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.

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.”