Monday, September 2, 2019

Irish Whiskey Tasting

The line up of Irish drams.
Our August tasting was another member-led event, and James took us through six different drams from a country often associated with whiskey - yes, with an e - and which is enjoying something of a resurgence. It's been a long time coming: after the industry in Ireland was devastated by prohibition in the US, the number of distilleries was reduced to a tiny handful throughout much of the last century, although, as in other places, plenty have opened recently with more on the way.

Green Spot
The first drink we tried was from the biggest and one of the longest established Irish distilleries, Midleton, best known as the home of Jameson's. It was a bottle of Green Spot Chateau de Barton wine finish, produced for the family-owned wine merchants Mitchell & Sons. Indeed, this is the first single pot still Irish whiskey to be finished in Bordeaux casks.

This had quite a dry taste on the palate, in fact it put some of us in mind of a dry wine, which I suppose is not entirely surprising. There was a sort of spicy, cereal type thing going on as well. Green apples were another tasting note we picked out. If anything it was perhaps a little harsh, although while some drinkers liked it, others weren't so thrilled. It's 46% and is yours for £57.

Aldi 26yo Irish Reserve
Our second whiskey of the evening was one of the older spirits that sometimes turns up briefly in Aldi at a very affordable price, before becoming considerably more expensive through secondary selling online. Dubbed 'Irish Reserve', the 26yo is believed to originate from Bushmills in County Antrim, on the basis that it is probably the only Irish distillery with the sort of stock available for this kind of product.

This was smooth and gentle, but if anything a little bit forgettable. Tomato was one of the more unusual tasting notes, along with a bit of fruit, maybe fruity boiled driving sweets. It's 40% and cost £40 during the period of time in 2017 when it was on the shelves, but you might have to pay treble that on an auction site today. It's not worth that much, but it was decent value at the original price.

Egan's 8yo single grain
On we went to another old name in Irish whiskey - Egan's - which closed as a stand alone brand in 1968 in the face of competition from its larger rivals, but has recently been revived by descendants of the family. James had picked out an 8yo single grain for us to have a go at.

Again a gentle drink on the nose and the palate, although it seemed to have a bit more going on than the previous whiskeys. Buttery and creamy was one suggestion, but there was also a certain sharpness too, which might seem like a contradiction but is perhaps the sign of a more interesting drink. There was also a feeling that it could do with a few more years, so it'll be interesting to see future expressions from Egan's. This particular bottle is 46% and costs £55.

Lough Gill Athru 14yo
After a half-time break to recharge our beer glasses, dram four took us out to Sligo in the west of Ireland and the new Lough Gill distillery, which is currently releasing expressions from elsewhere before it reaches the stage of being able to make its own stuff. The bottle we had was a 14yo called Athru, matured in a combination of both Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso casks.

This had a silky feel to it, and an interesting mix of tasting notes emerged, including burnt tyres and old fruit pastilles (no specific word on which flavour, though). Some suggested it was better with a little water. At 48% and £128, a general consensus was that this was again another good bottle, but probably not worth that kind of price tag.

West Cork Peat Charred Cask
James is known as one of the club's peat monsters, and so he finally indulged both us and himself with a bit of smoke on dram number five. The West Cork distillery is another newish player in the market, although it has been around since 2003, and 2013 on its current premises. James had selected their Peat Charred Cask finish, part of the Glengarriff series, the name relating to a local forest used as the fuel source for the smoking.

It's a no age statement bottling and, despite the hint of smoke at the end, this didn't quite pack the punch some drinkers had anticipated, suggesting that it might be a younger expression. At 43% and just £35 a bottle, it's certainly excellent value, and that price point virtually led to all out cheering in the room. A great bargain.

The Cadenhead's
Finally, it was a familiar Scottish name, in the form of the independent bottler Cadenhead's. The bottle had an unusual history: originally from the Cooley distillery in Louth, it got moved to Scotland roughly halfway through its 27-year spell in a barrel. To get it you have to go on the Cadenhead's warehouse tour, so it's not widely available.

And more's the pity, really. This got almost universal acclaim from the room. Tasting notes included tropical fruit and barbecue on both the nose and the palate. We liked it very much! It's 53.4%.

To nobody's surprise, it was the Cadenhead's which triumphed in the dram of the night voting. So much so we didn't bother counting all the hands, while the West Cork was a strong second.

Thanks to James for selecting and presenting such a great range of Irish whiskeys, to all members and guests who attended a fully-sold out tasting, and to everyone at the Briton's Protection for hosting us once again.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Bringing Down The Rack House

David gave us a great presentation along with the drams.
We gathered on the evening of the hottest day in British history to, appropriately enough, try a range of whiskeys - with an e - many originating from America's sweltering south. Club member David was leading a tasting for the first time, and he had some fruits of a recent business trip to New Jersey to share with us, along with other bottles more readily available over here.

The first two.

With the relaxation of some state licensing rules over recent years, it's become much easier to start a distillery, which has led to a range of smaller, craft places springing up. It seemed a good opportunity to pit some of those newer contenders against the old guard of Kentucky.

And it was in Kentucky that we began, in Muhammad Ali's hometown of Louisville for a bottle of Mellow Corn from one of the established big names, Heaven Hill. This certainly had the flavour of corn about it, along with cereals and vanilla. The tasting notes suggested plantain which seemed a fair shout too. At just 4yo it was a bit harsh, and tasted all of its 50%, although at £32.59 it wasn't bad value (it's much cheaper if you get it in the US, apparently).

We stayed with Heaven Hill for dram number two, Bernheim Original. This is a novelty as the first wheat whiskey launched in the US since prohibition. And very nice it is too, with a long finish. Some drinkers thought this was more subtle than the Mellow Corn, others that it was more flavourful, while the tasting notes of sour cherry and orange peel were about right. It's 45% and £55.

The next two.
It was time for an old school bourbon next, in the shape of Booker's True Barrel Bourbon (Batch 2018-01E). This series has been going for three decades, initially featuring bottles selected by Booker Noe, then the master distiller, and now carried on by his son (Booker's being a small batch offshoot of Jim Beam, so we're still with the big names here). It's 63.7% and it certainly takes your nose hair off when you first get close to it. Certainly not delicate, quite the opposite in fact, and maybe even more "dangerous" with water according to some in the room. It's £65.

We swapped Kentucky for Seattle with whisky number four, Westland Peated. Now owned by Remy Cointreau, there's possibly a family resemblance to stablemates Bruichladdich. Cigarette ash, tobacco in general plus a sprinkling of black pepper with this, all very distinctive. It comes in at 46% and costs £66.

Bottles five and six.
After a half-time break for a much needed recharge of our glasses at the bar of the Britons Protection, it was back upstairs to see what David had in store for us from his trip Stateside. Jersey Spirits Crossroads was dram five, a bottling that is very new indeed, and believed to be the first aged bourbon produced in New Jersey since, yes, prohibition. We thought this was lovely and smooth. It's $37 for a half bottle, although it's not available online so you have to get it in person. It's 43.5%.

Next was the first of two bottles from the Silk City distillery. The first was a two-grain bourbon, 49% of which was oat. This was familiar but bold, we thought, with tasting notes including cloves, an oily spiciness and even cola. Medicinal then mellow, the distillery told David it's more popular with older drinkers. It's 45% and, again in a half bottle, costs about $52 and is not widely available outside New Jersey.

Seven and eight.
A second offering from Silk City came next, their millet whiskey, millet being a grain not often used in distilling. This certainly polarised the room. "It tastes like a mix of bourbon and mouthwash" suggested someone, and there was certainly something fresh and minty about it, or perhaps eucalyptus and herbal. Plenty of the members enjoyed it though. It's 45% again (I haven't written down how much it was, but if you find a bottle somehow, you should probably get it because you may very well not see another!).

The eighth bottle was an Irish-style pot still whiskey, from the All Points West distillery, again in New Jersey. In many ways a deliberate throwback to 19th century production processes, this gave us a real mix of flavours including milk chocolate, raspberries and even Easter eggs. Something of a missing link between bourbon and Irish or Scottish whiskies, this is only eight months old and was really incredible. It's 46% and you can get a full bottle for $50 if you happen to be passing.

The winner!
Nine bottles in a night may be a Manchester Whisky Club record, and David ensured we finished the evening off in some style. We were back in Louisville, Kentucky for something from the McLain and Kyne distillery. The bottle we were being treated to was none other than Jefferson's Grand Selection, Chateau Pichon Baron cask finish. It's 45% and is probably well worth every penny of the £125 price tag. Each of the Grand Selection range gets a finish in some wine casks, and on this occasion it's a Bourdeaux red.

All I've written is "This is the big dram of the night. Smells amazing! We all think this is terrific," which I'm sure sums it up pretty well. I was actually fairly certain it would win the dram of the night voting but it got edged out by the equally brilliant All Points West, which got 11 out of 30.

Huge thanks go to David for really going the extra mile, quite literally (he showed us the maps of his Uber rides around New Jersey!) to get us some excellent whiskeys to try, for all members and their guests for braving the baking heat to attend, and to everyone at the Britons for hosting us once again.

The first six ready to go at the start of the night.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Delicate Drams

The evening's line up.
Club member Becky led us through June's tasting, a selection of six 'delicate drams' with some flavours a little more subtle than many of the whiskies we typically drink. She also introduced a slight change in format, with everyone trying the whiskies blind at first, before having another go once the labels were revealed. I'll keep the tasting notes from both 'halves' together here though to help keep things simple.

Kingsbarns Dream to Dram
The opening whisky had a very distinctive, sweet nose about it. Toffee apples, vanilla, pear drops and creme brulee were all suggested by the thirsty members around the room. There was a bit of a difference when we actually tasted it though, with more of a dry, short finish, certainly not quite what we expected, but still very pleasant with a malty and cereal-type taste, almost like banana bread in fact.

The bottle turned out to be from one of the newest names in Scottish whisky, Kingsbarns. Associated with golf (it's next to St Andrews and has a famous course in its own right), the idea for the distillery came from a caddy who had a dream, and so this first publicly available expression is a 3yo called Dream to Dram. We liked this very much. It's 46% and £45 on Master of Malt, or at least it was until I slyly bought the last one at the end of the tasting. Sorry!

Glen Grant 12yo
Dram number two also had a very sweet nose, like a sweet shop in fact. Various suggestions from the room included a Tunnock's teacake (or maybe a whole packet), icing sugar and marshmallows, although it also reminded me of one of my favourite childhood drinks, red kola. The taste was sweet again, but again it was a slight surprise after the nose and didn't quite marry up in the expected way, being a bit more dry. Certainly very delicate as well as dry, it had a longer finish. "Like being in a sauna" someone suggested, although I'm fairly sure drinking whisky in a sauna is probably a terrible idea.

It was a 12yo Glen Grant, coming in at 43% and £42, so again quite affordable. This was nice although it didn't quite hit the heights of the opener.

Balblair 15yo
There was more apple of the nose of the third whisky, although it wasn't quite as distinctive as the two we'd already tried. The smell did emerge after a while, though. There was more apple on the palate, but again a sweet sort of apple taste, like apple pie or strudel. There was certainly something caramelised and Christmassy about it.

We were in the Highlands for this one, and to be more specific Balblair. A 15yo at 46% it was a little more expensive with a price tag of £73, and we weren't quite sure whether this was definitely worth it, although it was a very pleasant drop once again.

Elixir Imperial
The fruity theme continued with the fourth dram, although rather than apples, this had more of a sweaty, stewed fruit feel. Someone shouted out "plums" at one point, although I'm not sure whether this was actually a comment on the whisky or not. Turkish delight was another suggestion once we actually tasted it, and for a really detailed note liqourice all sorts, but specifically the blue and pink ones (these are called spogs, it turns out). Overall this was a bit more savoury than the others, with spices such as nutmeg coming more to the fore. While fitting the bill for a delicate dram, it wasn't the most delicate one we tried during the evening.

Becky had shown true devotion to the cause of presenting the whiskies by calling each distillery to ask them more about the bottles, but that wasn't an option here - it was from the Imperial distillery which closed in 1998 and was demolished six years ago to make way for the new Dalmunach distillery. The whisky we were drinking was a 21yo bottled by Elixir, a name known for its Port Askaig and Elements of Islay ranges. It's 50.5% and £130 although there aren't many bottles around, and indeed the remaining stocks of Imperial are apparently rather depleted too, so you might have a job finding one of these.

Spey 18yo
The fifth whisky was back onto the apple theme, this time with a nose reminiscent of apple pie. There was definitely a hint of pastry in there though, and some suggested Bakewell tart as an alternative (other regional baked products are available). Official tasting notes included Eton mess ("that's just broken up meringue") or vanilla fudge although we thought doughnuts was slightly closer to the mark. There was more on the palate than the nose here, and mixed nuts was a suggestion that drew a lot of nods around the room. A bit of caramel too, reminiscent of the stroopwafels you probably brought back from Schipol Airport the last time you were passing through.

Going back for a second taste of it, the sherry really did come through more strongly. There was little doubting it as a Speyside, and in fact it came from the Speyside distillery near Kingussie (a town synonymous with top shinty action like this), branded as an 18yo Spey. It's 46% and £74, not bad at all but not our favourite.

Mackmyra Vintertradgard
And so to our final whisky of the tasting. This had a very different sort of fruity nose, with cherries, and in particular sour cherries and berries, coming through very clearly. Almost like Black Forest gateau in fact. Once we tasted it, you could even say it was a slightly confusing sort of whisky (in a good way), because the bourbony vanilla of American oak was present along with a general mixture of sweetness and spiciness. All very nice indeed.

This was our only trip outside Scotland all evening, and it was back to Sweden and club favourites Mackmyra, for another from their Mackmyra Moments range, a bottle of Vintertradgard (it means 'winter garden') generously provided by Alex Johnston who hosted a tasting for us earlier in the year.  This was a big hit! It's 48.4% and costs £160, although again may well be hard to find.

We did two lots of dram of the night voting, one after we'd tried them all blind, then another after the second tasting. In the first round it was dram number three, which we didn't know then was a Balblair, which got seven votes, to six for the Imperial and four for Mackmyra. But things changed around a bit at full-time, with the Kingsbarns racing ahead with nine votes, leaving Balblair, Imperial and Mackmyra in second, third and fourth. Well done to Kingsbarns, and as someone said, not bad at all for a calibration dram!

Well done also to Becky for putting on such a great debut tasting. Also thanks to club members for ensuring another well-attended event, and to the Britons for hosting us once again.

After the reveal.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Glen Scotia with Ibon

Words pics and tasting notes curtesy of Adam, Dave and Chris

Our May tasting was hosted by Ibon Mendiguren from The Loch Lomond Group, who brought with him 6 stunning drams from Glen Scotia:

In the Victorian age, Campbeltown was known as the whisky capital of the world. Glen Scotia is now one of only 3 remaining distilleries in the Campbeltown region and it continues to produce two whisky styles, peated and non-peated. Over the years the quality of the whisky has improved with longer fermentation and vatting of the malted barley as well as a slower and more careful distillation. Whilst there were always excellent indy bottlings of Glen Scotia availible, the official releases tended to be a little lack lustre, and as to the packaging... well that was Cow-Shit!
The new owners of Glen Scotia have not only vastly improved how their bottles look (not a cow in sight), but also what goes into them.
I was a convert the first time I tried Victoriana a few years back and after trying dram #5 a few months back, it’s still one of my stand-out drams of the year!

Thanks to Glen Scotia’s, squat pot stills and horizontal lyne arms, a lot of the fermentation related flavours make it through to the cask. As the distillery also employs really long fermentation times the means the spirit has an oily, waxy, character with plenty of fruity esters. With their own cooperage at their sister distillery; Loch Lomond, Glen Scotia has full control of what sort of wood the spirit goes into. This includes wide range of FF bourbon barrels as well as sherry and wine casks.

As Anna and Martin were busy on Islay (bird watching I presume), I was flying solo on the night, so thanks to Dave and Chris for their efforts on twitter which bear a striking resemblance to the post below. Their combined tasting notes make for some interesting reading.

Whisky numero un! - Double Cask 46% (NAS). £32-37.
From the "whiskiest place in the world”, spicy nose with a fruity spiced taste, Moy bien! First fill bourbon, then into PX for a total of 3-7 years. So, we get sweet & vanilla, then raisins & sultanas.

Dram the second! Victoriana, NAS 54.8% and ~£75.
This 3 cask combo.. is a mix of FF bourbon, heavily charred American oak and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks. Mellow sweet nose, super rounded gassy but smooth taste. Very nice :)
"Fucking love this dram" says our host. Blended to recreate the sweeter, stronger style of whisky favoured by Victorian drinkers, Victoriana contains a mix of 12-18y.o. components. The mix around 70% American oak to 30% PX with a 90:10 split between unpeated and peated (~50ppm in malt) spirit. Spicy and jammy to start, with a very layered and slightly smoky finish.

Sample a la trois! - Campbelltown festival edition #4, 7y.o. 59.5%, SOLD-OUT
The first of four jewels… all single cask expressions, the one was bottled for last week’s Campbeltown festival edition. Chris got: Deep mahogany nose with special oily fruity taste with spice. "Whoa! Nice!" Very floral and nicely rounded few sips in. Don't want it to end!!  Whereas Dave thought: Fruity. Very oily. Very peaty but not Islay peat! Heavenly, it's gorgeous. More of this kind of thing please.

Prov den fjärde!! -  Warehouseman’s Edition 12 y.o. 56.2% SOLD OUT
This is medium peated dram has a vibrant fruity taste with a deep, deep taste {deep exhale} Great Flavour. Tough to describe. It's a rare emotional dram. Heavy. Oily. Yearning. Spicy. Warm. Cuddly. Intriguing. Soft. Marmalade. Salt. Gorgeously waxy. I'd move in with it.

Whiskyglas fünf!  - Bottle Your Own, Cask #117, 8y.o. 58.3% ~£75 (distillery only)
Another Limited Edition, first-fill bourbon matured with 18-24 months in oloroso. Whisky in its purest state, the smell is seaside mixed with a GPs practice… not a bad thing. I can't describe the taste… Oily, salt watered/coastal, deep, Amazing! Clynelish on steroids!

Szklanka whisky sześć – Cask #453, 19 y.o. 57.9%, £190.
Our final dram comes from the first distillation from the reopened distillery, unpeated spirit into first fill American hogshead, but then re-casked into second fill casks which previously held peated whisky. Knockout nose! Like being hit in the face by the most pleasant German train! The taste has been very well crafted, can taste the oily, gassy and warm flow as it goes down.

Dram of the night was a very close contest, with all six drams receiving votes. However with more peat than the others, No 3 was first past the post thanks to our resident peat heads, with #6 elected second. Many thanks to Ibon and Glen Scotia for absolutely astounding drinks tonight.

Next Month at Manchester Whisky Club, Becky will be treating the club to some delicious “Delicate Drams.”

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Weird and Wonderful

The mystery line-up.
Martin shared the fruits of his recent labours with us at April's Manchester Whisky Club tasting, with a specially curated selection of weird and wonderful whiskies that have come his way over the past months and even years.

Floki Sheep Dung
It was a blind tasting so the only clues we had were the rough size of the bottles in their black bags, although Martin did at least do a reveal after each drink so we didn't have long to wait to find out just how wrong we were about what we thought we were tasting.

We started off with something that had a very distinctive smell, which got us all thinking it was much more weird than wonderful. On the nose it was somewhere between a carpet shop and a fish market, so maybe the Grimsby branch of Carpetright. To be honest, we all hated the smell. It tasted a little better, almost a bit like a health tonic or herbal liqueur rather than a whisky though.

Another comment from the group was that it definitely wasn't Scottish and, right enough, it turned out to be from a little further north. Iceland's Floki distillery, which only uses local ingredients. But the most unusual factor is the actual local ingredient they use to give it a bit of smoke: sheep dung, of which there is plenty to go around on the island. This particular bottle was a young malt spirit rather than a whisky as it wasn't old enough at that time. It's 47% and cost £65.

Mackmyra Tokaj finish
The nose on the second whisky was much more up our street. It was Christmassy and fruity and, as someone said, "I've got lots of apples going up my nose". When we tasted it there was a definite sweetness about it, too, and we generally thought it might be a little younger than the 10 years it turned out to be. Overall, almost unanimously popular.

It was in fact another bottle from Mackmyra, the Swedish distillery who treated us to a full evening's tasting last month. The unusual element here was courtesy of barrels which had been seasoned with tokaj, the Hungarian sweet wine. This particular bottling is 48.6% and was produced a few years ago under the Moment Vintage range, but good luck finding one on the market now.

Lost Spirits Abomination
The nose on whisky number three gave it away a bit as hailing from Islay, at least somewhere along the line. The familiar smell of TCP and Germolene, suggested one of the island's peatier distilleries was involved. The distinctive dark colour also got us talking, especially when we learned there was nothing artificial going on. Strong tasting and very smoky, it really strips away at the back of the mouth, putting some club members in mind of the peatiest Octomores around.

Although the spirit here may have come from Islay, the whisky was created in the US by craft distillery Lost Spirits. Their thing is to dabble in the weird science of whisky, and this particular bottling, Abomination Chapter 2: Sayers of the Law (sounds like a decent movie tbqh), was a result of a forced process of 'hyper ageing' lasting just a few weeks or even days, with young 13-month old spirit acquired from Islay at the heart of it. At 54% and just £50, this really was great value too.

Bell's Red Devil
The last whisky before half-time was something different again, and it had an unusual reddish type colour. In fact, it looked a bit like flat Coke or sherry. The taste put us in mind of those Eastern European herbal liqueurs again, although having grown up in the north of Scotland it also reminded me of red kola, which a cursory survey of club members confirmed was not a drink which enjoyed a wide-ranging popularity.

What we were drinking was a blend from Bell's. Not the most auspicious drink you would have thought, but this particular bottling, Red Devil, was infused with chilis. An attempt by Bell's to appeal to a younger market in the early 1990s, it didn't last long on the shelves, but has since become highly collectible among Manchester United fans. Certainly very drinkable, with more of the taste of chili rather than the heat, it's 40%, but again, you'll have to hunt the whisky auction sites if you want to get hold of one.

After a short opportunity to refresh our pint glasses at the bar of the Briton's Protection, we were back for dram five and another unusual colour. This was not just dark, but virtually black like tea or Coke again. It was a little bit corked too, but that true back-of-the-booze-cupboard feeling. It wasn't as big on the nose as we thought, and to be honest, didn't do all that much for us in the tasting either, all caramel and liqourice.

The blackness was deliberate, in that we were drinking Cu Dhub, an attempt to recreate the 'black whisky' of yesteryear, which was popular at various points in history but often regarded as not being terribly good. This latest attempt involved caramelising the spirit in Denmark, and after it was discontinued its popularity in Denmark meant that most of the remaining bottles have ended up there. Not one to seek out other than for curiosity's sake.

We went from black to green next, dram number six having a distinctive greenish tinge to it. Sweet, lovely and spicy, this really packed a distinctive punch. "Almost like a breakfast Islay" as someone put it.

As it turned out, we weren't drinking whisky at all, at least not by the standards of the Scotch Whisky Association. We were enjoying some Celp Seaweed Experience, created by literally adding some actual seaweed to bottles of a young Laphroaig. It's created by the Dutch firm, the Ultimately Whisky Company, and we very much enjoyed this. It's 55% but again it's an auction listings job if you want to get a bottle for yourself.

We went from the seaside to the schoolroom next. Or at least the school workshops where you did woodwork, the nose being quite reminiscent of, well, freshly cut wood, or maybe a pine forest. When we got to taste it, there was an immediate creaminess, almost like ice cream in fact, or a can of cream soda.

Old club favourites Amrut, the Indian distillery, was the source of this particular bottle, called Naarangi. It has been matured in a particularly distinctive way, with the casks initially filled with sherry, wine and orange peels, before being swapped out for the Amrut malt to finish. It's definitely citrussy, and doesn't taste as strong as the 50% on the label. At £95 it's possibly a bit steep, though.

Prichard's Double Chocolate
It was a good job we were on slightly reduced measures this month, to save all our Friday mornings, as we rolled on to an almost-unprecedented eights and final dram of the night. This got us thinking of both chocolate and sweaty socks at the same time, or possibly even wet cardboard (perhaps this is what happens when you try to do an Easter egg hunt in the back garden in the rain). As is traditional the notes I've made at this point are relatively brief, but they do record that the membership had "mixed views" on this.

It was the Double Chocolate Bourbon from Prichard's of Tennessee. It's so named because it combines the distillery's signature Double Barrel Bourbon, itself created by manually re-barreling during the maturation process, with actual chocolate. It's mellow rather than sweet, and is 45%. Not bad but not our favourite of the night.

And for once our dram of the night voting ended in a tie. The Mackmyra and the Lost Spirits Abomination were joint first, with both the Celp and the Amrut getting support too. After a tie-breaker with everyone forced to choose between the top two on pain of death, the Mackmyra came out on top.

Thanks must go to Martin for collating these extremely interesting whiskies for us all to share, to the club members for another successful tasting, and everyone at the Briton's for hosting us once again.

These are the first six.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A Taste of Sweden with Mackmyra

The first four whiskies.
For our March tasting we had the great pleasure of being joined by Alex Johnson, who represents Sweden's Mackmyra distillery in the UK, to take us through a selection of excellent Scandinavian whiskies.

All the bottles (first half on top).
There were no fewer than eight for us to try, including Mackmyra's core expressions plus some more specialist drams. We'd had the odd bottle of Mackmyra at the club over the years but there was plenty of new stuff here for us all to have a go at.

And we started off with one of Mackmyra's newest drams, Mack. Alex explained that it was aimed at a cheaper price point than its other products, in part to satisfy a gap in the domestic Swedish market, where the sale of booze is famously controlled by a state-owned chain of off licences.

Mack by Mackmyra.
Available here at £34.50, the 40% Mack is a very easy-to-drink single malt. Almost too easy, some club members thought! It has orchard-type notes, with fresh pear and apple alongside a bit of a rummy quality too. We liked this a lot, especially for the money. One to open for a summer's afternoon barbecue.

We moved next onto another component of Mackmyra's core range, a blend called Brukswhisky. Alex told us that the youngest whisky in the blend is about the 7-year-old mark, with others nearer 10, with a mixture of those aged in first fill bourbon barrels but also sherried and Swedish oak casks.

Mackmyra Brukswhisky.
There was apple in this again, and more nuttiness too. Again quite a soft, light and easy to drink whisky, this was a bit creamy with hints of almond and even maybe liquorice too. It's £42 and comes in at 41.4%.

Svensk Ek was whisky number three, and it's among the Mackmyra drams we've had and enjoyed previously. You might have clocked its distinctive burnt orange packaging before. It's particularly notable for being matured in barrels made from oak trees originally intended to provide wood for shipbuilding. The Swedish Navy's loss is our gain, clearly.

Svensk Ek.
On the inside it's a more complex, wintry kind of drink than the first two. "More chewy" as someone described it. There's definitely an oaky taste, along with cinnamon and even crispy toast. It opens up a bit with a drop of water too. It's 46% and you can get a bottle for £52.

The last of the whiskies before half-time was Svensk Rok, which translates as 'Swedish Smoke'. And in keeping with Mackmyra's tradition of using local ingredients, we're talking Swedish peat here.

Svensk Rok.
I thought this was very definitely smoky bacon Frazzles on the nose, although others in the club had rather more refined comments to make. There's certainly a bit of barbecue-type flavour going on, and in general it's quite a bright, smoky whisky. Very distinctive and very nice, too. It's £48 and, although it only comes in a 50cl bottle, it's still good value for something of this quality.

The second half.
Half-time meant not only an opportunity for a bit of extra refreshment from the bar at the Britons Protection, but also gave Alex time to sort out a new line-up of drinks for part two. This time we were switching to four whiskies away from Mackmyra's core range and into some more unusual territory.

And whisky number five was certainly something out of the ordinary. Mackmyra Appelblom, that is apple blossom, certainly gives us a taste of spring. The secret sauce here is that it is finished in Calvados casks, Calvados being an apple brandy from Normandy.

Mackmyra Appleblom Calvados cask.
This really was very nice indeed. As we'd already spotted, Mackmyra whiskies generally have a certain fruitiness about them anyway, so with the addition of the Calderos finish, this gave us a full on apple pie or apple strudel kind of taste. "Toffee custard" was another suggestion. From Mackmyra's seasonal range, it's 46% and you can get a bottle for about £60, and the whisky on the inside ranges from about 8 to 10-year-old.

Mackmyra also has a range under the banner 'Moment' and this was where whisky number six came from, the Fjallmark. This is finished in barrels which have been used to hold cloudberry wine, cloudberries being those orange berries that grow wild quite commonly in Sweden, and even at certain locations here (Kinder Scout, apparently!).

Moment Fjallmark.
Even in a crowded field, this whisky really stood out. Complex and highly tasty, with flavours such as treacle and golden syrup coming to the fore. All summed up with a simple "wow" from one club member. This is bottled at cask strength, which is unusually just 42%, and it's £95. It's safe to say that you don't get too many cloudberry finished whiskies, so that alone makes splashing out for something a bit more premium well worth it.

We weren't finished yet, and whisky seven took us into the world of private casks. The particular dram Alex had for us to try was a 6yo peated whisky from an Oloroso sherry cask.

The private cask - a peated Oloroso.
I'm certain it was very nice but, as you might expect from a whisky tasting of this length, by this point my notes had become rather more limited. For this whisky, all I wrote was that it was "complex" which admitted doesn't tell us very much in the cold light of day. It's 43.7% and Mackmyra makes a batch of 48 bottles available for £3k, which is roughly £62 apiece.

The night concluded with our eighth (!) whisky, and it was the Svensk Rok Amerikansk Ek, a limited edition version of the Svensk Rok aged in new American oak casks.
Svensk Rok Amerikansk.

This has a rich, dark colour. Again there's a barbecue feel about it ("like McDonald's barbecue sauce" as someone suggested - is this a good thing? I'm going with yes), along with a smoky, spiciness. It's £58 and is 46%.

That left us with just one order of business to complete, the dram of the night voting. It was even tougher than normal, and no fewer than six of the eight scored at least a couple of votes, but the winner turned out to be the cloudberry-infused Fjallmark with no fewer than 11.

Thank you to Alex for a great evening, and also for fixing up a tie-up with our friends at Aston's which will see club members get a little money off their next bottle of Mackmyra. Also thanks to everyone who came to yet another well-attended tasting, and to everyone at the Britons for hosting us.