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!

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