Singh, probably best known as the founder of The Whisky Exchange among much else besides.

January's drams from Elements of Islay.


This makes Elements of Islay a sister of Port Askaig, which we ran through to great acclaim in last January's tasting. So expectations were pretty high that this was going to be an interesting selection.

Peat 45%.
We started off with Peat, not only the word most associated with Islay whiskies but also the simple name for one of Elements of Islay's core bottlings. A 7yo blended malt, Myriam dropped a major hint that the two whiskies at the heart of the mix came from the same owner, meaning, in Islay terms, Diageo's Caol Ila and Lagavulin.

An easy drinker with a fresh, sweet taste about it, this got the evening off to a pleasant start. It's 45% and costs £30 for a 50cl bottle, the same size as all Elements of Islay products.

Torba.
Next we had a try of something made for the Italian market, and apparently not available in the UK at all. Torba - simply the Italian for peat - was a blend of three whiskies: Caol Isla, Bunnahabhain and the mighty Octomore from the Bruichladdich distillery.

As a blend of three some of the club members didn't think this held together nearly as well as the Peat, sensing it was a little bit "all over the place". A bit more Bunna than Octomore, some thought, and at 56.1% it was certainly a bit on the chewy side. Still, apparently this has gone down very well with the Italians, and who are we to argue.

Dram three was the first of a trio of single malts, in this case a Lagavulin. It appears under the label Lg7, as contractual obligations often prevent indie bottlers from using the proper brand name of the whisky in question, and this is the seventh release of a Lagavulin that Elements of Islay have done. It also fits in with the snazzy, chemistry-style bottles, echoing a sort of periodic table of Islay.

Lg7.
Unusually for a Lagavulin it was about 12 years old, unusual because the signature expression of that distillery has for quite some time been the 16yo. The 12 tasted very nice and creamy, and was perhaps surprisingly easy to drink considering the ABV of 56.8%.

However, as with many of the Elements of Islay single malt bottlings, there are very few if any left of this exact one, unless you happen to come across one in a shop somewhere. New ones are released each April and September on very limited runs, so by this time of year they're often long gone.

Bw7.
Sukhinder Singh's favourite distillery is, apparently, Bowmore, and so it was appropriate enough that we got stuck into at least one drink from there during the evening: on this occasion, a Bw7.

This was matured in sherry butts giving it a very distinctive sherry/peat flavour, albeit not super peaty. In fact, we thought this had quite a tropical, fruity and even spicy sort of taste.

Myriam said this was harking back to a more traditional sort of Bowmore taste. It was strong too, and seemed to pack more of a punch than the listed 53.2%. It's £100, again for 50cl, so special occasions only.

Lp8.
The last of the single malts was a Laphroaig, because as everyone knows, it's not an Islay tasting (or an Islay anything) without Laphroaig.

The Lp8 is a 19yo, finished in Madeira casks. Laphroaig finished in Madeira was certainly a new one on us. And it was great. All I've written in my notes from this particular drink are that it was "lovely again" so if you're after more specific detail then you've come to the wrong place (the proper tasting notes, as with all the others, are on Elements of Islay's handsome website). It's 53.5%.

Peat Full Proof.
To finish the evening we returned to the core range and the big brother of Peat, the Peat Full Proof. Essentially the cask strength version of the Peat we had earlier, it clocks in at 59.3%.

And this was also extremely well received as a "brilliant" and "punchy" drink. It's also extremely good value at £37 which, even though it's for 50cl, represents fine value indeed. If there's one bottle on the evening's list which I suspect may end up in a few drinks cabinets in the Manchester area in the near future, it's probably this one.

And that was the end. Regular readers will notice we normally vote for a dram of the night but we unaccountably forgot, perhaps because members formed an orderly queue to have another little taste from what was left in the bottles and were understandably more preoccupied with that. It might have been a toss-up between the Bowmore and the Laphroaig, but really all of the drinks went down very well indeed.

Thanks to members and the waiting list for making sure it was such a well-attended night, to the Britons Protection for hosting us once again, and extra special thanks to Myriam to coming up from London to share the delights of Elements of Islay with us.

Myriam in full flow.



Monday, December 4, 2017

St Andrew's Day: For Peat's Sake!

The St Andrew's Day line up.

November's meeting of the Manchester Whisky Club took place on, appropriately enough, St Andrew's Day, and Anna had a line-up of six peaty whiskies for us. With four of the drams not originating in Islay, the idea was to challenge a few of our preconceptions about peatier whiskies.

Anna in action.
And sure enough we started the evening off in Speyside, with a Balvenie. A relatively rare peaty expression from them, the 14yo Peat Week is so named because the distillery spends one week a year doing peated spirit. On this occasion, using a Highland rather than Islay peat as well.

This whisky wasn't too sharp but was definitely peated. Subtle, well-rounded, and in the words of one delighted club member, "absolutely gorgeous". At 48.3% and £56, it's not too shabby when it comes to price either. A good way to start the evening.

Next to Tomatin, a Highland distillery that again does peaty stuff one week a year. The bottle picked out for us to try was the Cu Bocan 2006 vintage, matured in a mixture of sherry and bourbon casks.

Balvenie Peat Week.
This was a little oily on the nose. A pleasant enough drink, it wasn't as obviously peaty as the Balvenie we'd had first up, although perhaps the sherry masked it a bit. At 50% and £50, again this is certainly reasonable value.

For the second tasting in a row we had an Edradour to drink. In contrast to last month's much older bottle, this was an expression available now, branded as Edradour Ballechin after an old distillery near the Edradour site in Pitlochry.

Tomatin Cu Bocan 2006.
A younger whisky at 8yo, this had a touch of fondant icing on the nose but ended up a bit of a disappointment, a little bitter at the finish perhaps. In general, the feedback was that this just didn't feel as though it had the time to knit together properly to become a really coherent dram, so we weren't overly keen. It's 46% and costs about £60.

Half-time meant a chance for a break, a refill of pint glasses from downstairs at the Briton's Protection and, perhaps most importantly, a sausage roll or two from the handmade stash Anna brought with her. Lovely stuff.

Edradour Ballechin.
Our fourth dram of the night took us to Islay for the first time, with a 6yo independent bottling called Williamson's Carn Mor 2010. This was a 'teaspooned' whisky, meaning it included a small amount of a second whisky to help keep the actual origin something of a mystery, as a means of protecting the brand. The clue was in the name though: it's after Bessie Williamson, who became the first woman to run a Scottish distillery when she took charge of the most famous peat producer of them all, yes, Laphroaig.

There was none of that traditional medicinal taste of Laphroaig here though. Great on the nose and "gorgeous" on the palate too, this let to a scramble for phones and the main whisky retailers. There weren't many if any bottles left to be had though, hardly surprising given the limited run of 950 bottles and the very reasonable £40 price tag. It's 46%.

Williamson's Carn Mor 2010.
One last visit to Speyside for the evening was next and to a distillery than Anna admitted she had a bit of a soft spot for, BenRiach. It's also been a club favourite in recent years, and its peated Septendecim 17yo got rave reviews when we tried it some years back. On this occasion we had a 12yo from Batch 14 of the distillery's annual releases series, matured in a first fill port cask.

And this was really very nice indeed. Appropriately enough for the time of year, it had a definite taste of Christmas cake about it, with cherries, almonds and icing sugar all to the fore. Unfortunately for all of us, it's sold out everywhere. It cost us £73 and clocked in at a healthy 53.1%.

BenRiach 2005.
Anna admitted she blew a big chunk of this month's tasting budget on the last dram of the night, but we couldn't go through a whole evening of peaty whiskies without having an Octomore. Distilled at Bruichladdich, Octomore has become a byword for, well, lots and lots of peat, even by Islay standards. The particular drink we had was a 7yo independent bottling from Rest and Be Thankful, a welcome return for a bottler after we had an Arran of theirs at another recent tasting.

Aged in French oak at a strength of 63.9%, this was "an all-around monster". I don't seem to have made any more detailed tasting notes than this, although it was the last dram of the night, so there you go. We got ours for £160 but a cursory search online reveals you might be paying almost twice that for a bottle now.

Rest and Be Thankful Octomore.
So the members and guests had a tricky decision to take when it came to the dram of the night voting.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, each bottle except the Edradour picked up at least some support. Perhaps equally unsurprisingly given the club's previous love for this particular distillery, it was the BenRiach which scored best of all, racking up no fewer than 17 votes. Both the Balvenie and the Octomore got five each, with plenty of praise for the Balvenie for its value.

One last highlight of the evening was the whisky fudge from I Heart Whisky, with a couple of pieces for everyone. As you can imagine these went down extremely well!


Thank you to all faces old and new who came along to the tasting, and in particular to Anna for doing a great job at her first solo tasting. Once again thanks to the Britons for putting us up, too. Next up it's the annual Christmas party! Ho ho, and indeed, ho.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Old and Rare Night With Angus MacRaild

The full line-up!
Our annual Old and Rare night is always one of the highlights of the Manchester Whisky Club year, and this time we had a record attendance of members old and new, plus some guests, as Edinburgh-based whisky expert Angus MacRaild took us through some bottles from his own personal stash.

G&M Edradour 10yo from 1982
In fact, it was the biggest turnout at a Whisky Club meeting ever, and the top room at the Britons Protection was packed as Angus got the evening underway with the first of six drams.

And it was an Edradour, distilled in 1972 and bottled by Gordon and MacPhail a decade later at 40%, as part of its long-running Connoisseur's Choice range. As Angus explained, Edradour has had a bit of a mixed reputation over the years, but some of the older bottlings are worth exploring.

Bruichladdich 15yo from 1990
He recommended this particular one as an example of an old-style Scotch whisky, of the sort that might have been commonplace in your local newsagent once upon a time. This was nice although at the same time, a bit cardboardy. But it certainly got the evening off to a solid start.

Next we went to Islay and Bruichladdich, a club favourite in general, but on this occasion we were trying a dram from long before its recent resurgence. It was a 15yo, distilled in the mid-70s and bottled around 1990.

This was really very pleasant indeed. Beautiful and light, with a soft fruitiness about it. "Starchy!" as someone suggested. Bruichladdich don't make them quite like this anymore.

G&M Scapa 8yo from early 1980s
We were back to Gordon and MacPhail for the third dram, and this time the whisky was from Orkney's Scapa distillery, in the form of an 8yo bottled in the early 1980s.

At 57% this packed quite a punch at first, but that soon gave way to something sweet and sherried, "like candyfloss inside" as someone commented. It was a spicy one too, quite unusual with lots of character. It also changed quite a bit with a few drops of water. Arguably a bit more interesting than some of the more modern expressions to have emerged from Scapa.

Pure Malt Gold 106, mid 1980s
After a half-time break and a refill of our pint glasses at the Britons bar, we tried the fourth whisky of the night and the third and last of the G&M bottlings. This was a Pure Malt Gold 106, bottled in the mid-1980s.

A 10yo expression, the actual distillery or distilleries involved remain something of a mystery. Although the sherred, Speyside-style put plenty of drinkers in mind of a slightly more subtle version of Christmas favourite Glenfarclas 105. It's 60.5%, which Angus suggested gave it a "big, hot and healthy" character. People really liked this one.

SMWS North Port 16yo from 1996
Angus brought the evening to a close with two old bottlings from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. And the first was a real rarity for the club, our first ever taste of North Port - and indeed, even the club's most experienced whisky fans had never had anything from this distillery before. Situated in Brechin, north of Dundee close to the Angus coast, it was mothballed in 1983 and later demolished, and these days you can't easily get a bottle for much below £350, witih almost no new bottlings these days.

This particular expression was a 16yo, bottled in 1996 at 57.3%. And it got the thumbs up, with comments including "nicely spicy" and "waxy character". There was a lot going on on the nose, too, although this divided opinion a little more.

SMWS Longrow 14yo 2004
We finished off with a more recent SMWS bottling of a Longrow from the Springbank distillery in Campbeltown, dating from 2004.

It was a 14yo at 57.8%, and was a peaty one, but "not in an Islay way, more in a smouldering beach smoke way". That subtle smokiness gave it a take on peaty whisky which was a new one for some of us, and very welcome it was too!

And this last whisky came pretty close in the dram of the night voting, but it was just edged out by number four, the Macphail's Pure Malt Gold 106. Given that particular whisky's sherry character, and the number of sherry monsters inhabiting the club, perhaps the outcome was no surprise really!

Thanks must go to Angus for travelling down from Edinburgh for the tasting and bringing not only six great bottles from his collection, but also giving us the benefit of his great whisky knowledge. And also thanks to faces old and new who made this maybe our most memorable tasting yet.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Follow The Grain

This month's line-up.
Martin took the helm of September's tasting at Manchester Whisky Club. We were in the smaller of the two upstairs rooms at the Briton's, giving way to a theatre performance in the larger space (when this happened once before it was because of a double booking with the railway union's Christmas party), but there was just about enough space for all of us to tackle the line-up of six grain whiskies.

Just the 96.4%
There were actually seven drinks apiece though, the first this little drop of clear liquid. It's neutral grain alcohol and came in at a mere 96.4%. Given the strength, it was actually surprisingly smooth, although most drinkers took Martin's advice of putting their fingers in for a small taste. In the interests of research, your correspondent necked his one though. Either way, it was certainly a lively way to get the evening started.

While grain whisky is considerably less fashionable than single malt, there are some interesting bottlings out there that can provide good value for money. Grain whisky is typically used as the backbone of blends, but increasingly distilleries and independent bottlers alike are putting out grains in their own right, and that's what the evening was all about.

The Malt 'n Rye.
We started off in Norfolk with club favourites the English Whisky Company, and their bourbon finished Malt 'n Rye. This started off smoothly but there was a bit of a sharp finish that was too harsh for a lot of us. Overall it was a bit spirity, too. It was a 45% whisky and cost £45, but with the bottling just 50cl rather than the standard 70cl, this doesn't represent the value offered by some of the other grains on the market.

The Chita.
An immediate contrast to that came in the form of dram number two, The Chita from Japan's Suntory. Previously only available in the travel retail market, this 43% whisky is now on general sale at about £50. A no age statement whisky, this was smooth, buttery, sweet and nice, very pleasant all round in fact. One well worth investing in, whether you're passing through the airport nor not.

We made it back to Scotland for the third whisky of the evening, and a drink from what was, at one time, the largest distillery in the whole country, Port Dundas. A former powerhouse of grain production, Diageo eventually closed it in 2011 to avoid splashing out on a pricey upgrade.

North Star Port Dundas 12yo.
This particular bottling came from North Star, a 12yo available for just £40 despite the strength of 58.8%. Considering that high ABV it was surprisingly creamy, almost with a hint of cream soda in fact. Smooth at the end too, with others noting a certain malty or biscuity taste as well. "It could really warm the cockles of your heart" said one particular fan. A bit of water took the spice out of it a bit, though.

After the half-time break (and some of David's sensational baked goods) it was back to North Star for dram number four, from another of the big grain distilleries, the North British.

North Star North British 21yo
It's the last distillery in Edinburgh and remains one of the largest of any kind in Scotland. As with Port Dundas, you're bound to have had some in one well-known blended brand or another at some point, although bottlings under the North British name are much rarer.

This was a 21yo from a single cask, costing £68 and with a strength of 52.9%. "Posh on the nose and posh in the taste" was an early comment. And that price tag was quickly judged an absolute bargain. It has a distinctive, thick feeling in the mouth, almost like treacle. One of the official tasting notes mentioned rum and raisin, and that certainly rang a few bells too. Great stuff.
Whiskybroker Cambus 25yo

For the last two whiskies of the night we were treated to a couple of bottles from Martin's own collection, from one of the club's favourite independent bottlers, Whiskybroker. Because Martin picked them up some time ago neither is available anymore - bottlings on Whiskybroker tend to go quickly, and the advice is to follow him on social media for updates as to when new ones are going live.

Anyway, dram number five took us to the now-silent Cambus distillery near Alloa in the 'wee county' of Clackmannanshire. This was a first fill sherry 25yo, at 52.7% which, in typical Whiskybroker style, was a very reasonably priced £70. A "totally different" and "very sherried" dram, this was flavoursome and again quite raisiny. The sherry monsters in the room, of which there are many at the club, loved this one, while others thought the flavours were just a bit overpowering.

Whiskybroker Invergordon 43yo
And we stuck with Whiskybroker for an even rarer treat to end the evening, an Invergordon that was bottled last year at the ripe old age of 43. Filled in July 1973 when Slade were at number 1 with Skweeze Me Pleeze Me, this was older than many if not most of the people around the table, and was 49.7% with an original price of just £99. Tropical fruit was an obvious early tasting note, like the old style Opal Fruits in fact (we're of an age where I think we will probably never get round to calling them Starburst). A lovely drink, really buttery again, great on the nose with lots of layers on the palate. A triumph!

It was no surprise that the Invergordon took the dram of the night voting, but it only defeated dram four, the North British, by a single vote, while a couple of the other drams had their supporters too.

So, the end of another great tasting, and thanks in particular go to Martin for the guide through the world of grain whiskies, and in particular letting us into the dark recesses of his own collection for some really special stuff at the end.