Saturday, June 18, 2022

Bang For Your Buck

This month's line up

For May's tasting, there was a welcome return for Anna who presented a line up of best 'bang for your buck' whiskies currently on the market, a timely tasting considering not only the cost of living crisis, but also the general inflationary pressures on whisky prices too. Anna was out to show us that there remains all kinds of great stuff out there at reasonable prices if you know where to look.

Compass Box
Most of the drinks came from independent bottlers, and dram number one was the work of one of the club's favourites, Compass Box, the London-based blender and bottler. We were drinking Orchard House, a blend (of which the biggest component was Clynelish) with a definite fruit and apple vibe from the label onwards.

There was no doubt about the apple straight from the nose, green apples especially. We also got some peanut butter, and perhaps a faint bit of smoke on the palate, too. The finish was nice and long. It's 46% and you can pick it up for about £41 from the usual online retailers. 

Kilchoman SB3
Dram number two took us to Islay and Kilchoman, and a small batch distillery bottling. It's number three in Kilchoman's small batch series, and features a combination of bourbon and Oloroso aged Kilchoman, along with some much stronger Sauternes cask, to create a bottling at 49.1%.

This was sweet before it got peaty. Apples again and other sweet notes, making for a lovely combination with the smoke which grew on the palate. "I'd buy that" said more than one club member. It's £52. Cheap at the price, we felt.

Petrichor Galore
Back to the indie bottlers for dram three, and a whisky from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. This one was called Petrichor Galore (petrichor being the smell of rain, a new one on me!) and was bottle 63.81, the 63 standing for Glentauchers.

This was intense and "sherry tastic" with toffee another tasting note that we got. "This makes me violently happy" someone said. As well it might, at just £53.20 (for members, and sadly it's all since gone), it was an extremely strong 66.3%. Great value as well as being an excellent drop. Not sure about the smell of rain, though.

IF Knockdhu
After a half-time break to recharge our beer glasses downstairs at the Britons Protection, we returned for whisky four. The indie bottler this time was Infrequent Flyers, a brand run by ex-BenRiach man Alistair Walker, which aims to showcase some rarer single malts at affordable prices. On this occasion it was a Knockdhu, a Speyside distillery which normally produces whisky under the name anCnoc to avoid confusion with Knockando up the road.

Another superb drink, this. Lots of marzipan and almond as the key tasting notes. A really easy drinker, too, remarkable considering its strength of 58.9% (so perhaps we should reclassify it as a 'dangerously' easy drinker). It's £52.90.

North Star Chaos
As a measure of how strong the last two were, there was a bit of surprise that whisky number five was "only" 50%! A North Star bottling from its Chaos range, asking the question 'do port and peat go well together?' being an Islay whisky mostly aged in ruby port octaves.

It's assumed the liquid in this bottling is a Caol Ila, but as someone commented, "if it's a Caol Ila, the delivery van has crashed with an Ardbeg". This was very floral, and savoury. Again great value at £50.

Highland Laird
All too soon it was the last dram of the night, and bottling under name Highland Laird, owned by family-run bottler Bartels. This was a 9-year-old Macduff with plenty of big strength again, at 65.4%. The colour was particularly notable, it was fully matured in first fill sherry casks.

This was another superb whisky, and there were lots of phones out to buy a bottle (including mine) at the excellent price of £48. There are still some available, too, so it's well worth getting one before they're all gone. As a sidenote, after the bottle I ordered went walkabout after an issue with the courier, full marks to Bartels for sending me another! Great customer service and a business well worth supporting.

There was plenty of support for the Highland Laird in the dram of the night voting, but it narrowly lost a three-way battle with the Knockdhu and - this month's winner - the SMWS Glentauchers.

Thanks to Anna for such a great selection of whiskies, and to all club members and their guests for attending another successful tasting. And, as ever, thanks to the Britons for hosting us so well once again.

There they all are

Thursday, April 28, 2022

April Fools Special


The line up (minus the Buckfast)

For our April tasting, we were back at the Britons for a selection of drams in honour of April Fools' Day. Club member Rich had picked out a selection of drinks with an unusual or surprising twist for us to get stuck into.

Glenallachie 10yo
And it didn't take us long to get started on dram number one. This was sweet and very nice. "One of the best opening drams we've had" offered someone almost straight away. There was a bit of heather honey around, liquorice too, lots of good notes. We liked it very much.

It was a Glenallachie 10-year-old, from a distillery and a town right in the heart of Speyside. But the twist here was the finish, in that it spent the last 18 months or so before bottling in casks made of Chinquapin oak. A wood sourced from the northern Ozarks in Missouri, this was the first time most of us had tried it. A great way to start the evening. The bottle is £60 and is 48%.

Defilement 8yo
The second whisky was very dark. A bit weird in fact. There was definitely something unusual about it from the off. It was warming though. We got notes of caramel and toffee - again something very sweet here. Someone else suggested furniture polish, which only served to send those of us of a certain age down this rabbit hole.

Back to the whisky itself, and it was a Defilement, a series available from Master of Malt in which various whisky 'rules' are broken. In this case, it was the use of a chestnut cask, rather than the oak which is typically used for maturation. It's an 8-year-old and it's still available for £49.

Starward Ginger Beer
Whisky three was very distinctive. Sweet again. Fresh mint too, said someone, and a long finish, but there was something very obvious and zingy we were all missing.

And when we saw the bottle we realised it was: ginger. From Australian distillery Starward, this was their Ginger Beer Cask whisky. It spent three years in a mixture of Apera (Australian fortified wine) and red wine casks, and then six months in ginger beer casks. Fresh and fiery, this was a great drink. It's 48% and costs £86 for a 50cl bottle. A bit on the pricey side for most of us, but another example of the success of a whisky club like ours: a chance to try something great we'd never normally splash out on.

The Buckfast whisky!
After a half-time break to recharge our (beer) glasses downstairs at the Britons Protection, we were back for the second half.

And as it turned out, this really was something even more unusual than even a ginger cask. We got caramel and a real sweetness like cream soda, or Dutch stroopwaffles. Highly drinkable and very nice. But what was giving us that lovely flavour?

It was a finish in none other than Buckfast tonic wine. Beloved of drinkers in and around Glasgow, but created by monks in Devon, it's a caffeinated fortified wine. Here, it was used to add a bit of seasoning to some ex-bourbon casks. The whisky was a collaboration between Master of Malt and a thing called the Rhythm and Booze Project, which is run by a couple of guys who mix whisky, music and live events. It was £45 and came in at 46%. For good measure, we had a bit of Buckfast itself as well, for a treat.

30yo April Fool 2021
There were still more treats to come, as well. Dram five was again very nice, and sweet too. "Cakey" someone suggested, and then to really drill down on that, "maybe lemon drizzle." Other tasting notes included a butteriness, and perhaps the inevitable pear drops (second only perhaps to Frazzles as a ubiquitous tasting note relating to a thing most of us haven't tried since we were about eight years old).

We were drinking the 2021 April Fool bottling from The Whisky Exchange, called 'Extremely Young, I Wish I Was Older'. The twist here being that it was in fact a 30-year-old. From an unknown Speyside distillery (although internet sleuths have proposed it might be Glenburgie), there were 869 of these and they all sold out within an hour even at the £150 price tag. It was 51.7%. We really enjoyed this one all round, so we were grateful to Rich for grabbing a bottle while he could.

5yo April Fool 2022
The last whisky of the night was darker. Indeed, a dark roasted peanut butter as someone suggested for a tasting note. As ever, looking back at my notes for this stage of the evening reveals no other tasting notes at all, so we'll just have to stick with the peanut butter here.

It was this year's follow up, the 2022 April Fool offering from TWE. This time around it had the name 'Extremely Old, I Wish I Was Younger' and it was just five years old. Matured in a range of first fill bourbon casks and peated ex-Oloroso hogsheads, the 1,575 bottles were gone in 45 minutes. It was £75 and had an ABV of 53.2%. We assume this may once again be a Glenburgie.

Which brought us to the dram of the night voting. A tough one as ever, it was the two TWE April Fools whiskies we liked the best. The last dram took top honours with eight votes, over six for dram five, but all except dram two got at least one vote.

Thank you to all club members and those from the waiting list who attended, and special thanks to Rich for putting on such a great selection!

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Members' Choices

The full line-up

For March's tasting we made a welcome return to the Britons Protection, to try a series of six different drams picked by six of our club members.

Tim almost blew the top off the budget straight out of the gate with the opening bottle of the evening. He went for a Benromach 21-year-old, a 43% that comes in at £129.

A Speyside sherry cask, this tasted chunky and smooth. Lots of almonds in evidence we thought, certainly a hint of marzipan and, more generally, Christmas cake. "This would make a great whisky sour," someone commented, before hearing how much we spent on it, "but not at that price!" A very nice drop all the same, though.

Dan presented whisky number two, and it was something from the Fettercairn distillery. He explained he hadn't thought much of their younger expressions, but had his head turned by some of their better stuff when visiting their stand at a whisky show.

That included the 16-year-old that was in our glasses (the older ones were even better, he said, but were a little pricier than the £65 this one retails for). More sherry cask, this time a mixture of Oloroso and the more rarely seen Palo Cortado. Very good we felt, but if anything it's possible the sherry actually detracted from the whisky, as the spirit seemed to be just fine without too much of that. We were quietly impressed. It's 46.5%.

Onto whisky number three, then, and Paul produced one of his absolute favourites for us, a Glenfarclas 21.

Back to Speyside with more sherry, this time full Oloroso. Smooth, fruity, some nutmeg, and a mixture of both sweetness and sharpness. At 43% and £95, beautifully drinkable. As someone suggested, "a warm hug of a whisky." One for after Christmas dinner, perhaps.

After a half-time break, I got up to introduce my choice, a Glen Garioch. As an Aberdonian, this is just about my own local distillery.  I wanted to try it because I'd had a go at some of their standard bottlings over the years and fancied something a bit more special. I picked out this 19-year-old, a 1999 wine cask bottled in 2018, and fully matured in wine casks from Chateau Lagrange in Bordeaux (owned by Suntory, as in Glen Garioch).

Tasting notes on this included red applies, berries and ginger biscuits. This went down well, and further suggestions included Christmas cake (again) and jam (!). This was 48% and £104.

Two to go and we were off to the other end of the Highlands next, Martin taking us to the Ardnamurchan distillery on the coast overlooking Mull. One of the newer and hotly tipped distilleries around, here we had batch 07.21.05, a mix of 50% peated and 50% unpeated, and 65% bourbon casks and 35% sherry.

This was a 4-year-old and we felt it had plenty of potential, although it had perhaps been bottled a bit soon. Very drinkable and certainly one to watch. This had peat on the nose but not on the palate so much, it was quite sweet in fact.

Ian treated us for the last bottle with the fruits of a recent visit to Campbeltown. He paid tribute to Craig behind the counter in the Springbank shop for recommending the Longrow Red 15-year-old, finished for the last few years in Pinot Noir casks.

Slightly peated, we were getting toasted sesame. Sweetness was there again, including red berries. Really nice, this, and highly enjoyable all round. "Lots going on" as someone said, and no doubt one we'll be angling for an extra dram from when it comes around to the Christmas party. It was 51.4% and good value at £65.

The dram of the night voting resulted in an overwhelming victory for the Longrow! The Glenfarclas was second and the Glen Garioch third, but most of the membership cast their votes for the bottle from Campbeltown. Thanks to all members for attending, and especially those who chose and presented bottles.

Also thanks to the Britons for hosting us once again, at what is an uncertain time for what is one of the great pubs, in Manchester or anywhere else. You can read more about that and sign the petition at this link.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Regional Malts

Johnnie Walker
For February's tasting we were online again, before a planned return to the Britons for March. And we marked the occasion with another trip right around Scotland, with Adam taking us to all five of the officially recognised whisky regions: Highland, Lowland, Islay, Speyside and Campbeltown, plus an extra stop at an island distillery for good measure.

We started off in the Lowlands, the southernmost region which roughly speaking covers Edinburgh, Glasgow and everything below. We got dried apricot on the nose of this one, with a light bit of vanilla and flowers, too - there was definitely something floral going on. The taste was quite soft, a Lowland all over in fact as someone suggested. Light, easy drinking, and a good session whisky, with a subtle and sweet aftertaste.

The Gauldrons
This was a blend, the Johnnie Walker Lowlands Origin. Given the relative ownership of those distilleries, we think this was probably a mix of Cameronbridge and Glenkinchie. A 12-year-old at 42%, this was £52 for a one litre bottle (so £36 for means of comparison with the usual 70cl bottles). Other tasting notes included biscuits and even a bit of rose Turkish delight. Not bad at all.

Next to Campbeltown, once the home of Scottish whisky and well on the road to a recovery thanks to the powerhouses of Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle. We had a good try of these at a tasting last year, and were keen for another. This particular dram was very pale, and didn't have all that much on the nose. A bit of marzipan maybe, there was certainly an almondy vibe. The whisky was quite different on the palate though. Much more distinctive than the nose would have led you to believe. A bit of smoke in there somewhere, with coconut and banana too. Maybe even a bit of fennel.

Hector Macbeth 1997
What we had in our glasses turned out to be a blended malt, a term used to describe a whisky that is a blend of various single malts. It was The Gauldrons, from indie bottler Douglas Laing. Billed as 'the marriage of the finest Campbeltown malts' (and let's be honest, there are only three so that does rather narrow down the options as to what that might involve), it's 46.2% and £49. Again, a good drop.

Speyside may be the best-known whisky country in Scotland. It's certainly got the most distilleries in it, clustered around the banks of the fast flowing River Spey on its journey north from the heart of Scotland to the Moray Firth. The Speyside we had was a bit bitter on the nose, maybe cacao or green apples too. Quite a contrast to the floral notes we'd had earlier in the evening. The taste wasn't all that strong and it didn't need any water. A rich sweetness, "one note" as someone suggested, albeit one note that it does really well. Not the most Speyside of Speysides some thought, but others thought it was a 'classic Speyside' which just goes to show it's basically impossible to get anyone to agree on anything.

Meet the Beast
This was a Hector Macbeth. Another blended malt, this time from Hunter Laing, a company created as the 'other half' of the Laing business when the brothers when their separate ways almost a decade ago. A 24-year-old distilled in 1997, it was 51% and cost £128. Bourbon cask, which came as a bit of a surprised as we'd assumed a sherry cask given the rich colour (sadly I can't show this to you as I had drunk mine before remembering to take the photo, as you can see).

To the Highlands, a large whisky region including just about 'the rest' of Scotland that isn't covered by one of the other named areas, whether or not there are any actual hills nearby. Toffee and butterscotch on the nose of this one, almost like Werther's originals.

Certainly a bit of sweetness, almost like that heather honey so beloved of National Trust for Scotland gift shops. An easy drinker, it soon stopped being as fiery as it was at the start on the palate. A good one for round the campfire, someone suggested, with notes of dark chocolate, and a creamy, thick, mouthfeel. Others were less keen, though.

Another Bourbon cask, and another from Douglas Laing, this was an expression under their Timorous Beastie brand, called Meet The Beast. A no age statement blended malt, it was 54.9% and just £50. Great value, we felt.

That left just an island and an Islay to try, and with the peatiness of Islay inevitably kept for the end, it was off to a different island first. Still smoky though, peaty but very drinkable. It had a pleasant softness. As someone commented, "people who don't like peat would tolerate it." Better without the water we felt, with a hint of sweetness overall.

Big Peat Black Edition
This turned out to be a bottle under the Mossburn brand, from Torabhaig, the Isle of Skye's long-awaited second distillery (after Talisker). Called Signature Casks 1, it involved three different bits of cask wood in the ageing process. Another blended malt it was a no age statement dram at 46% and just £42. Really nice, we thought.

And so to Islay. To no great surprise, this had the typical medicinal character straight from the off. We also got salty, cough syrup, but perhaps not a wide range of sensations on the palate. "Not bad but not amazing" said someone, and others felt it was a touch one dimensional, by comparison to a few of the earlier drams.

This was a Big Peat, another of Douglas Laing's range of brands. Specifically, we had the Black Edition in our hands, a blend of Islay malts and a 27-year-old that was certainly different from the Big Peat we'd had previously. At 48.3% but a costly £185, we probably wouldn't necessarily be queuing up to buy it again.

That left only the dram of the night voting, and it was an easy win for... dram number 4! Meet the Beats took more than half the vote, with the Mossburn in second.

Thank you to Adam for preparing another great tasting for us, and to all club members for attending remotely and continuing to support us!

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Virtual Island Hopping

The Jura
January's tasting was back on Zoom as we took account of the New Year Covid surge and the Omicron variant. But from the comfort of our homes we went on quite the journey around Scotland's most remote distilleries, on the theme of virtual island hopping.

The first dram was very pale. You could certainly taste the alcohol here. It was tart and had a bready quality about it, almost like crumble. Harsh said some, a bit grassy thought others. For those who partook in a bit of water, they felt that didn't do all that much for it.

The Highland Park
This was a Jura, and an unpeated one at that. An independent bottling from Gleann Mor spirits, it was a 12-year-old that clocked in at 50% (although it arguably tasted stronger), and cost us £58.

Next there was a definite farmyard vibe to whisky number two. Straw-like offered someone, "like a barn" in fact. A nice, long finish, too. Peppery flavours, slightly smoky and lots of wood, yet at the same time quite sweet too. All round a very nice and complex drink.

The Talisker
This was another indie, an Independent Malts of Scotland bottling of a 23-year-old Highland Park, the Orkney distillery. A single cask it was £166, a decent chunk of change in anyone's language but much cheaper than the official distillery bottling. It's 52.8%.

There was more smoke to come from the third dram of the night. A nice light smokiness, and a creamy quality, along with a bit of a smell of bacon (this led to the almost inevitable tasting note of Frazzles, as if anyone has actually eaten Frazzles recently enough to know what they actually taste like). An easy drinker, and it felt pleasantly familiar.

The Arran
In the breakout room I was in we guessed at a Talisker, and were proved right! It was the official 10-year-old, a 45.8% dram at a reasonable £44. Incredibly, we'd never had this particular standard bottling in almost a decade of club meetings.

Four started off very well. Very nice, woody, and perhaps just a tiny bit thin at first but overall very impressive once given a chance to savour it.

This was an Arran! The first new distillery in yonks when it came along in the 90s, now firmly established in the pantheon of Scottish whiskies. This was a no age statement Bodega sherry cask, 55.8% and at £54 very reasonably priced for a good quality cask strength drop. It's a minimum 7-year-old, and it was finished in first fill oloroso casks.

The Raasay
Next was dram number five and this immediately hit us as pleasant, although not perhaps as complex as the Arran we'd just enjoyed. The finish wasn't quite as long. But another easy drinker, and nice and warming too.

It turned out we'd visited one of the newest distilleries around, Raasay. This no age statement could only be just over 3-year-old, given the youth of the distillery itself. It's the R-02, and cost £50, clocking in at 46.4%. A blend of peated and unpeated, not that strong but despite that some felt a few drops of water really improved it. Well balanced, and lightly peated.

The Torabhaig
The final drink of the evening didn't get too much on the nose, beyond a bit of creaminess, almost like cream soda (another taste from the past you think you remember). A little bit insipid perhaps, more of an introductory whisky or, as someone suggested 'an easy drinking dram for the masses'. We kept expecting something more to be there, but it never quite came through.

This was a Torabhaig! The new, and second, distillery on Skye. The expression was an Alt Gleann Legacy Series, 46% and £49, the first 'normal' release from this distillery. Some of the drinkers in the other breakout rooms liked it more than my group did, and likened it to a Caol Ila. A light, thin, barbecue-friendly dram.

That brought us to the dram of the night voting: and it was a resounding win for number four, the Arran!

Thanks to Adam for leading us through another great selection, and to all club members for coming along virtually! Back to the Britons soon, hopefully.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Merry Christmas 2021

Our latest club bottling

We celebrated another successful year of Manchester Whisky Club with our annual Christmas party - once again back at the Britons Protection - in mid-December. Zoom served us well for more than 18 months but it's been a real treat to be back in person at the Britons since October, and hopefully that can continue into the new year.

We've also been getting our hands on the latest club bottling, a 14-year-old Girvan. This is the fifth bottling the club has produced, and plans are afoot for an extra special sixth at the end of 2022, to mark a decade since the club started.

Thanks again to everyone who has taken part this year, from committee members and club members, to those on the waiting list and guests, to the whole team at the Britons.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Islay Festival Special

The line up of Islay bottlings

We had an Islay night for November's club tasting at the Britons Protection. There was a line up of bottles representing six of the island's best known distilleries. Not only that, but each was from Feis Ile - the Islay Festival - an annual event during which a series of special whiskies go on sale.

Bowmore 2019
Martin, who led us through the tasting, pointed out that the Feis Ile specials had developed a reputation some years ago for having dipped, as some distilleries put quantity over quality. This has apparently now been reversed and more recent expressions are better regarded.

The first one we had on our tables was a 2019 from Bowmore, the oldest of the island's distilleries able to trace its history back to 1779 and these days owned by Suntory.

This bottling was described as "distinctively Bowmore". Sharp and dry, enjoyable and "quite nice". Creamy on the nose, other tasting notes from the group included fruity and minty. It was £85.

Caol Ila 2019
We moved on next to Caol Ila, by far the biggest distillery on Islay by volume, which much of its output going into Diageo's blends such as Johnnie Walker. The expression we were trying also dated from the 2019 festival and was the priciest of the night at £130 (although good luck getting any of them for close to the RRP these days, as hinted at earlier these festival bottlings are highly collectible).

This got a great reception from the room. Some sherry in there, and all round a bit of a beast of a dram that really kept going. A bit of water took off the top end but added to the general warmth. Terrific!

Bunnahabhain 2021
Dram number three came from Bunnahabhain, which until recent years bucked the Islay trend by generally producing unpeated malt. Even today, it perhaps shies away from the big peat monsters seen elsewhere on the island.

Our bottling was from the 2021 festival, and had a red wine finish. This went well with the hint of peat, we thought. A great nose, and a nice mouthfeel and aftertaste too, although maybe lacking a little bit of oomph in the middle. There was something musty about it, and someone also detected Parma Violets. A bit dry but also sweet, this was £85.

Ardbeg Kelpie
After a half-time break and a chance to recharge our beer glasses at the bar of the Britons, it was back for another trio of Islay whiskies. Number four took us to Ardbeg, a distillery that is a firm favourite of many club members (but, it's fair to say, not others!). We had the 2017 festival bottling, known as Kelpie, the twist here being the use of virgin oak casks from the Black Sea.

We wondered on trying it whether those casks had actually knocked some of the peat out this. It tasted soft, or as someone suggested, "like whisky squash". There were some floral notes, but not all of us liked it all that much. It was £98.

Lagavulin 2017
Lagavulin was our fifth stop of the evening, another Diageo distillery best known for its ever popular 16-year-old. We had a 2017 festival bottling on this occasion, a cask strength version of the 16yo finished in Moscatel, with casks previously used by Caol Ila.

And it smelt really fantastic on the nose. It was lovely on the palate too, albeit rather muted. A good all-rounder, we thought. Easy drinking all things considered. It was £125.

That brought us to the end of the evening. And any Islay tasting can only really ever end with the biggest beast of them all, Laphroaig. We had a 2019 bottling of Laphroaig Cardeas, at 59.5% one of the stronger expressions of the night.

Laphroaig 2019
All dark chocolate and leather, this is "good expensive stuff" as someone said. It wasn't quite as expensive as some of the other drams though, not bad value at £85.

It was enough for third in the dram of the night voting for the Laphroaig, but it finished behind the second-placed Lagavulin and the overall winner - dram two from Caol Ila. A victory for one of the perhaps less fashionable distilleries on the island.

Thank you to Martin for taking us through another great evening, and for sourcing and keeping these bottles for us down the years. Thanks again as well to all club members for attending, and the team at the Britons Protection for hosting us.