Friday, August 31, 2018

Wish You Were Beer

August's line-up of whiskies.
New club chairman Adam led the tasting for the first time in August, and he had a selection of paired whiskies and beers for us all to try. He also produced a club first - a PowerPoint presentation - to showcase the research he had put in to each of the chosen drinks, which Adam ran through after we'd tasted everything blind.

Teeling / Galway Bay
The effort was much appreciated as we got stuck into the first of the evening's 12 glasses. The opening pairing got us off to a stout beginning. The beer was clearly something black and chocolatey, although not all that strong. And the whisky, which tasted kind of familiar to many in the room, must have been finished in stout casks, we guessed.

This was a particularly close pairing as it turned out. The whisky was from club favourites Teeling, finished in casks from Galway Bay stout. The beer was also Galway Bay, their milk stout called Buried at Sea. The members' noses were certainly on point at this early stage of the evening, as sure enough the stout is a certainly drinkable 4.5% (it's £2.49 a bottle) while the Teeling Stout Cask is 46% and available for £40, again offering decent value. Perhaps best of all, nobody felt the need to break into a few bars of the song Galway Bay, although if Adam had saved this pairing until the end no doubt someone would have had a go at it.

Weller / Welde
Pairing two gave us a whisky that immediately put us in mind of a bourbon, with that classic sweetish, vanilla sort of flavour. The beer was what got more of us talking, in so much as it smelt terrible. Lots of people didn't like the nose at all, and that extended to the palate as well. "It tastes of regret" was one of the more charitable tasting notes, but certainly not inaccurate.

The bourbon in the bottle was from the Buffalo Trace family. As Adam explained, this is quite an extended family, with a huge range of brands familiar in the US (although perhaps less so here) all being produced at the distillery in Frankfort, the historic capital of Kentucky. This one was under the Weller name, and we liked it a lot. It's 45% although the price is highly variable because it's so scarce over here, so good luck getting hold of it. The beer, which evidently went down less well, was Bourbon Barrel Bock produced by German brewer Welde which spent time in bourbon, rum and tequila casks. At 6.6% and £2.49, you can probably give it a miss.

Glen Moray / Windswept
We finally visited Scotland for pairing three, and while the whisky seemed a little bland, it was certainly highly drinkable. "A young Speyside" was one guess from the membership, and indeed the distillery in question was also correctly identified! The accompanying beer was a strong brown ale, and we liked this one too.

Indeed, it was a bit of a surprise to discover the beer was 9%, because it again seemed nice and easy to drink. The common thread between these drinks was the Glen Moray distillery, with the whisky a 40% expression finished in port casks and available for the very reasonable £25. The beer was made by brewery Windswept in nearby Lossiemouth and called The Wolf of Glen Moray. It's £8 plus postage though so it's probably one to save for when you happen to be passing, unless you're ordering a job lot.

Highland Park / Harviestoun
After a half-time break and a chance to get further refreshment, as if it were needed, from the bar at the Briton's Protection, it was on to pairing number four. And what stood out immediately from the two was the beer. Sticky and meaty, this was like an intense, spicy barbecue. The whisky was perhaps a touch less immediately memorable, lightly peated, and a little more pleasant on the nose than the palate.

The beer we enjoyed so much was an Ola Dubh black ale produced by Harviestoun, and finished in whisky casks from Highland Park. Sure enough, the accompanying whisky was indeed Highland Park, on this occasion the standard 12-year-old bottling that you can probably pick up in your local supermarket for £30 or so. The beer is 8% and £4.49, and Harviestoun has been something of a pioneer in cask aged brews so there are plenty of versions to try if you want to investigate.

Double Barrel / Wild Beer
There was another distinctive taste to beer number five. On this occasion it was salty, "like being hit by a wave in the sea", or munching on some salt and vinegar crisps. This did divide opinion a little, but overall this was the first beer of the night to actually be preferred to a whisky (although given we're the Manchester Whisky Club, this probably wasn't entirely surprising). The whisky was a bit peaty, but overall certainly seemed more conventional.

As it turned out, the whisky was not exactly conventional, being a 'double barrel' blended malt concoction of Ardbeg and Craigellachie, bottled by Douglas Laing. At 46% and £48 this got a general thumbs up. The beer, a Belgian Dubbel from the Wild Beer Co. called Smoke 'n' Barrels involved casks of both Islay whisky and red wine, which helps to explain the real mixture of flavours on the go. Certainly worth trying once even if you don't like the sound of it, it's £5.49 and 7.4%.

Smooth Ambler / KBS
As is often the case, by the last dram of the night the tasting notes that I managed to record had become somewhat less expansive. All I really ended up putting was that the beer seemed quite treacly, and that the whisky tasted like a bourbon. But these were both accurate statements so there's no harm in leaving it at that.

It turned out that both of these were American. The whisk(e)y was a blended bourbon from the Smooth Ambler brand, sourced from the huge MGP distillery in Indiana. At 50% and £70 this was certainly good, but not as memorable as the beer, which was Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Whether anyone would actually drink a 12.3% bourbon-finished beer for breakfast or not is another thing, but at £6.99 it's worth trying at any time of the day.

Overall the whiskies won the day, but within that it was a triumph for the whiskey over the whisky. The voting revealed our top choice was the Smooth Ambler after it initially tied with the Weller, while the leading beer was the Smoke 'n' Barrels despite the love-it-or-hate-it reception it got from the membership.

Thanks to everyone for attending another successful tasting and in particular to Adam for choosing and then explaining such a fascinating selection of drinks. Thanks also to the Briton's for hosting us once again.

The full line-up!

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