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.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Independent Bottlings Night

The line-up.
At our June tasting we were delighted to welcome several new paid-up members to the club, and they had five whiskies from a variety of independent bottlers to enjoy, as yet more summer rain lashed down outside the Britons Protection.

The Inchmurrin 19yo.
Tom acted as whisky master for the evening, and he started us off with a 19yo Inchmurrin, bottled by Signatory. As Tom revealed, Inchmurrin is made at the Loch Lomond distillery and is named for the island in the middle of the loch, which is possibly best known for being the home of a naturist colony.

Not that the dram itself was naked. It's finished in sherry casks, something clearly in evidence just from the nose. That sherried sweetness won quite a few approving nods on first taste, but if anything this whisky disappointed a little thereafter, just sort of fading away after a strong start. However, at £40, it's not bad value.

That TBWC label.
Up next was a no-age statement dram from That Boutique-y Whisky Company from the Allt-á-Bhainne distillery near Dufftown. Somewhat tenuously, because Allt-á-Bhainne sounds a bit like House of Pain, the label features cows listening to old school classic Jump Around, while standing next to a river of milk (which is what Allt-á-Bhainne actually means).

But enough about the packaging, and on to the whisky. This one's herby on the nose, vaguely reminiscent of dandelion and burdock. And we got a range of opinions from the membership, although most could at least agree that this was an "interesting" drop. It retails at a shade under £50, which would be fine if it was in a proper 70cl bottle!

The Glenburgie 19yo.
The most expensive whisky of the night was next and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it turned out to be our favourite. It was a Glenburgie 19yo, not just sold by Master of Malt but also bottled by them.

Appropriately enough for Wimbledon fortnight, this one had strawberries if not cream, along with distinct notes of butterscotch and a bit of citrus later on in the finish. Despite general warm approval, this wasn't a bottle that got the membership reaching for their phones and credit cards - purely because of the price at more than £90.

This led to the quote of the evening from Nic: "I'd buy it, but I wouldn't share it!"

Douglas Laing's Double Barrel.
After a mid-tasting break, we were back with bottle four and a mash-up of Ardbeg and Inchgower in the form of Douglas Laing's Double Barrel. If this was a marriage of Islay and Speyside, it was clear on both the nose and the palate that Islay was the dominant partner, with a peatiness and saltiness that really took over the drink.

It was felt that the Inchgower got a little lost up against its distinctive bottle-mate. While decent value at £45, some of Douglas Laing's offerings which we've had at the club in the past - Scallywag in particular - are probably a better bet for a slightly lower price.

The Paul John 6yo.
We finished with a passage to India and the 6yo Paul John, another bottling by Master of Malt. A young whisky, but not by Indian standards where, it's said, the heat makes six years equivalent to three times as long in rainy old Scotland.

Reactions to this one can be divided into those who drank it before and after adding water. Initially, it tasted very strong, as well it might at 59.7%. In the words of one member, it tasted "like cardboard". But when we started to put a few drops of water in there, things opened up considerably and it became much more palatable. That dreaded word again - "interesting" - but probably not worth splashing out the £78 retail price for.

The vote at the end of the night when decisively in favour of the Glenburgie. No chance of a 52/48 split here! Thanks to Tom for leading another great tasting, and to the faces old and new who came down.
The vote. No secret ballots here.