Friday, March 26, 2021

The Art of Maturation


My view of this tasting also featured Scotland v Austria:
one of these events was more stressful than the other

Our March Zoom tasting was led by Anna, who took us through a series of five drams on the theme of 'The Art of Maturation' - with whiskies matured in casks of different kinds. We tried them blind to see if we could guess what the barrels had previously held: perhaps unsurprisingly, this proved rather tricky!

Benrinnes 11yo
We started off with something that was both peppery and yet also sweet, a bit like Coke. Not that it would have been finished in a Coke can, and suggestions of what had it actually spent time in ranged from red wine to Cognac and sherry. It was dark and certainly looked like a sherry finish, although it didn't particularly smell like it. Very pleasant all round, and a nice way to start the evening. We got a bit of dryness and wood polish along with everything else.

This was an 11yo Benrinnes, from independent bottler Cadenheads. It was a vatted malt, with two casks of sherry-finished whisky, two of bourbon and one of rum. So some of us, almost inevitably, were miles out. This got a general thumbs up. And at £49, this was good value too. The ABV was 46% although it tasted stronger.

English Whisky 12yo
Next up was something chocolately. Dark chocolate possibly, so I thought perhaps it had been finished in Nesquik casks. It was dark in colour and we definitely got plenty of, well, chocolate. In our little breakout group we liked it and thought we could easily buy it, although we weren't so keen after a drop of water. Some others thought it was a bit woody and unbalanced.

As it transpired, we were drinking something from the English Whisky Company. It was a 12-year-old, making it just about as old as you can get from that distillery. This particular bottling was finished in red wine (totally wrong, as ever), and it was a release for The Whisky Circus. It was a small cask maturation, just a 50 litre cask, which probably helped explain the unusual flavours going on. It was £65 and came in at 57.1%.

Wardhead 23yo
Whisky number three was very nice on the nose. Very sweet, with maybe even a bit of maple syrup on there. What it had spent time in was the subject of a bit of a discussion, some thought sauternes, others went for ice wine, I chipped in calvados and, as luck would have it, turned out to be right (stopped clock, etc, etc). It was certainly different and fruity, although it also split the room a bit, some didn't like it, others added water and thought that brought out the fruitiness even more.

We were drinking not a Glenfiddich as such, but a 'teaspooned' Glenfiddich under the Wardhead brand. A 23-year-old from 1997, this was 51.1% and cost us £122.

Penderyn 6yo
Dram four was dark again. A "super toffee" look and feel, thick and tarry like a wall of sugar and spice. The nose was so good in fact, some of us didn't even want to taste it. As it happened it lived up to expectations on the palate, very distinctive with Bonfire Night sweets, a real chewiness with marshmallows, toffee apple and candyfloss. However, again there were some mixed views, with others saying they found it a bit refluxy, and one or two didn't want to finish theirs.

It was even a little bit pink, which hinted at what it had been finished in: a tawny port pipe. The distillery was Penderyn of Wales, and this was a 6yo single cask from Berry, Brothers and Rudd. At £150 and 60.5% this was either one to avoid or one not to forget in a hurry: the 'Penderyn marmite cask' as someone described it.

Loch Lomond 14yo
To finish the night we were "straight onto the phenols". A bit off putting for the non-peat fans, perhaps. This one tasted a bit better than the smell, which came over as even a bit sulphury to me. This was a bit too peaty all round for some club members, but was absolutely ideal for others who loved it. Certainly the end of an extremely varied evening of drinks.

It was from the Loch Lomond distillery, and was a 14yo bottled for golf's European Tour Welsh Open. Matured in a first fill oloroso, it was 52.3% and cost £85. "Like hot tarmac!" says the last line of my notes, whatever that means.

And so it was time for the dram of the night voting. All five attracted some votes, but the winner was - unusually - dram number one, the Benrinnes, with the club's peat fans putting the Loch Lomond second.

Thanks again to all members for joining us on Zoom, it's now more than a year since we last met in person but hopefully we're much nearer the end than the start of the pandemic now. And particular thanks to Anna for taking us through a great selection!

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