Monday, December 4, 2017

St Andrew's Day: For Peat's Sake!

The St Andrew's Day line up.

November's meeting of the Manchester Whisky Club took place on, appropriately enough, St Andrew's Day, and Anna had a line-up of six peaty whiskies for us. With four of the drams not originating in Islay, the idea was to challenge a few of our preconceptions about peatier whiskies.

Anna in action.
And sure enough we started the evening off in Speyside, with a Balvenie. A relatively rare peaty expression from them, the 14yo Peat Week is so named because the distillery spends one week a year doing peated spirit. On this occasion, using a Highland rather than Islay peat as well.

This whisky wasn't too sharp but was definitely peated. Subtle, well-rounded, and in the words of one delighted club member, "absolutely gorgeous". At 48.3% and £56, it's not too shabby when it comes to price either. A good way to start the evening.

Next to Tomatin, a Highland distillery that again does peaty stuff one week a year. The bottle picked out for us to try was the Cu Bocan 2006 vintage, matured in a mixture of sherry and bourbon casks.

Balvenie Peat Week.
This was a little oily on the nose. A pleasant enough drink, it wasn't as obviously peaty as the Balvenie we'd had first up, although perhaps the sherry masked it a bit. At 50% and £50, again this is certainly reasonable value.

For the second tasting in a row we had an Edradour to drink. In contrast to last month's much older bottle, this was an expression available now, branded as Edradour Ballechin after an old distillery near the Edradour site in Pitlochry.

Tomatin Cu Bocan 2006.
A younger whisky at 8yo, this had a touch of fondant icing on the nose but ended up a bit of a disappointment, a little bitter at the finish perhaps. In general, the feedback was that this just didn't feel as though it had the time to knit together properly to become a really coherent dram, so we weren't overly keen. It's 46% and costs about £60.

Half-time meant a chance for a break, a refill of pint glasses from downstairs at the Briton's Protection and, perhaps most importantly, a sausage roll or two from the handmade stash Anna brought with her. Lovely stuff.

Edradour Ballechin.
Our fourth dram of the night took us to Islay for the first time, with a 6yo independent bottling called Williamson's Carn Mor 2010. This was a 'teaspooned' whisky, meaning it included a small amount of a second whisky to help keep the actual origin something of a mystery, as a means of protecting the brand. The clue was in the name though: it's after Bessie Williamson, who became the first woman to run a Scottish distillery when she took charge of the most famous peat producer of them all, yes, Laphroaig.

There was none of that traditional medicinal taste of Laphroaig here though. Great on the nose and "gorgeous" on the palate too, this let to a scramble for phones and the main whisky retailers. There weren't many if any bottles left to be had though, hardly surprising given the limited run of 950 bottles and the very reasonable £40 price tag. It's 46%.

Williamson's Carn Mor 2010.
One last visit to Speyside for the evening was next and to a distillery than Anna admitted she had a bit of a soft spot for, BenRiach. It's also been a club favourite in recent years, and its peated Septendecim 17yo got rave reviews when we tried it some years back. On this occasion we had a 12yo from Batch 14 of the distillery's annual releases series, matured in a first fill port cask.

And this was really very nice indeed. Appropriately enough for the time of year, it had a definite taste of Christmas cake about it, with cherries, almonds and icing sugar all to the fore. Unfortunately for all of us, it's sold out everywhere. It cost us £73 and clocked in at a healthy 53.1%.

BenRiach 2005.
Anna admitted she blew a big chunk of this month's tasting budget on the last dram of the night, but we couldn't go through a whole evening of peaty whiskies without having an Octomore. Distilled at Bruichladdich, Octomore has become a byword for, well, lots and lots of peat, even by Islay standards. The particular drink we had was a 7yo independent bottling from Rest and Be Thankful, a welcome return for a bottler after we had an Arran of theirs at another recent tasting.

Aged in French oak at a strength of 63.9%, this was "an all-around monster". I don't seem to have made any more detailed tasting notes than this, although it was the last dram of the night, so there you go. We got ours for £160 but a cursory search online reveals you might be paying almost twice that for a bottle now.

Rest and Be Thankful Octomore.
So the members and guests had a tricky decision to take when it came to the dram of the night voting.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, each bottle except the Edradour picked up at least some support. Perhaps equally unsurprisingly given the club's previous love for this particular distillery, it was the BenRiach which scored best of all, racking up no fewer than 17 votes. Both the Balvenie and the Octomore got five each, with plenty of praise for the Balvenie for its value.

One last highlight of the evening was the whisky fudge from I Heart Whisky, with a couple of pieces for everyone. As you can imagine these went down extremely well!

Thank you to all faces old and new who came along to the tasting, and in particular to Anna for doing a great job at her first solo tasting. Once again thanks to the Britons for putting us up, too. Next up it's the annual Christmas party! Ho ho, and indeed, ho.

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