Monday, June 29, 2020

Lockdown Blind Tasting

The line up of whiskies (1-5 left to right)
Manchester Whisky Club has continued despite lockdown, with the community regularly meeting for informal Zoom-based drams. But last Thursday we took things a stage further with a blind tasting of five whiskies from the club's stocks, the miniatures having been picked up in a suitably socially-distanced fashion!

North Star Spica
It was an opportunity to try a selection of bottles which had been bought by the club but had never yet found their way into a themed tasting.

And we started with the whisky that had by far the deepest colour of the five chosen. It smelled like a heavy hitter, with a lot of toffee and sweetness, a bit like a creme brulee or a sweet pastry. Someone even suggested orange, although conceded that may have been because the sticker on the bottle was orange. It was thick and oily and really clung to the side of the glass, but the finish was short, perhaps surprisingly so all things considered.

This turned out to be a bit deceiving, in that it was a blend of just 45.2%, so not as high an ABV as many had thought. A 20-year-old bottled by independent bottler North Star, it went under the name Spica and was released in 2018 when we paid £46. It's long gone unfortunately, along with all the other whiskies we were trying, but it made for a strong start to the tasting.

Highland Laird Royal Brackla
The next whisky was very light. It didn't have much on the nose, with some members suggesting they couldn't smell much at all, while others got a spirity blast and some apple notes as well. When it came to tasting, it seemed familiar but nobody could quite put their finger on it. "Tastes like it should be a Bruichladdich but there's no peat" said someone, and we knew what they meant, but that wasn't quite on the money either.

If the first dram had been less strong than expected, the opposite was true here: 59.8% even though it didn't really drink like that. A Highland rather than an unpeated Islay, it's a 10yo single cask Royal Brackla, bottled by another independent bottler under the brand name Highland Laird. Royal Brackla is not a name seen too often as most of it goes into the Dewar's blend. We paid just £41 for this in 2017, a real bargain.

Whiskybroker Tomintoul
The advice for dram number three was that this was another high ABV, so well worth trying straight before with a little bit of water. It was nice and warm and fragrant on the nose, although it did seem to take a little bit of time to get going. The palate was where this one really stood out. Mild mannered to begin with then "really gorgeous" with toasted marshmallows and Turkish delight, along with a sort of chewy, peppery thing going on too. As someone said, "I don't want to add any water to that!"

The bottle was from another indie, the ever-popular Whiskybroker, and it was a 10yo Tomintoul. Finished in an oloroso sherry hogshead, this particular dram clocked in at 54% and was again very good value at just £44, when we bought it in 2018.

SMWS Glendronach
After a short break, it was back for the fourth whisky of the evening, and this one was quite powerful on the nose. We were getting Quavers, also pear drops, and cherries, maybe even a bit of cherry brandy. That cherry note continued onto the taste, although to be increasingly specific, there was a general view that this was the sort of artificial cherry flavouring you get, rather than actual fresh cherries. So there! Some tried it with a bit of water and this arguably gave a more rounded flavour, with a little less sweetness.

At 55.2%, the ABV was high but lower than many had thought. It was an 11yo Glendronach from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, under the name The Merchant of Alsace. Unusually for Glendronach, it wasn't sherried. We got it in March 2018 for just £56, brilliant value, although there were just 198 bottles produced. As you can see from the picture, I had drunk mine before remembering to take a photo, so you'll just have to imagine what it looked like!

Chorlton Highland Park
The final whisky seemed to be another high ABV one. Everyone (mistakenly) thought this was an Islay because there seemed to be a bit of peat in there, and others thought that it tasted even stronger with a drop of water.

This was our youngest drinking of the night, just a 9-year-old, and it was from the Orkney distillery of Highland Park rather than Islay. Bottled by local favourite Chorlton, it was a bit of a monster at 63.1% even though it didn't really taste like it. We got the bottle for £47.50 in 2018, again superb value.

Which brought us onto the voting for dram of the night. At this point my somewhat unreliable broadband (at least when it comes to extending into the garden) dropped out, but I was able to gather that the Tomintoul was the winner with eight votes!

Thanks to everyone in the club for such a great turnout for the tasting, and for Martin and Anna for co-ordinating the safe despatch of whiskies to members. Hopefully we'll be back in the Britons' Protection before long, but in the meantime, this is a good substitute.

A post-tasting chance to try the newest club bottling.

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