Friday, January 31, 2020

The Science of Sherry

Six whiskies and three sherries!
It was club chairman Adam's turn to lead us through January's tasting. And what a line-up he produced for us as part of his look at the science of sherry, and the particular role sherry often plays in the maturation of whisky. Yes, those are nine glasses on the (rather fetching) new club mats, six of whisky and three of sherry.

Gonzalez Byass Fino
And it was one of the sherries we began with, a 10yo Fino sherry from Gonzalez Byass. Fino is the driest and palest sherry, and along with other sherries, has featured prominently in the story of Scottish whisky for decades. The traditional popularity of sherry in Britain led to widespread availability of sherry casks, which were convenient for the whisky industry, giving many of our best-known whiskies a familiar sherry character.

The Gonzalez Byass was indeed obviously very dry, even to those of us without much sherry knowledge (sherry reached its peak popularity in the UK back in the 1970s - "around the time my nan was absolutely caning it" - as someone suggested). It was certainly distinctive, with a butteriness about it. Some drinkers liked it, some didn't. It's £40 for a 50cl bottle, and the ABV is 16%.

Deanston Fino Cask
Adam took us on to the second drink, and first whisky, of the night. And the Fino theme continued, this time with a 2006 Deanston, finished in Fino casks. It was matured for 12 years in total and this occasion the 'finish' amounted to a very decent two-and-a-half years of that time, having been in ex-bourbon casks initially. Deanston is considered a Highland distillery, although in reality it's just a short way from Stirling in central Scotland.

There was a lot going on here, with a fresh, sweet, taste. The lengthy time spent finishing in the sherry casks perhaps made it seem older than it actually was. It's true to say we liked this one very much. It's 55% and is well worth the £65 price tag.

Aberlour A'Bunadh
It was Aberlour next, for a taste of what used to be one of the best value whiskies around. I say 'used to be', because A'Bunadh, which was once available for not much over £40, will now set you back £80, much to the understandable irritation of long-term fans of this particular cask strength drop, matured in Oloroso sherry butts.

It really hits the big, rich, sherried notes of fruitcake and raisins. The ABV is 61.2%. It's arguably still worth the £80, but if you know how much it used to cost, it's possibly a little harder to justify parting with the cash. The particular bottle we drank was from batch 56, although they're up to number 63 now.

Craigellachie 10yo PX
Having experienced Fino and then Oloroso, we moved on to a third well-known variety of sherry, with Pedro Ximenex (typically known as PX, in case you ever see it on a bottle and wonder what it stands for). These are sherries with a dark, juicy, intense sweetness, and the PX casks are often in real demand for certain whiskies. The dram Adam had picked out for us was a 10yo from the Craigellachie distillery on Speyside, bottled by the independent Whiskybroker.

And this certainly was fruity, although if anything perhaps a little lighter than some club members had anticipated, and it had a bit of cocoa about it as well, along with a shortish finish. It had spent most of its maturation in a sherry butt before switching to a PX octave (a small cask holding just 50l, ensuring more of the flavour transfers to the liquid inside). It was £44 although they're all gone now, and was 54.9%.

Nectar Pedro Ximenex
Next it was back to sherry and an opportunity to try some actual PX. We had a Nectar Pedro Ximenex, so sweet according to Adam, it is officially 3.7 times sweeter than even the old recipe of Irn Bru. This particular bottle was again from Gonzalez Byass, and was 9 years old.

And the proof of that came when we got to actually try it. "Like concentrated raisin juice" as someone suggested. Certainly memorable, although not exactly a session drink. At 15% and £15 (for a full 75cl bottle this time), it's one to invest in for when the family comes round next Christmas, maybe.

Matusalem 30yo
The third and final sherry was next, and we went to a 30-year-old Oloroso from Matusalem, also a Gonzalez Byass (based at Jerez in southern Spain, the centre of the sherry producing region). The grapes here were some PX alongside Palomino, a drier variety.

It was less raisiny and sweet than the PX we'd just had, and was perhaps all the better for it. This was 20.5% and £21 for a 37.5cl bottle. At this point we held, unusually for us, a 'sherry of the night' vote, and it was the Matusalem which just edged out the Nectar PX in a close decision.

Chorlton Coig Deicheadan 17yo
Not that the evening's entertainment was over. Far from it in fact, with still three whiskies remaining to try. The first, and whisky four overall, was from Manchester-based bottlers Chorlton Whisky, in the shape of a 17yo blend called Coig Deicheadam, drawn from constituent parts including Glenturret, Macallan, Highland Park and Bunnahabhain.

We didn't think this tasted all that sherried, although seeing as we'd just had two sherries back to back, perhaps it's hardly surprising some of the sherried subtlety may have got a bit lost in comparison. And besides, the Islay flavour of the Bunnahabhain seemed to come through too. It was very tasty all the same. Sadly, it's no longer available, although when you could get it, it was 46.5% and cost £75.

SMWS 10.162 9yo
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society often features during club tastings, and tonight's SMWS bottling was 10.162, entirely from Bunnahabhain and aged 9 years, having been matured in a first fill Oloroso Hogshead cask.

Considering it's an Islay whisky and clocked in at 61.2%, this was surprisingly mild mannered. It certainly didn't taste its ABV, which was no bad thing at all. This one went down very well with the membership, although again it's no longer on sale, although we picked ours up for £63. Fans of the amusing names the SMWS gives its bottlings will want to know this particular one had the official title Big Wave Sofa. No, us neither.

Cask Islay
As is often the case, the night ended on a bit of a peat monster. The Cask Islay was this month's choice, and the Cask Strength Sherry Edition from bottler A.D. Rattray.

Considering the sherry maturation, this one was surprisingly peated. Like an ashtray in fact, was one comment. It was certainly a tasty drop if not perhaps the best one we enjoyed all evening. It's 59.9% and is £44.

And so we moved on to the traditional dram of the night voting. And we had a rare tie, with both the Aberlour A'Bunadh and SMWS bottling picking up nine votes apiece, with the Deanston next on seven. In a second round of voting, the A'Bunadh beat the SMWS 14-11. Maybe it's worth the £80, after all.

Thank you to Adam for another brilliantly selected and produced evening, as well as to all club members old and new for attending, and to the staff of the Briton's Protection for looking after us once again.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.