Monday, June 29, 2020

Lockdown Blind Tasting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Six Nations Championship of Whisky

The Six Nations line up
We met at the end of February for what will now, sadly, be the last in-person tasting of Manchester Whisky Club for the next little while. For the first time in my seven years of attending the club, I finally got around to actually hosting a tasting, and I led the members through a whisky representing each of the competing nations in rugby union's Six Nations Championship: Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, France and Italy.

You may well have noticed that some of those countries are rather better known for producing whisky than others. One of those nations probably more associated with rugby than whisky is Wales, but not through the want of trying of their best-known distillery, Penderyn. Based in the Brecon Beacons, they have carved out quite a name for themselves, with their highly drinkable and very good value Madeira cask finish standard bottling a common sight in supermarkets and airports these days.

For this tasting I picked out a rugby-themed dram, the bottling the distillery produced in 2019 to commemorate Wales' Grand Slam in the Six Nations, which is when one country beats all the others. It's a port wood finish, and there are various bits and bobs about the final victory over Ireland on the packaging, if you're into that sort of thing. It's got those port-type flavours of berries and red grapes about it, and a dried fruit sweetness as well. A great way to start the evening, this went down very well. It's 46% and is £48.

If Wales is not exactly a whisky hotbed, the best efforts of Penderyn notwithstanding, what should we make of Italy? Well, to describe it as not a whisky country is a bit misleading: it has a long-standing taste for Scottish whisky, especially younger expressions bottled specifically for that market, meaning that obscure Italian bottlings are a staple of the 'old and rare' whisky scene.

There is an Italian single malt actually produced there though, and here it is. Psenner is a distillery in the Tirol best known for making fruit liqueurs, but it has turned its hand to whisky as well with this 3yo called Eretico. It's matured for a while in ex-grappa casks, and also spends time in Oloroso sherry casks as well. But it's certainly the pungent grappa that comes across both on the nose and the palate. Certainly distinctive, but probably not one too many club members will be trying to seek out. It's 43% and is available locally for 70 Euros, but we paid a bit more to get it through Amazon.

Ireland next, but mixed with a hint of another emerging rugby nation, Japan. This bottle is from the Glendalough distillery, which emerged in County Wicklow in 2012 as an independent bottler of whisky produced at Cooley's, although since 2015 it has started to make its own stuff too (this being 13-years-old, means it falls in the former camp). The twist here is that it is finished in mizunara oak casks. A wood native to Japan, it was used in the Japanese whisky industry because of post-war shortages, but since then has proved a tricky beast - the trees don't grow straight and the wood is relatively porous.

But using it is not just a gimmick. Mizunara is known for imparting a distinctive flavour on whisky, and this Glendalough was no exception. This had a bit of coconut about it, and was very smooth, with a sort of fudgey, chocolatey quality about it too. Lovely. It's 46% and £78.

After a half-time break when I served up some homemade millionaire's shortbread and Aberdeen rowies (thanks to the Hairy Bikers for the recipe), it was on to the remaining three whiskies, and three cask strength ones too.

First it was France. Or to be more precise, Brittany. The last time we did a Six Nations tasting back in 2016, it was a bottle of Armorik that we rated the best. I thought it was sensible to bring them back for another go as reigning champions, and picked out their 2002 bottling, a 14-year-old.

It was a single cask (3309), aged in Oloroso sherry. And it was a bit of a sherry monster, with lots of dark fruits on the nose, then raisins and creamy vanilla, along with a long and warm finish. Again, this was a popular drink with the group. It didn't quite taste all of its 56.3%, and went down a bit more easily than that. It's £85.

Only two nations remained and I switched it up a bit. For the last dram I went with a Scottish whisky bottled in England, so first that meant an English whisky bottled in Scotland. Not just any old English whisky, but something from The English Whisky Company of Norfolk, an 8yo bottled by the venerable whisky name of Cadenheads. This was a vatted malt, meaning a combination of two or more single malts, on this occasion one peated and one unpeated hogshead, distilled in 2010.

This certainly did have a bit of smoke about it, more of an ashiness really rather than a full-on Islay-style peat explosion. But there were also other flavours were could pick out, the main one being a general sort of sweet barbecue sauce sort of thing. It was 64.6% and was available for a £55, although I'm afraid we picked up the last one.

Also unavailable now is the last whisky of the evening, another from our friends at local (to us) independent bottler Chorlton Whisky. Again this had a peat theme, in that it was an 8yo Ruadh Maor, the brand name used by Glenturret for its more peated expressions (the name translates from the Gaelic as 'red steward').

This particular bottle was aged in a hogshead from Caol Ila, hence the peatiness. Again there was a sort of barbecue flavour going on, with some honey and even toffee apple on the finish. Nice again, but it perhaps didn't quite hit the heights of some of the earlier whiskies. There were just 158 of them produced at 62.5% and it was £50.

And the dram of the night voting, to crown the Six Nations Whisky Champions, went the way of... Ireland! The Glendalough took nine votes, with support also for the Penderyn and the Armorik. Sadly the Scottish whisky at the end got no votes at all, perhaps proving that Scotland should stick to rugby? Actually, maybe not.

Thanks again to all club members and guests who came, and to everyone at the Britons for hosting us again. Hopefully we'll be back again, sooner than we fear.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Science of Sherry

Six whiskies and three sherries!
It was club chairman Adam's turn to lead us through January's tasting. And what a line-up he produced for us as part of his look at the science of sherry, and the particular role sherry often plays in the maturation of whisky. Yes, those are nine glasses on the (rather fetching) new club mats, six of whisky and three of sherry.

Gonzalez Byass Fino
And it was one of the sherries we began with, a 10yo Fino sherry from Gonzalez Byass. Fino is the driest and palest sherry, and along with other sherries, has featured prominently in the story of Scottish whisky for decades. The traditional popularity of sherry in Britain led to widespread availability of sherry casks, which were convenient for the whisky industry, giving many of our best-known whiskies a familiar sherry character.

The Gonzalez Byass was indeed obviously very dry, even to those of us without much sherry knowledge (sherry reached its peak popularity in the UK back in the 1970s - "around the time my nan was absolutely caning it" - as someone suggested). It was certainly distinctive, with a butteriness about it. Some drinkers liked it, some didn't. It's £40 for a 50cl bottle, and the ABV is 16%.

Deanston Fino Cask
Adam took us on to the second drink, and first whisky, of the night. And the Fino theme continued, this time with a 2006 Deanston, finished in Fino casks. It was matured for 12 years in total and this occasion the 'finish' amounted to a very decent two-and-a-half years of that time, having been in ex-bourbon casks initially. Deanston is considered a Highland distillery, although in reality it's just a short way from Stirling in central Scotland.

There was a lot going on here, with a fresh, sweet, taste. The lengthy time spent finishing in the sherry casks perhaps made it seem older than it actually was. It's true to say we liked this one very much. It's 55% and is well worth the £65 price tag.

Aberlour A'Bunadh
It was Aberlour next, for a taste of what used to be one of the best value whiskies around. I say 'used to be', because A'Bunadh, which was once available for not much over £40, will now set you back £80, much to the understandable irritation of long-term fans of this particular cask strength drop, matured in Oloroso sherry butts.

It really hits the big, rich, sherried notes of fruitcake and raisins. The ABV is 61.2%. It's arguably still worth the £80, but if you know how much it used to cost, it's possibly a little harder to justify parting with the cash. The particular bottle we drank was from batch 56, although they're up to number 63 now.

Craigellachie 10yo PX
Having experienced Fino and then Oloroso, we moved on to a third well-known variety of sherry, with Pedro Ximenex (typically known as PX, in case you ever see it on a bottle and wonder what it stands for). These are sherries with a dark, juicy, intense sweetness, and the PX casks are often in real demand for certain whiskies. The dram Adam had picked out for us was a 10yo from the Craigellachie distillery on Speyside, bottled by the independent Whiskybroker.

And this certainly was fruity, although if anything perhaps a little lighter than some club members had anticipated, and it had a bit of cocoa about it as well, along with a shortish finish. It had spent most of its maturation in a sherry butt before switching to a PX octave (a small cask holding just 50l, ensuring more of the flavour transfers to the liquid inside). It was £44 although they're all gone now, and was 54.9%.

Nectar Pedro Ximenex
Next it was back to sherry and an opportunity to try some actual PX. We had a Nectar Pedro Ximenex, so sweet according to Adam, it is officially 3.7 times sweeter than even the old recipe of Irn Bru. This particular bottle was again from Gonzalez Byass, and was 9 years old.

And the proof of that came when we got to actually try it. "Like concentrated raisin juice" as someone suggested. Certainly memorable, although not exactly a session drink. At 15% and £15 (for a full 75cl bottle this time), it's one to invest in for when the family comes round next Christmas, maybe.

Matusalem 30yo
The third and final sherry was next, and we went to a 30-year-old Oloroso from Matusalem, also a Gonzalez Byass (based at Jerez in southern Spain, the centre of the sherry producing region). The grapes here were some PX alongside Palomino, a drier variety.

It was less raisiny and sweet than the PX we'd just had, and was perhaps all the better for it. This was 20.5% and £21 for a 37.5cl bottle. At this point we held, unusually for us, a 'sherry of the night' vote, and it was the Matusalem which just edged out the Nectar PX in a close decision.

Chorlton Coig Deicheadan 17yo
Not that the evening's entertainment was over. Far from it in fact, with still three whiskies remaining to try. The first, and whisky four overall, was from Manchester-based bottlers Chorlton Whisky, in the shape of a 17yo blend called Coig Deicheadam, drawn from constituent parts including Glenturret, Macallan, Highland Park and Bunnahabhain.

We didn't think this tasted all that sherried, although seeing as we'd just had two sherries back to back, perhaps it's hardly surprising some of the sherried subtlety may have got a bit lost in comparison. And besides, the Islay flavour of the Bunnahabhain seemed to come through too. It was very tasty all the same. Sadly, it's no longer available, although when you could get it, it was 46.5% and cost £75.

SMWS 10.162 9yo
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society often features during club tastings, and tonight's SMWS bottling was 10.162, entirely from Bunnahabhain and aged 9 years, having been matured in a first fill Oloroso Hogshead cask.

Considering it's an Islay whisky and clocked in at 61.2%, this was surprisingly mild mannered. It certainly didn't taste its ABV, which was no bad thing at all. This one went down very well with the membership, although again it's no longer on sale, although we picked ours up for £63. Fans of the amusing names the SMWS gives its bottlings will want to know this particular one had the official title Big Wave Sofa. No, us neither.

Cask Islay
As is often the case, the night ended on a bit of a peat monster. The Cask Islay was this month's choice, and the Cask Strength Sherry Edition from bottler A.D. Rattray.

Considering the sherry maturation, this one was surprisingly peated. Like an ashtray in fact, was one comment. It was certainly a tasty drop if not perhaps the best one we enjoyed all evening. It's 59.9% and is £44.

And so we moved on to the traditional dram of the night voting. And we had a rare tie, with both the Aberlour A'Bunadh and SMWS bottling picking up nine votes apiece, with the Deanston next on seven. In a second round of voting, the A'Bunadh beat the SMWS 14-11. Maybe it's worth the £80, after all.

Thank you to Adam for another brilliantly selected and produced evening, as well as to all club members old and new for attending, and to the staff of the Briton's Protection for looking after us once again.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Netflix and Distil

The full line-up
Club member Dan led a tasting for the first time in November, and he certainly chose an original theme: whisky from TV and the movies, aka Netflix and Distil.

Johnnie Walker Green
And we started off with Blade Runner. Not the original, but the sequel Blade Runner 2048, selected because one of the movie tie-ins was an extraordinary expensive bottle of Johnnie Walker which came in a special bottle. We weren't drinking that, but we did have a drop of Johnnie Walker Green Label to try instead.

It's billed as a blend of whiskies from the four main distilling areas of Scotland. And this was very drinkable indeed. Comments from the floor included "very drinkable" along with "pleasant" and "very surprised". There was a little bitterness about it at first, but that went, with a finish that was quite long and spicy instead. This retails for about the £35 or £40 mark, and it's decent value at that price. It's 43%.

Hibiki Harmony
Next, we left Scotland behind for Japan, and 2003's Lost in Translation, well remembered in part for Bill Murray's attempt to film a Suntory advert. The dram in question was Hibiki 17yo, which received such a publicity boost from the movie, Suntory eventually ran out of stock of the stuff. So instead, we had a bottle of Hibiki Harmony instead.

This is another blend, this time of both malt and grain whiskies. And it really does smell fantastic, with a honeyed sweetness. It tastes nice too, with a bit of sweetness on the palate as well, giving us a taste that some people likened to the mid point of a Speyside and a bourbon. It's £65 and is also 43%.

Old Forester Statesman
The third screen connection of the evening was Kingsman, and in particular the memorable fight scene in the Golden Circle which kicks off shortly after a kidnapped Mark Hamill is offered a dram of the world's most expensive whisky, a Dalmore '62. The club budget couldn't quite stretch to that, but Dan did produce some Old Forester Statesman, again a brand that has released a bottling by way of a movie tie-in. And Old Forester is one of the oldest brands there is in bourbon, dating from 1870.

This again was a very drinkable dram, with definite hints of citrus and spiciness. It did have a bit of an alcoholic taste to it though, which seemed to put a few members off, at least in comparison to the whiskies we'd already had. This is £59 and is 47.5%.

Knockando 18yo
After the half-time break, during which Dan played us this clip of Parks and Rec's Ron Swanson enjoying his trademark Lagavulin 16, it was back to business for the last three drams of the evening.

And we moved straight on with an 18yo Knockando, and a thoroughly enjoyable extract of the most famous whisky story ever told, Whisky Galore. I managed not to write down exactly what the connection between Knockando and Whisky Galore actually was, but it's certainly true to say that bottles of distilleries from all over Scotland were famously washed up on Eriskay, thinly fictionalised by Compton Mackenzie in his novel and the subsequent movie.

The whisky, matured in sherry casks, was again highly drinkable, sweet and sticky, with a hint of candy floss about it. It's again about the £60 mark if you can find a bottle, and it's 43%.

Lagavulin 8yo
We went to Lagavulin next, but for the 8yo rather than the 16, although it's the 16 that Brendan Gleeson hoovers up in this scene from 28 Days Later. If you really had to survive a zombie apocalypse that had more or less wiped out the entire British population, you could probably do a lot worse than pickling yourself in Lagavulin while you did.

The 8yo first hit shelves in 2016 as a sort of limited edition thing, but as with a lot of limited editions which find a market, it's now become part of the distillery's core range. Again, a lovely dram this, with the initial burst of peat on the palate giving way to various other flavours (the tasting notes suggest kippers). It's £51 which puts it roughly on a par with the 16 for price, and it's 48%.

SMWS The Lady Varnishes

The last dram of the night was selected for its age rather than anything else. A 33-year-old whisky (the only clue we get to its identity is 'Highland') features prominently in a key scene in Inglorious Basterds, and so we finished the evening by drinking a 33-year-old courtesy of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

The particular bottling was called The Lady Varnishes, and came from the Strathclyde grain distillery in the Gorbals. All I've written down is "this is lovely" which is not the most detailed tasting note in club history. Notes elsewhere suggest hints of pear, cinnamon, oak, and much else besides. Anyway, it is very pleasant. It's £125 and is 58.4% although there were only ever just over 250 bottles produced, so good luck finding one.

That brought us to the dram of the night voting, and five of the six whiskies got at least some support (sorry Old Forester), but with nine votes it was The Lady Varnishes which took the night, one ahead of Hibiki and two clear of Knockando.

Thank you to Dan for putting together such an interesting and entertaining evening, to all at the Britons Protection for hosting us again, and to club members old and new for attending.

All six drams in position

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Special

The line-up.
For October's tasting we were fortunate enough to try a range of whiskies all bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and squirreled away over the years for just such an occasion. And there was another large group of club members and guests gathered upstairs at the Britons Protection for Becky to guide us through them.

Sweet, Sassy and Playful
The SMWS is one of the best known names in the whisky world, bottling a wide range of different whiskies each year, mainly in their familiar green bottles. Each goes to a (somewhat mysterious) tasting panel, which supplies the tasting notes and the famously wacky names for every bottling.

We started off with something called Sweet, Sassy and Playful, that originated at Loch Lomond, where the Inchmurrin whiskies come from. As with all of the evening's whiskies, it was cask strength, although it didn't taste much like the 56.5% on the label. That's far from a criticism, though. This 10yo ex-Madeira cask dram was a very easy drinker for the strength, biscuity and malty.

Village of the Dramned
A bit of water brought out a fruitiness as well, along with notes of plum jam, raisins, and a certain butteriness reminiscent of Murray mints (ask your parents). A very nice way to start the evening.

Next was a whisky called Village of the Drammed, appropriately enough for Halloween, and we were already taking it up a notch to 59.9%. Also apt for the time of year, this got us thinking of toffee apples, along with, rather more harshly, a bit of nail varnish remover.

This 11yo from Balblair, matured in an Oloroso sherry cask, was perhaps a bit too spirity we thought. It was certainly dry and peppery, although there was a certain marshmallow-like sweetness to it too. We weren't as keen on it as we were on the opener, generally speaking.

Dark, Menacing and Mysterious
For whisky number three we moved to one of the best value distilleries around, Glen Moray, and a bottling called Dark, Menacing and Mysterious. This had a particularly dark colour, having been matured in a cask that once held Moscatel, a sweet wine, and clocked in at 61.4%.

And very pleasant it was too. There were a whole range of tasting notes from the floor, from strawberries and dried fruit, to honey, spices and dark chocolate. An addition of water really changed things too, turning the whisky into something lovely and creamy, almost like brie. One comparison made between what it was like with and without water, was between milk and dark chocolate, and several members thought that summed it up pretty well.

Sea Salt & Smoked Peppered Almonds
After a mid-tasting break and an opportunity to recharge our beer glasses, it was on to dram four, Sea Salt and Smoked Peppered Almonds. An Islay, from Bunnahabhain as it turned out, this was a 9yo bottled back in 2017, again at a good old strength of 58.4%.

Peaty as you'd expect from an Islay, this was also smoky and salty. A lot of the club members are big Islay fans and enjoyed playing guess the distillery (to little success it must be said). With water, this developed a taste more reminiscent of something like tar or asphalt. Again, a very enjoyable drop all round.

Exotic Cargo
We switched gear slightly for the last two bottles, going from single malts to blends. Indeed, whisky number five, Exotic Cargo, was the very first blended whisky produced by SMWS. We had tried a later version at a previous tasting, but this was a bottle from the first batch.

The idea of a 'blend of blends', which is what this is, put some people in mind of the slop tray on top of the bar, but once we got past that idea, plenty of drinkers enjoyed this very much. One criticism was that it was perhaps a little less focused than some of the other bottles we had tried, but others pronounced it "beautiful". There was a bit of toffee around here, although it did disappear a bit.

Peat Faerie
The last bottle was Peat Faerie. This had a bit of peat, a bit of smoke, and even smelt a bit like strawberry. Even some of the non-peat fans in the room said they enjoyed this one, while others thought it tasted a bit like one of those heather ales beloved of Scottish breweries.

A good drink again, but perhaps not in the front rank of the ones we tried during the evening,.

There was just time for the all-important voting, and three of the whiskies got significant support: dram 1 came third, but it was dram three - the Glen Moray called Dark, Menacing and Mysterious - that just pipped dram four by a single vote. Another triumph for a distillery that remains underrated.

Thanks to Becky for another great tasting, for members and guests old and new for attending, and for all at the Britons for hosting us once again.

The six bottles, all from SMWS.

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.