Friday, July 29, 2016

Lowlands Night: How Low Can You Go?

The line-up.
With several of the group fresh from taking the high road to Loch Lomond for Dramboree 2016, we all took the low road to this month's tasting with a series of whiskies from lowland distilleries.

The Ailsa Bay.
Our first stop was the Ayrshire coast and a bottle of Ailsa Bay, the first release from the distillery of the same name, owned by Grant's.

What's inside is of course always more important than the packaging, but this particular bottle won some early plaudits for a stylish, straight design and a bit of the famous Ailsa Craig granite, better known as the source of the world's entire supply of curling stones, as part of the stopper.

Surprise new club member.
The drink itself is a no-age statement peated whisky. Martin, acting as whisky master for the evening, noted that it was unusual to begin a tasting with something peated, but this certainly isn't the sort of heavy peat monster you'd want to save until the end.

Nice and light, it also tasted on the young side, and there was widespread agreement it would improve further with future expressions. Costing around the £55 mark and bottled at 48.9%, it's one to keep an eye out for.

The Littlemill.
That's not something that can be said for our next whisky, the 12yo Littlemill. This particular distillery on the banks of the Clyde was in and out of mothballs down the years, but finally closed in the mid-90s and eventually burnt down. So to find a bottle is relatively rare these days. Indeed, ours was sourced from a whisky auction site.

Unfortunately, it didn't get a rapturous reception from the members. Good on the nose, it sadly disappointed many with a lukewarm showing on the palate, although it did improve a little after a few sips.

This 40% dram has been well-reviewed elsewhere, so there was some suspicion that this particular bottle's curious history - it had been to Greece and back - may have affected the taste by the time we finally got our hands on it.

Place mat.
Whiskybroker - also known as Martin Armstrong - has long been one of the club's favoured independent bottlers, with an Aultmore of his a particular hit last year.

This month's dram number three was a bit of a family occasion as it was an 8yo Bladnoch, from Scotland's most southerly distillery which was run for some time by Martin's dad Raymond (it's now been acquired by an Australian yoghurt entrepreneur - fill in your own punchline).

The Bladnoch.
The nose on this was quite something, and not really in a good way. "Baby vomit" was about as close to a consensus as we got. It had many of the most experienced club members racking their brains to think of a time they'd smelt something quite so pungent in a glass.

It was much better on the palate, although as someone pointed out, that was setting the bar pretty low. Wine finished, a bit buttery maybe and certainly not unpleasant at 43%. It had its supporters in the room but it didn't really do enough to send anyone online to snap up a bottle for £55.

There were high hopes for the last two bottles of the night though, and they lived up to the billing.

The Glenkinchie.
The fourth dram was a limited release 12yo Glenkinchie, a Diageo distillery near Edinburgh. As Martin pointed out, the standard Glenkinchie bottling is also a 12yo and it's probably available in your local supermarket. But this particular expression is a cask strength 58.7%, produced as part of the Friend of the Classic Malts offer and again on this occasion bought from an auction site for just over £60.

And despite the strength, it was very drinkable. This one got murmurs of approval all round straight away. With 5,000 bottles produced it's certainly worth tracking down, even if it may take a bit of searching.

Auchentoshan excitement.
It was back across the country to Clydeside for the final bottle of the night, a distillery cask sherried dram from Auchentoshan. And it was well worth waiting for.

This is officially a no age statement expression, although the dates on the back gave it away as just over 11 years old. Aged in Oloroso sherry casks, this had a lovely, deep colour with a taste to match, all fruitcake and Boxing Day regret.

For dram of the night it came down to the Glenkinchie and the Auchentoshan and, although there was a good deal of support for the former, the sherry lovers of the club won the day.

Thank you to Martin for running another successful tasting and for everyone who came, it was another busy evening with barely enough whisky to go round. And thanks as ever to the staff of the Britons Protection for being generous hosts.

The voting.

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