Thursday, May 31, 2018

Cask Mania

This month's line up.
For May's meeting of Manchester Whisky Club we were treated to a selection of whiskies picked out by Anna and presented to the group by Martin, on the theme of cask mania - putting the spotlight on drams matured in a wide variety of different cask types.

Cask maturation is one of the most influential processes that define the taste of any whisky. The wood of each cask adds complex flavours to the character of the particular distillery already present in the new make spirit. And using different casks can make things very interesting.

The Carn Mor Glen Garioch 6yo.
We started off the evening in the north east of Scotland with a whisky from the Glen Garioch distillery, bottled by the independent Carn Mor. It was a 6-year-old matured in a sherry puncheon, with an ABV of 46%.

And what a great start to the tasting it was. Very rich, dark and sweet, while some drinkers picked out aniseed and liquorice on the palate as well. Quite oily, quite heavy (even "chewy") and with that distinctive sherry flavour, perhaps one better suited to a winter's night rather than a very warm May evening. But at just under £40 we thought this was excellent value.

SMWS Full of Vim and Vigour
After that crowd pleaser we moved on to a bottle from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, the subjects of last month's tasting. This particular dram, Full of Vim and Vigour, was from the Glen Moray distillery in Elgin. It was matured in a first fill French wine barrique (these are also known as 'Bordeaux barrels') and really took things up a notch in terms of strength, at 61.5%.

As ever for SMWS bottlings there was an array of unusual tasting notes on the label, and some of us thought that pineapple fritters was actually pretty close to the mark with this one. It was a little on the strong side for some - "almost bourbony it's got so much oak on it" - but in general people really liked it, in particular after a drop of water when it became sweeter. At £51.40 to Society members, again this was something of a bargain.

Starward 10th Anniversary bottling.
We went much further afield for whisky number three. In fact, about as far away from Scotland as it's possible to get in the world of whisky, as we tried a bottle from the Starward distillery in Melbourne. Not just any bottling this, but a special 10th anniversary expression to celebrate a decade of operation. With some recent investment from Diageo, Starward has grown from being a tiny craft distillery into being a still-quite-small craft distillery, now operating from slightly larger premises than before.

Anyway, how about the whisky? Well, this was created from a mixture of the eight cask types used across the company's short history, with 28 casks of different ages used in all, focusing on those previously used for Australian wine and fortified wine. It's a no age statement whisky coming in at 52% and, perhaps surprisingly given the complexity involved, just £80. And this really was quite something. Rich and woody, with a touch of the chemistry classroom on the nose and some pepper on the palate. If anything, there was maybe a bit much going on here for some drinkers, but a lot of people in the room completely loved it.

Chichibu IPA Cask.
After a half-time break we were back for the fourth whisky and this time we were in Japan for an Ichiro's Malt Chichibu finished in IPA beer casks from a local craft brewer. This kind of finish has, in the past, been considered somewhat disappointing when tried elsewhere. But we were led to believe this would be an exception.

And so it was! There was no disputing the IPA finish, this was quite a dry whisky on the palate with malt loaf one of the suggestions for a tasting note, and custard another. This divided the room a bit though, with some very much enjoying it and others, while appreciating it, saying that it just wasn't for them. It's 57.5% and if you can find a bottle, it'll cost you £145. In truth there were probably some better value whiskies elsewhere in the line-up.

G&M Connoisseur's Choice Caol Ila
It was back to Elgin for the fifth whisky, and our old friends from that famous bottler Gordon and Macphail. This time they were working their magic on an Islay whisky in the form of a 13yo Caol Ila, released as part of their Connoisseur's Choice range (now sporting some new-look packaging). This 45% whisky spent the last three years of its maturation in Hermitage wine casks.

Again this divided opinion a little. On the one hand we picked up some lovely notes of barbecue and wine gums, but for others this was the least favourite of the evening. It's £70.

Kilchoman Port Cask 2014
Another Islay whisky rounded off the tasting, and it was a Kilchoman which had a distinctive reddish colour, betraying the fact it had spent its full maturation in port hogsheads. Admittedly, they'd only been in there since 2014, making it a three or four year old only. But apparently when the port casks turned up later than expected, the distillery workers were in such a hurry to get them filled they didn't realise until later that there was still a bit of port lurking in the bottom of the casks. So that certainly helped account for the unusual colour.

"Have you ever seen red diesel?" someone asked as we got down to tasting. As with drams four and five, this got mixed reviews. Creamy in a cream soda sort of way, but with a surprisingly short finish, this was possibly a case of high expectations not quite being met rather than it being a particularly mediocre whisky. It's 50% and costs £77.

So that brought us to the dram of the night voting. And while a few had their supporters, there was a convincing victory in the end for whisky number three - the Starward from Australia. Strewth!

Thank you to all club members and guests from the waiting list who joined us, both old and new, for another successful tasting, and thanks also to all the staff at the Britons Protection for looking after us once again. We're already looking forward to June's tasting, which will be all about some great blends.

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