Thursday, June 24, 2021

Pick and Mix Drams

June's line up

For June's Zoom tasting we asked five different members to select a whisky to share with the rest of the club, for a bit of a pick and mix type of evening.

Green Spot Zinfandel
And we started off with Jasper taking us through a bit of his own history with whisky over the nine years he's been a fan, culminating in his experiences as part of our community.

He chose something from Ireland for us to try, in the shape of Green Spot Zinfandel wine cask finish. This smelt lovely and strong on the nose, and sweet as well, and went down smoothly and easily on the palate. The nose especially was fantastic, went the club consensus, giving us a great start to the night. One surprise was that it was 'only' 46%, we'd generally pegged it at something above 50 given the powerful nose. Someone added water but was a bit less keen on it after that, yet overall this was a very decent dram at a solid price point of £57.

Katherine was up next to take us to Scotland, more specifically Speyside and the Glenglassaugh distillery, bringing back memories for her of walks on Sandend beach near Portsoy on the Moray Firth coast. She'd picked out a bottle from the Octaves expressions, aged in casks made from wood which had previously held a range of sherries.

A good nose, the familiar raisiny and dried fruit kind of smell you get with distilleries from that part of the world. But as it happened, ultimately not quite as sherried on the palate as the nose suggested it would be. We felt this was a little bit nondescript in the end, there was a bit of maple syrup and bacon, the beginning of a hint of burnt tyres as well, and a little smoky too which we weren't quite expecting. Nice enough but perhaps not quite worth the price tag - it's available for about £50. It's 44%.

Dunville's 12yo
Next it was Pedro's turn and, befitting his name, he selected something finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. We were going back to the island of Ireland and Belfast, for a Dunville's 12-year-old, Dunville's being an old name in whiskey resurrected as a brand in recent years by the Echlinville distillery.

Perhaps not quite as nice on the nose as the last two, we got a bit of nail polish remover along with some spiciness and a hint of custard. There was no lingering finish to it though, at least in the breakout room I was in (other groups seemed to like it a little better!). There was a surprising lack of PX, there was certainly a hint of it but it wasn't exactly in the forefront of the drink. At £95 it was a bit on the expensive side for what it was, but still enjoyable overall and good to have tried it, which is the whole point of the club really. It's 46%.

Talisker 8yo
Matt chose dram number four for us, a 2010 8-year-old Talisker bottled into a sherry butt, bringing back some wedding memories for him of his marriage to fellow club member Becky.

This gave us a bit of an island vibe, befitting the Skye distillery. This was salty and smoky, light and fishy. A little bit bitter at the very end perhaps, but really this was very nice, we'd definitely drink it again. Considering it had spent eight years in a sherry butt we were surprised it wasn't a slightly darker colour. There was a really interesting mix of flavours in there though, from bits of chocolate, a certain peppery thing going on, maybe even rhubarb.

The last dram of the evening was picked out for us by Chris. Known throughout the club for his love of Balcones Brimstone, he insisted this was not it!

But as we would soon find out, he had gone back to his favourite Texas distillery for something different, in this case the Balcones Dream Big, bottled by indie Simply Whisky. It smelt fiery, like ginger ale. There was no doubt it had a high ABV, but even we were surprised when Chris revealed it clocked in at no less than 65.7%. Just a four-year-old, it really left an impression on us. Stringent at first before it goes smooth and vanilla, the flavour sticks with you, a really long aftertaste of marzipan, almond and marmalade. It's £85.

While it was a great way to finish the night, the dram of the evening poll was won by whisky number four, the sherry-matured Talisker. Congratulations to Matt! And thanks to him and all the club members who presented bottles, and to everyone who joined the tasting.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Irish Off Piste

Another Zoom tasting!

Our May tasting took us to Ireland, and James took us 'off piste' by selecting a series of drams to confound our expectations of Irish whiskey.

We started in Waterford. Best known for crystal, the area's distillery has also got a burgeoning reputation for its obsession with the local terroir, including organically grown single farm barley.

Arcadian Gaia 1.1
We tasted the Arcadian Gaia 1.1. Floral and very aromatic, this tasted strong, harsh and young (take your pick), but not unpleasant. It was a thick, gloopy spirit with a meaty kind of aftertaste. You certainly know you've tasted it. It was a bit sweet as well. This bottle was 50% but was perhaps a bit on the expensive side at £77. It did taste like the price, though.

Method and Madness
Whiskey number two was the Cherry Wood from Method and Madness, a brand name attached to an experimental range of drinks from the Midleton distillery.

This was grassy on the nose. 'Purest green' as someone suggested. It doesn't taste like it smells though. It's certainly both cherry and woody, almost rotting wood or with a bit of a tea thing going on. The mouthfeel was spirity, reminiscent of grappa in fact. We thought this might work as a digestif. This got some positive noises dissipated a bit when we saw the price - 84 quid! A bit funky for some but others did enjoy it. It's 46%.

JJ Corry Flintlock

For the third dram it was something from JJ Corry, whiskey bonders who buy new make from various distilleries and age it themselves. The bottle we were trying was The Flintlock.

We got battenburg cake or marzipan on the nose. The taste came as a bit of a surprise, like fruity Vimto or something along those lines. Soft fruits all round. The finish was perhaps a bit of not very much, but overall we stuck with it and very much enjoyed it. We were trying smaller measures as it was just a 50cl bottle and that was plenty for some, but other members were keener on it, a real room divider. £95 for a small bottle seemed a bit steep though.

Kinahan's Kasc Project
Onto the fourth whiskey and it was something which offered somewhat better value from Kinahan's, in the form of their Kasc Project, which features casks made up of a hybrid of different woods.

This received some positive comments, in that it was perfectly pleasant if perhaps a bit straight down the line. We were trying batch 4 and it was noticeable (to me) how subtly different it was from batch 3, which I had half a bottle of downstairs and quickly grabbed for a bit of a back to back comparison. The best thing about this was probably the price, at just £32, lots of the club was surprised at how good it was at that low cost. It's 43%.

Two Stacks
We went to blenders Two Stacks next, for their Blenders Cut Barbados, a blend of five different whiskeys. They often can whiskey in small tins, but on this occasion we were drinking something which had come from a bottle.

This was another one which tasted strong straight off the bat, we thought either really harsh or simply a high ABV (it turned out to be the latter - 63.5%!). It stays tasted. People had this both with and without water really loved it either way. It's 89 quid.

Red Spot 15yo
We finished off the evening with something from Mitchell and Son. Best known for Green Spot, James told us this was something different.

Very pleasant, very nice, very sweet, were the consistent comments about this one. Tough to follow the heavy onslaught of the Two Stacks, and while many club members enjoyed this one, some thought it was a little boring in comparison to what had gone earlier. This was the Red Spot 15 year-old. Although good, we felt the timing of the drams held it back a touch and we might have got more out of it earlier in the evening. It's £120 and 46%.

Dram of the night was closely fought but it went to Two Stacks with 10 of the 30 votes cast. Whiskeys 1, 3 and 6 were all joint second, but all the drams had at least two supporters - the sign of a successful tasting!

Thank you to James for choosing the whiskeys and taking us through it, and to all members and guests for attending another great evening.

Thursday, April 29, 2021


The first two drams: a battle of the tens!

April's club tasting was an eagerly awaited run through six drams from the classic Islay distillery of Ardbeg. Club chairman Adam, a big fan of the fruity, peaty spirit Ardbeg is known for, was on hand to take us through the line up.

And we started with a head to head between two versions of Ardbeg's core 10-year-old: a current bottling, and one from more than 15 years ago, having been bottled in 2005. Many of the club's membership are also lovers of the stuff and so it was no surprise the new one went down well. The newer one we thought was smoother, but the older one was certainly as strong, although different with a more brash and bold taste about it. There were mixed views on which was better, but after a vote it was the older one which edged by the cursed ratio of 52-48.

Airigh Nam Beist
We moved onto the Ardbeg Blasda next, a no age statement, lightly peated, 40% expression assumed to be a 12-year-old, and introduced back in 2008. With Ardbeg's famous Kildalton somewhat out of our price range, this was the best bottling along those lines we could reasonably stretch to instead. That Ardbeg fruitiness was there along with a bit of ash, as it was lightly peated right enough. There was a bit more smoke on the taste. Certainly much more delicate than a lot of Ardbegs, we felt this was probably not worth whatever you would pay for it these days on the secondary market. While an easy drinker, and something you could sit in the garden and drink in the summertime, some members felt this really wasn't what you'd actually go to Ardbeg for. Others thought it was a little bit something of nothing.

Onto something else which had been kicking around Adam's collection for a while, the now discontinued Airigh Nam Beist. This 46% was smooth and very long in terms of an aftertaste. A bit of sweetness and a lovely mouthfeel. Just about right in fact. We liked this a lot. We wouldn't pay whatever it's selling now for, but that says more about the secondary whisky market than the quality of this dram.  Ardbeg Drum was dram number five. A rum finish, this was a 46% bottling from 2019, with a recommended retail price of just under £100. There was not as much on the nose here, but the palate was quite a hit. Sweetish again but still very peated, the rum didn't quite stand up to the peat if anything.

We finished off with Grooves. A heavy char wine cask finish. We had high hopes for this but, after a strong evening, this was a touch underwhelming. The charring made it taste a little burnt if anything. Fine, but we wouldn't have paid the RRP of £97 for it. A dash of water improved things, though, made it intriguingly creamier.

And so the dram of the night was, to no great surprise, dram number four the Airigh Nam Beist. It got 23 votes from the membership, with the next best only scoring three! Just about the most overwhelming winner in whisky club history.

Thanks to everyone who came along for our latest Zoom tasting and, especially, to Adam for sharing his great knowledge of Ardbeg and - just as importantly - some of the bottles he has collected over the years.

Adam prepared a presentation to guide us through it.

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!

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Short Haul Drams

February's line up

February's Manchester Whisky Club tasting via Zoom had us try a range of 'short haul' drams from European distilleries, all selected by club chairman Adam.

Armorik Dervenn
And we didn't have to travel too far for dram number one. Just down to Brittany in fact, for something from the French Armorik distillery. We've had a couple of big sherried bottlings from there at past tastings which went down well, but this Armorik Dervenn was a little different to that. Dervenn is the Breton word for oak, and this was matured in local Breton oak barrels as well as bourbon casks.

We liked this one straight from the off. Coffee on the palate, and very peppery, it reminded some drinkers of a Campbeltown. "Tell me where I can buy it" said someone straight away, and they're in luck, as it's widely available for about £55. It's 46%. A no age statement whisky, we reckon it's about four years old. Not a bad start to the evening all told, and another success for Armorik.

Teeling Brabazon
We looked west for the second whisky of the night, to Ireland and Teeling. This was the Teeling Brabazon, a 14-year-old whisky which spent most of its maturation in bourbon casks before a final three years in ex-PX sherry. We got some butterscotch on the nose, and it was slightly grassy on the palate. There was a bit more on the palate in fact, although it was oily and the finish was a bit short. Not bad but we wouldn't rush out to buy it. Some drinkers thought it was nice, others felt it was a bit dank like wet cardboard.

It's 49.5% but will set you back £84. "I'm looking at the price and now I'm saying no thanks" said someone, probably just about summing it all up.

Millstone Special

Dram number three was very dark indeed. It had an industrial sort of a smell, almost like a carpet factory, and again was a bit oily. Almost like pickled herrings in fact. The taste was a surprise too. Kind of sweet and raisiny as if it was very sherried, but what it was we had absolutely no idea.

It turned out to be Dutch, and was one of the oldest whiskies available under the Millstone name from the Zuidam distillery, the 23-year-old Special Release 18. Adam had a look back at the club records and discovered it was in fact the most expensive non-Scotch we've ever had, at £250! It really split opinions. Some liked it and were getting lots of dark chocolate and coffee, others weren't so keen. Certainly unusual, but perhaps not worth that kind of money.

High Coast Timmer
Sweden is a club favourite because of Mackmyra, the distillery with the distinction of having been tasted the most by the club over the years. However, on this occasion we went elsewhere in the country for the fourth whisky of the night, to High Coast (formerly known as Box). This had an interesting nose with a bit of antiseptic, while the taste was more sherbet. "Trying a bit too hard" as someone suggested, with maybe too much going on. You could smell the peat on this, and taste it too, but it was more floral and mossy than a bit peaty punch.

The expression is a no age statement called High Coast Timmer, and comes in at 48% and £49, matured in bourbon barrels and refill quarter casks. A lot of phenols here, in fact not a million miles away from Laphroaig technically but didn't taste like it, and was apparently actually modelled on the subtler Kilchoman. Again there were mixed feelings in the end. Some liked it, others thought it was a bit forgettable. The barley was upfront, it was a bit sweet, a bit salty. We thought we'd liked to try a bit more from here once it's older (this is probably a 6yo).

Kornog Roc'h Hir

Onto our last whisky, and we were back in Breton country again, this time for a Kornog from the Glann Ar Mor distillery. It smelt like ammonia. In fact, we weren't sure about the nose all round, but loved the taste. It was kind of dusty, like pencil shavings. A little bit nutty with almonds, and some of the vanilla-ness you get with bourbon albeit with more fruit maybe. Peaty and very drinkable, very sessionable in fact. We liked this one, really liked it.

It had a lighter peat level than the High Coast, putting it more on a level with Caol Ila or Lagavulin. The expression itself is a no age statement called Roc'h Hir, coming in at 46% and £66. A good way to end the tasting.

As for the dram of the night voting, it was a narrow win for the Millstone! So narrow in fact, it came down to Adam's casting vote. Thanks to Adam and all club members for another successful tasting!

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Rye Hard 2: Rye Harder

The full line-up
January's lockdown tasting had club member Tim bring us the long-awaited sequel to his Rye Hard tasting of ryes with, what else, but Rye Hard 2: Rye Harder.

And we went straight in with dram number one. This was a bit woody, almost like a furniture sort of smell contributing to a lovely nose. But the views got a bit more mixed once we actually tasted it. There was sweetness, a bit of spice too, but if anything we were a little disappointed with the palate, which went dry and then bitter quite suddenly. It got sharper with water but, as Tim revealed, there wasn't actually enough rye it in it to be a rye, so it was in fact a bourbon.

Woodford Reserve

There was also a bit of dark chocolate around, which was explained by the fact it did have chocolate malted rye in it. It was the Chocolate Malted Rye Bourbon expression from Woodford Reserve. It's 45.2% and costs £80. Certainly distinctive and we were glad to have tried it, but not something anyone rushed out to buy at that price.

Next was a bit of a surprise as we had an English rye, prompting the inevitable chorus of "I had no idea English rye was even a thing". Well, it is, and this one has been produced by Suffolk brewery Adnams. This had boozy mixed fruit on the nose, almost like a Speyside. Someone even said it reminded them of Drambuie. It was certainly a bit orangey on the palate too, citrussy, spicy but almost smooth. "Would be great in an Old Fashioned" someone suggested.

Adnams Rye Malt

The aftertaste was very citrussy too, and it had a long, slightly dry finish. There was a bit of a consensus around the word 'unusual' which is no bad thing. The bottle simply called Rye Malt, is 47% and is not bad value at all at £45.

The third dram of the night didn't have quite as much on the nose as the previous two, although some members thought that changed a little bit with a splash of water. It was unmistakably a rye but was perhaps a bit undistinguished compared with the ones we'd already tried. It smelt sweet but the palate was very short and didn't taste of all that much, beyond a bit of spiciness that didn't really stick around. A pleasant enough, easy drinker though.

Templeton Rye

This was the Templeton Rye Small Batch, from Indiana. It was 40% and cost £39 for a 75cl bottle, although this particular expression is no longer available.

Dram number four got an immediate response: "Do you not think it smells of straw?" There was definitely a bit of the giraffe house going on, although at the same, I thought a bit of steamed pudding as well. Deeper and richer than some of the others we'd had during the tasting, it was rich, lovely and sweet on the palate, with a bit of spiciness coming through as well. Apple pie was another tasting note that plenty of people agreed with.

New Riff Straight Rye

We were drinking New Riff Straight Rye, from Kentucky, made with 95% rye and clocking in at 50% ABV. It's £60 and was a clear favourite so far for most of the drinkers.

The last of our five drams also had the highest rye content, at 100%. Apples were again in evidence, along with pear drops (Editor's note: after this discussion of pear drops I went to the trouble of buying a bag for the first time in years - it turns out they taste nothing like whisky. What a con). There was caramel on the finish too although it wasn't as sweet as some of the others. Oily and toffee notes got a few shouts as well. It punched up on the flavours, and it might have been a bit sharp for some club members.

Reservoir Rye

It was the Reservoir Rye Virginia Rye Whiskey, at 50% and £99. A bit pricey, despite being obviously a quality drink.

Which brought us to the dram of the night voting. Only the third one didn't attract any support, but it was the New Riff which took the honours with 14 votes, to 10 for the Reservoir Rye and seven for the Adnams.

Thanks to all club members and those on the waiting list who joined us via Zoom for another successful lockdown tasting, and in particular to Tim for selecting the whiskies and guiding us through it. We'll have to do a part three one day!

Another Zoom tasting!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The 2020 Christmas Party


Another Zoom tasting!

One of our annual traditions at Manchester Whisky Club is the Christmas party. In the past this has usually involved a big get-together at the Britons Protection, often involving the leftover whiskies from the year's tastings. This year, as with most things, we had to do it remotely on Zoom. But thanks to some wonderful organising from host Adam and the rest of the committee, we had a great night of entertainment and a range of whiskies to try.

Hazelburn 13yo

Everyone had a few small surprise samples to try along with the main line-up for the tasting, with the little bits leftover from bottles we tried earlier in the year, so we'd all had the chance to drink something in advance of the opening dram.

We got going with a 13-year-old from Hazelburn, a brand used by the Springbank distillery in Campbeltown. This was an unpeated expression, matured in Oloroso sherry casks. And that sherry certainly came across when we tried it, with a real Christmas cake sort of feel about it. There was also a definite toffee thing going on as well, so all very appropriate for the time of the year.

Someone suggested a bit of water helped smooth things out a bit. Certainly sweet and bold. It was £54 when available (it no longer is, the run of 9,000 bottles has long gone) and it's 47.4%.

James Eadie Benrinnes
The next whisky was a Benrinnes from independent bottler James Eadie. Again 13 years old, this was finished in a bual Madeira hogshead, but it had a much more limited run of 311 bottles, again all now sold.

And no wonder, because it was really very nice indeed. Fairly subtle on the nose but then big and buttery in the mouth, it had a spicy thing going on, maybe cardamom, and also pear drops. It was good value too at £49, and it was 56.1%.

WB Blair Athol
One of the club's favourite independent bottlers is Whiskybroker, run by Martin Armstrong, and we had one of their bottlings for the third dram of the night. It was a Blair Athol released last summer, which quite a few of the club members took the opportunity of buying at the time. Sharing the wealth with those who missed out first time around, Adam presented us with the red wine-finished 10-year-old.

You could really tell the red wine a mile off with this one. It helped give the whisky a very distinctive flavour which lingered very pleasingly, too. As is always the case with Whiskybroker, an excellent value bottle at £50, and it was 56.5%. This went down very well indeed.

SMWS 37.96
Next up we had a dram from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. This was number 37.96, named 'Cinnamon Semolina Pudding' that was a 13-year-old from Cragganmore on Speyside. This had most of its ageing in an ex-bourbon hogshead before finishing in first fill Pedro Ximenez sherry.

And once again it was strong and sweet and smooth, tasting all of its 58.7%. But it also definitely had something interesting with the texture, which is presumably where the SMWS tasters got that 'semolina' reference from. It was part of the October 2017 outturn by the SMWS, and at the time was £56 for members.

Caol Ila 9yo
To finish, as we often do, it was off to Islay for a taste of something peaty. It was a 9-year-old Caol Ila, produced by The Whisky Exchange in 2019 for The Whisky Show, to honour their 20th anniversary. It was fully matured in refill sherry.

It certainly gave us a big blast of peat. The sherry gave it a lingering finish and it was definitely a complex whisky. We thought that, if anything, it might have done from a little extra time in the wood to really bring out more of the flavours.

Amidst all this, Adam kept us all going with a range of quizzes, and thank you to him and everyone who took part, for another successful lockdown tasting.

The dram of the night, mustn't forget that, actually apparently I did because I can't find the results anywhere, so they may well be lost in the mists of time. But for what it's worth my vote would be for the Whiskybroker Blair Athol!