Monday, October 29, 2018

Berry, Bros. & Rudd Special

October's line up
We were delighted to welcome a special guest to lead our October tasting. It was none other than Rob Whitehead, spirits buyer at legendary London wine and spirits merchant Berry, Bros. and Rudd. And he brought along six bottles of BBR whisky from his stash to share with us, which was very decent of him.

Cutty Black.
All of the tasting was done blind and we began with a blend. This had a bit of spice about it, as well as smoky and syrupy notes. A bit of everything, in fact, which Rob explained was because blends are, well, a bit of everything. This particular one was a very easy drinker at 40%, and soft on the palate.

It turned out to be Cutty Sark, or at least a version of the famous blend dating from the early 2000s, Cutty Black (it's no longer on the market). BBR created the blend for the American market in the midst of prohibition back in the 1920s, and it ultimately grew to become the world's largest whisky brand, and was still among the leading ones when BBR finally sold it in 2010 to Famous Grouse owners the Edrington Group. As Rob told us, the profits from Cutty Sark helped BBR stay independent throughout the 20th century and beyond, allowing it to continue to develop into the independent booze powerhouse it remains today.

Invergordon 29yo
It was onto a single grain for dram number two. This got us in mind of liquorice or aniseed on the nose, and maybe a bit of sweetness and candyfloss on the palate.

Rob told us that this was exactly what you would expect from an... Invergordon. Probably better known as a port, the town also has a significant grain distillery owned by Whyte & Mackay. This particular bottle was 46% and 29-years-old when it was bottled in 2017 but was initially incorrectly labelled as a single malt so had to be sent back for re-packaging. As with all the other whiskies we tasted, there don't seem to be any bottles left for sale, though.

Glencadam 21yo
Things moved up a notch for the third whisky, the first cask strength drink of the evening. This was strong, oily and chewy, with a very distinctive texture. Rob told us this last point was something particularly important to BBR's lead spirits buyer Doug McIvor, who apparently loves whisky with a good texture about it. This bottle might have been a bit nutty, it certainly stuck to the palate. In general, we liked this one but not everyone was totally convinced. 

This turned out to be a 21yo from the Glencadam distillery in Brechin. With a dash of water it was perhaps a bit nicer, slightly dampening down the alcohol while keeping that distinctive oily quality. It was also a bit citrussy, with some club members picking up a bit of pineapple. This was bottled in 2011 at 56.6%.

Islay Reserve.
After a break for half-time and a recharge of our pint glasses at the Briton's Protection bar, it was on to the fourth whisky of the night and this was so peaty it could not really be from anywhere other from Islay.

It was BBR's Islay Reserve, the result Rob said of "trying to put Islay in a bottle". It's a blend, with seven casks and three whiskies from two different distilleries inside. There were peated and unpeated whiskies from Bunnahabhain as well as some Caol Ila. For Rob this was a "nice gateway drug" into the world of Islay whiskies, and we couldn't really disagree with that. It's 46%.

Bowmore 8yo
We were back to a single malt whisky for dram five, and it was single cask too. Again there was peat influence here, along with lots of wood influence from the first fill bourbon cask. We liked the finish of this very much, a little bit of spice and fruit in there rather than just full on smoke.

Again we were on Islay, but this time Bowmore for an 8-year-old bottled for La Maison du Whisky in Paris back in 2010. This was once again 46%.

The evening finished with something a bit special, and also a return to cask strength. This had a fair amount of peat in it, along with fruit and also olives. It took a while for the peat to come out though, and as Rob explained, this was perhaps a good example of an older style peated whisky, less concerned with hitting you over the head with its peatiness as some are today.

Caol Ila 31yo
It was a 31-year-old Caol Ila, distilled in 1979 and bottled in 2010. Sadly this was the last bottle! Apparently one went for £500 online recently, so it was particularly kind of Rob to share this particular drop with us.

And so onto the dram of the night voting. The sign of a good tasting is a mixture of whiskies getting support from the club members, and on this occasion every dram got at least one vote with the exception of the Cutty Sark, and even then plenty in the room said they'd have ranked it highly they'd had the chance.

The Invergordon did well with seven votes, but it was the Caol Ila at the end that just trumped it with 10 (I've actually written '10-ish' in my notes, but it was definitely the winner anyway). A special thanks to Rob for coming up from London and producing such a fascinating range of drinks for us all to try, to all club members old and new for another excellent turnout, and of course to all at the Briton's for hosting us once again.

Here they all are.

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