Saturday, September 30, 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.

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