Monday, February 26, 2018

Spirited Away

This month's line up. With added beers.
Matthew took charge of February's tasting, and as we huddled for warmth upstairs at the Briton's Protection and mercifully out of the Manchester winter, he laid on a tasting with a difference: three whiskies alongside three complementary spirits.

Patrick von Zuidam jenever.
We tasted these blind and the opening drink of the night immediately divided opinion about whether we thought it was a whisky or not. One thing we could all agree on was that it was particularly sweet. "An alcopop!" someone suggested. Others went for a brandy, while some believed it might have been some kind of new make, despite the colour.

As it happened, it was a Dutch jenever, a spirit that's a loose ancestor of gin popular in the low countries. From the Patrick von Zuidam distillery, it was a 5yo which cost £32 for a 50cl bottle. Our consensus in the end was that this was really nice if perhaps a bit on the sweet side, although maybe best enjoyed as a substitute for sherry. It's 38%.

TBWC Zuidam 6yo.
We knew the second drink was somehow related to the first, although the initial tasting notes from around the room didn't leave us much of a clue as to what the connection might be. Was it grainy? Grassy? Herby? We couldn't quite put our collective fingers on it, until somebody came up with Demerara, which felt a bit closer to the mark. Stina summed up the general feeling in the room with the following comment: "I know what it is but I just don't know what it is". Which I suppose is what you get when you hold a blind tasting.

It turned out the connection was the distiller: this was a Dutch whisky from Zuidam, although bottled by club regulars That Boutique-y Whisky Company. A 6yo drink called Millstone, it takes its name from the windmills which are quite literally used to do the malted barley. Very nice although with a slightly bitter, liquoricey aftertaste, it's £55 again for a 50cl bottle, and comes in at 48.9%.

Berry Bros 14yo Nicaraguan rum
Drink number three drew the immediate reception: "This smells of banana and glue". In fact it felt slightly illicit to be smelling the thing to be honest. Once we got it onto the palate, it was a little metallic and, if anything, disappeared a bit.

We didn't think it was a whisky and so it proved. In fact it was a rum, a 14yo single barrel Nicaraguan rum from none other than Berry, Bros and Rudd, again a club favourite bottler. Considering BBR's general output we weren't as thrilled about this as we might have been, although on the other hand, perhaps a room full of whisky monsters is never going to be too excited about a slightly more delicate rum. Having said that, it was better for having left it a bit. It's £56.

BenRiach 19yo
The next drink, number four, had a distinct menthol or eucalyptus feel about it. Some liked it straight away but others though it was a touch on the sweet side. The connection to the previous drink was the dark rum finish, but this time we were tasting a whisky.

Not just any whisky, though, but a 19yo BenRiach. A limited edition affair at just 227 bottles and 50.8%, this drew surprisingly mixed views, surprising as BenRiach is a particular favourite of several club members. The main stumbling block was the £127 price tag, which put off even those who enjoyed the drink. One of the official tasting notes which seemed particularly on the button was Brazil nuts. Or at least that's how it tasted to me.

Tesseron Lot 90 Cognac
Continuing the odd numbered theme, we didn't think dram five was a whisky. There was a honey smell about it, but it wasn't "smash, in-your-face spirity" as someone suggested. It turned out to be a Cognac, which prompted a bit of discussion in the room. We thought it tasted nice but didn't really go anywhere in terms of a finish. On the one hand this got it labelled "disappointingly thin" but then, was that not just a whisky drinker putting their own perspective on a different drink, which doesn't necessarily have a 'finish' in the same way?

This discussion is probably still continuing somewhere (I've summarised it here somewhat for brevity). We were drinking a Tesseron Lot 90, costing £65 for a 40% drink. More experienced Cognac drinkers than I thought this was notably softly spoken as Cognacs go. Perhaps we might have enjoyed it more without the whisky all around it.

Port Charlotte CC:01
And onto the last drink of the night we went, and it was smoky. So smoky in fact, someone thought it was like drinking smoked fish, which actually sounds kind of incredible the more I think about it.

Sure enough it was an Islay whisky, on this occasion a Port Charlotte 2007 CC:01 from friends of the club Bruichladdich. This had its full maturation in Cognac, hence the pairing, and cost £75 at an ABV of 57%. We thought it was absolutely smashing. It's only available in the travel retail sector at the moment though, so it's one to keep an eye out for next time you're going through an airport with a half-decent whisky shop.

The dram of the night voting was an overwhelming victory for the Port Charlotte. But perhaps more interestingly, a second vote for spirit of the night ended up as a dead head between the jenever and the Cognac. I think some of us will be trying a few more of those in future.

Thanks to Matthew for selecting such a great and interesting group of drinks for us to try, to all club members old and new for attending, and to the Britons for once again hosting us.

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