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!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Port Askaig Tasting

The first five bottles of the evening.
Manchester Whisky Club returned for 2017 the evening after Burns Night, with a line up of whiskies from Port Askaig to ease us into the new year. Mariella from Speciality Drinks was there to take us through the range, including a bottle of an expression yet to hit the market.

The 8yo.
But first we got acquainted with the two whiskies which make up Port Askaig's core offering. The name comes from an Islay village and ferry terminal (this last description may be pushing it a bit - "basically just a jetty" was the consensus of those club members who've made the journey), but it's not actually a distillery itself.

Instead, Speciality Drinks uses the name as a brand to showcase a variety of Islay flavours from different distilleries. Mariella emphasised their range is about a more welcoming type of Islay whisky, retaining the key characteristics of the island's drams while not attempting to overpower drinkers in a fug of smoke.

That was on display straight from the off with Port Askaig's 8yo. The entry level whisky of the range, this was a nice and salty, fresh-tasting drink.

The 100 proof.
There was also a definite mixture of citrus and creaminess, especially in the aftertaste, as if we'd had a lemon meringue pie chaser. Which, on reflection, is something we should definitely suggest for a future tasting.

The 8yo is, in common with most Port Askaig whiskies, 45.8% and comes in at £40, a very reasonable price point for something that is always available.

Next was the 100 proof, a good deal stronger at 57.1% but only a little more expensive at £45. It's unheard of these days to get an Islay whisky at that strength for that price, so the Port Askaig offers excellent value.

The brand new 15yo.
It's got butter, vanilla and ice cream, and we tried it with some dark mint chocolate supplied by Mariella for the occasion. This certainly made it less peaty, although the chocolate seemed to do more for the whisky than the mint - so if you're getting a bottle you probably don't need to also order a hundredweight of After Eights.

Moving onto the evening's small batch whiskies, we started with a bottle which won't be available for another couple of months. It's a new 15yo (so not the 15yo Port Askaig currently on the market) and it's the first sherry cask to emerge under the Port Askaig brand.

This was absolutely fantastic on the nose. There was a bit of smoke, but again it was more salty if anything, and Mariella pointed out notes of Moroccan spices and dates. If anything the nose slightly outshone the palate, but there was an almost unanimous feeling that this is one to look forward to very much. The price is still TBC.

The 16yo.
There was a bit more sherry in evidence for dram number four, the 16yo. This was a more autumnal beast, with chestnuts, red fruits and a distinct tobacco nose - halfway to Christmas as someone suggested.

Feelings were more mixed with some very positive comments alongside some more negative ones, as some club members have a well-signposted aversion to the particular distillery (which begins with A and rhymes with 'hardbeg') from where this was sourced.

The 19yo.
We had a bit more chocolate here too, this time orangey. This certainly brought something out in it again, although one view was that the chocolate was a bit on the bitter side for the whisky.

Courageously we ploughed on to the fifth drink of the evening, and a redoubtable 19yo which Mariella described as classic "hip flask whisky". Heathery on the nose, the aftertaste had some more unexpected fruitiness in it. You could even say it went a bit tropical, which is not a word you typically associate with Islay, but there you have it.

Extremely pleasant and clocking in at just over 50%, it's £100 or thereabouts.

The 30yo.
We saved the elder statesman of the range to last. The 30yo was very robust, with a full-on flavour. Certainly the most obviously Islay whisky of the night, it had the clearest smoky and peaty notes. "Stunning" as someone called it.

But on the other hand, and as predicted by Mariella at the beginning of the evening, it wasn't overpowering, and was definitely highly drinkable. As well it might be for £375! Given the value provided by other bottles in the range, perhaps it's not one too many club members are likely to invest in, at least not this side of payday.

And so to the voting for dram of the night. These were relatively evenly spread, with all-but-one whisky attracting at least a couple of votes. But it was number three, the as-yet-unreleased sherry monster, which came out on top.

Thanks to all club members and those from the waiting list who attended to get 2017 off to a strong start, and in particular thanks to both the Britons Protection and Mariella, for putting on such a great evening.