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Category: whisky (page 2 of 3)

FREE WHISKY!

If you go down to Covent Garden today, you’re in for a… errm… trip to Covent Garden.  However if you’re there between 1pm and 8pm you can also pop in to number 34 Tavistock Street and visit The Balvenie Whisky Den: a new interactive space being put together by the Balvenie team.

The idea is that the Den is an evolving space – when we arrived 3 days after the opening date – there was the beginnings of a bar, and several decorative pieces around the room made from barrel staves.  Olivier also talked of the downstairs area, which by now should feature a load of whisky-production related ephemera also.

As time goes by, more and more of the decor will be finished by the team and, as far as I understood it, members of the public who wish to help and thereby influence the final shape of the place.  As with the care and attention that goes into the making of the whisky, one of the core ideas of the space is “craftsmanship”.  Both of excellence & durability, and of the idea that things are crafted from raw materials by people, rather than always churned from anonymous industrial factories.

In addition to all the barrel-related furniture however, the Whisky Den is also very much home to a selection of whiskies from the highly excellent Balvenie Distillery.  Based up in Scotland’s delightfully named whisky hub site Dufftown,  and neighbouring the vast and impressive Glenfiddich distillery, Balvenie is a wildly popular award-winning spirit and much of its popularity rightly comes from its spicy, honeyed characteristics with a hint of distant peat.

We tried a dram of the Balvenie Doublewood upon walking in, because the chap behind the bar said he couldn’t stand to see people without a whisky in their hands.  A couple of other expressions are available to buy, up to the excellent Balvenie 21 year old Port Wood Finish (which made an appearance on my Top 10 whiskies list).

People who join up for the Balvenie “club”, known as Warehouse 24, also have the option of trying a “deconstructed tasting” – offering the rare chance to taste 3 single-cask Balvenie whiskies that are blended

in together to form the master distiller David Stewart’s signature whisky – the Balvenie Signature.  It’s a fascinating insight into the distiller’s craft, and the chaps at the ‘Den were excellent about ensuring there was a good blend of straight explanation for tourists as well as technical in-depth stuff for people who want to know.

So because of its evolving nature the place probably looks nothing like these photos any more, however what would be fun is to pop in there every couple of days to see what’s changing.

And to make sure that the Doublewood maintains its exquisite quality, of course.

Glengoing, Glengoing, Glengoyne!

In an effort to get politics off the Headline position and steer this blog back to its usual direction, a quick summary of the impromptu vertical whisky tasting that Liz & I did on Saturday afternoon.

When I won that massive pile of whisky from the superlative chaps (and chapettes) at Master of Malt back in December, the random assortment of tiny bottles yielded the possibility of one or 2 decent “vertical tastings”, or what normal people would call “multiple whiskies from the same distillery”.  There were a couple of Mortlachs, a couple of Miyagikyous, and a good looking trio of Glengoyne whiskies.

Glengoyne was the first whisky distillery I ever visited (which I failed to get around to writing up in June 2004), and it confused me in the first instance for being a Highland whisky though it’s so close to Glasgow, but also because of it’s peat-free flavour profile more inkeeping with gems like Auchentoshan.

We’ve only tried one Glengoyne at Whiskysquad by this point – the English Merchants’ Choice bottling, which we enjoyed greatly at our Christmas Dinner tasting.  So the more, the merrier really.

The first one we tried was Glengoyne 10 year old, which is pretty much their “default” bottling.  It’s a perfectly fine whisky, which gives away vanilla, white chocolate, lightly spicy, herbal and clean flavours.  And for about £26, it’s an absolute belter.  I’d definitely use this as an introduction dram for someone who said that they didn’t like whisky.

The second, being the lightest colour of the trio, was another 10 year old, this time from the Douglas Laing bottlers’ Provenance range.  This bottling came from a single cask, being a refill bourbon hogshead – that much seemed evident from the pale straw colour.  We didn’t feel it gave much away scent-wise, and though the flavour had allusions to its 10yo brother, it was the runt of the litter.  That’s ok.  Not every whisky’s a roaring success, but they’re fun to try.

The third bottle contained the Glengoyne 17yo, and whether or not we biased our opinions due to doing a non-blind tasting, consensus between the pair of us was that we were right in flavour country now.  A honey elixir of fruits (plums, baked apples, fresh cherry), roasted nuts & spice, with a decent body and an assertive but not unwelcome finish.  Magnificent stuff, very drinkable indeed.  I’d hesitate to fork out near £50 for it, although that’s more a comment on my tastes than a statement of value.  I would happily drink it if someone else pointed a bottle in my direction!

By way of an interesting fact to tie up this post, the splendid chaps over at Connosr held an event up at the Glengoyne distillery recently and had their world famous Whisky Pod out and fully operational, so if you’d like to watch videos of some other people talking about other drams from the Glengoyne range and largely gesturing like Dr Strangelove, cliquez ici.

Ruby and a pocket watch, or stand in awe (that’s all meant to be rhyming slang)

I suspect this is entirely too late to be of any use to anyone, but it was awesome, so it seems like the sort of thing one ought to mention…

In early November I was extremely fortunate to be invited to a whisky tasting dinner at the exceptional and renowned Quilon restaurant in Buckingham Gate.  The purpose was threefold – to sample some of the delightful progressive west-coast Indian menu creations by Chef Sriram Aylur (and find out just what sort of tucker attracts a Michelin star), to sample a brace of 4 absolutely stunning and unusual whiskies, and to be led through those whiskies by renowned whisky author,  journalist, and former editor of Whisky MagazineDominic Roskrow – whilst at the same time benefitting from his considerable experience and expertise in the business, and to find out a bit about his newly published book, The World’s Best Whiskies.

After a nice relaxing cocktail christened “The Bonnie Blush” (mixed from lemon juice, crème de muire, champagne, blackcurrent jam and Johnnie Walker Black Label) we relaxed in for a culinary trip to Oz (the land with the wizard and munchkins and stuff, not the big dry continent that I’m from) which brought colour, vibrancy and exoticness into our lives for a couple of hours.  Exoticness doesn’t look right.  I think it should be “exoticicity”, or something.  But it isn’t.  Anyway.

The first whisky off the blocks was, appropriately, an Amrut double-cask.  If there was ever any doubt about the pedigree of whisky from India, Amrut have proven conclusively that if you do something properly to can achieve spectacular results.  Amalgamating tradition and innovation, Amrut use both barley imported to India from Scotland, and also grown locally in Bangalore, to manufacture their spirit.  Not an old whisky by traditional standards (with the oldest in the bottle being 7 years old), the heat and humidity in India mean that whiskies mature at a different rate to those in Scotland, which Amrut have used to their advantage.  I found the Double Cask to be a nice spritely and sweet smelling drop with spice and vanilla notes, and an excellent way to awaken the palate, with a very pleasant short and slightly salty finish.

We segued into the next whisky – a 17 year old Macallan independently bottled under the Glenkeir Treasures label – which continued the lightness and hints of salt on the nose, but with water added took on a much creamier scent.  By contrast the flavour was unexpectedly fruity, with kiwifruit and cactus making an appearance, and a lengthy finish.

Whiskey number 3 (which you can probably tell differs from the others by virtue of the fact I’ve rigorously stuck to my personal specifications for spelling) was a Hancock’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon, which my notes describe as “All the characteristics of a bourbon but without the imminent threat of violence”.  Continuing in the developing fruity theme, flavours of pears and caramel were released from this gem from Kentucky.

With reverent tones Dominic poured us our 4th and final dram of the evening, the 1982 Karuizawa 10yo from The Whisky Exchange – a privilege in a glass, and exemplifying all the reasons why people get into single malt whisky, revealing fascinating elements of matches and mushrooms in the vapour, delivering rich burnt sugar flavours amid wood, and leaving with a long, gentle but firm finish.

In actual fact there was no reason it had to be the final whisky of the night, as Quilon boasts an impressive whisky list of a further 50 options – however having only been to The Whisky Show a couple of days beforehand my liver was screaming for a rest.

Following the whisky tasting we were treated to a 3 course selection from the incredible menu –  the starters pictured above were a journey through flavour country, at once rich yet subtle, and each a culinary explosion.  Though a self-confessed chicken enthusiast I had to concede that the fish was nothing short of amazing.  If I had to criticise anything about the shared main courses, a selection of curries & meat dishes, it’s that the portions were sensibly sized, rather than the excessive heap one wishes one had when presented with this sort of amazingness.  The spiced icecream selection we finished up with was perfect, unusual and interesting.

As my colleague Billy – who, if I’m honest, wrote a far better review of the evening –  and I were among the remaining stragglers we had a good chance to chat with Dominic and the Chef Sriram (who took great delight in joining us in a snifter of the Karuizawa).

Tickets for the dinner on February 1st are available from the restaurant for £59.50 per person, and represent excellent value.  If you’re a fan of taste exploration this is a tremendous opportunity.

Whisky Squad 8a – Whisky Surprise!

The way we’d usually run a Whisky Squad session would be to pick a theme, and then select a few whiskies connected with that theme to sample for the evening.  Caught up as we were with preparation for the end of year Christmas Dinner, however, we didn’t realise that there would be such demand for the regular Thursday night session as well, and so to keep things interesting we craftily decided that “Whisky Surprise” would make an excellent theme – participants could bring along their own bottle to share, be it something interesting, or something they just wanted to get rid of.  And boy, did we wind up with a remarkable evening’s whisky…


One thing we hadn’t fully anticipated was that we might get 8 whiskies along for the evening – making for a slightly more robust tasting session than usual.  But as always the Whisky Squad were eager and willing to get involved and amongst it to explore the range & diversity in front of them.

First cab off the rank was SMWS bottling 127.3 – “Beach BBQ For Older Boy Scouts”. The nose gave up alcoholic marzipan, honey, parmesan cheese, a little pine and some aloe vera, and when reduced also reminded us of water crackers. The palate was an oily saltwater affair, with notes of cinnamon and ginger coming through later. As always, the great shame of SMWS bottlings is that if you find one that you really like, there’s a good chance it’ll have sold out, and in this case there were only 235 bottles ever made. Quite a perky 8 year old.
Next, we made our way into another SMWS bottling – 71.33 (“Chutney on hot wood”). Reaction to the aroma was widespread and instant, and we arrived at “newly laid carpet” to describe the chemically volatile fragrance that greeted us, followed by perfume, and then thickening to maple syrup. Swirling it around my mouth, the first adjective I came up with was “dry”, and it gave orangey, marmaladey flavours. Darren suggested it was also reminiscent of weissbier. Actually, Darren suggests a lot of things – I sometimes wish it were possible to have a palate transplant with that man just to see what in the hell is going on in there…
The 3rd bottle we attempted was yet another SMWS offering – this time 123.5, “Feisty but Fun”. Typically I haven’t taken much notice of the colour of the whiskies we drink, because the Whisky Squad room can be a little dark, however this drink was quite a lot more pink than usual. We thought there were plenty of sweet smells – vanilla, caramel, plum wine sauce, BBQ sauce, and a hint of drywipe marker. Flavour-wise there were orangey custard cream biscuits (I can’t tell from my notes whether we meant just the cream bit, or the entire biscuit), and hard toffee. There were 800 bottles of this, as the whisky was aged in a port pipe, but they all seem to have disappeared. I guess we’ll never find the answer to that biscuit question now.
The numbering system took a left turn here, as Whisky Squad first-timer Martin had arrived a little late and surprised us with a bottle after we’d already cast the order. So on we moved to whisky 3a. Smelling of sawdust, cherry, sulphur and wax, everyone was a little stumped. That’s not to say that anyone guessed what the others were either, but this one certainly had characteristics that we hadn’t seen thus far in the evening. The only flavour note I appear to have written was “diesel/oily”, which probably doesn’t encompass the full nuance of the spirit, but being the 4th whisky in, this is the sort of thing that’s bound to start happening. It turned out to be a Blackadder bottled Tullibardine 16 year old.
Coming back now to number 4, the chemically aromas leapt to mind, with a couple of suggestions of Loctite and nail polish. Additionally, lipstick, pina colada, turkish delight, and pineapple made appearances. We picked lemon flavours out, and with water things got more complicated, giving a stalky, chewy feel and revealing butter flavours and rum & raisin icecream. This bottle was another SMWS bottling – 119.12 (“Chewy & cheek sucking”), which we learned was a 16 year old Yamazaki aged in Mizunara oak.
Whisky number 5, being the 6th whisky, comes with even more concise notes: the nose giving biscuit, orange, and custard cream. On the palate my notes say “rum, easy, fig, raisin”. Being a Berry’s Own Selection 1982 Glenlivet that had lived inside a sherry cask, that almost seems like pointless little by way of description, only that it’s also accompanied with the highly subjective and not at all useful (although still entirely honest) tasting note: “MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!”.

Image shamelessly borrowed from t'internet

Whisky 6 was in a distinctively shaped bottle, although not the elegant SMWS shape we’d become accustomed to seeing already this evening. Another pink whisky, with a nose giving up strawberry flavour, sweet pork and stollen cake. The mouthfeel was described as hollow, and came accompanied with a tasting note of “Washing up liquid with BBQ Sauce”. A salty flavour came through, also likened to a dirty syrah, and an overall note of “shoes off in the plane”. The whisky was Bruichladdich’s 3-wine-barrel aged 19 year old, “Black Arts”.
Finally we made our way into the most intriguing whisky of the evening – a bottle of which nobody had ever heard, the Finlaggan Old Reserve, an Islay of uncertain provenance. With ailing sensory organs, we arrived at “This whisky smells a bit of rubber and not much”. The taste was slightly more involved, giving us smoky bacon, slightly burnt rice pudding, and bits of farmyard.

So there you have it – a list of whisky which nobody in their right mind could have ever mentally assembled, and a clear lesson as to why you don’t try to run a nice casual, sociable tasting of 8 whiskies within the confines of a 2 hour window.  But a top evening nevertheless.

Drinks by the dram – a tasteful suggestion!

Drinking whisky is excellent.  The more different types of whisky, the better, as far as I’m concerned.  The problem however comes about with the acquisition of many different types of whisky – bottles of the stuff are expensive, often in the range between “slightly” and “perilously” so.  Many of the higher-end or more accommodating whisky shops (for example the excellent Berry Brothers & Rudd on St James’s Street) will allow you to sample their bottlings before committing to a purchase, however this is only useful if you’re considering buying one of their bottlings, or indeed live in London and can get to their shop.

Buying distillery-bottled miniatures is all well and good, however the range on the market is fairly limited and not much use if you’re interested in trying some of the more esoteric expressions of brands you love.

Fortunately, the geniuses over at Master of Malt (who – incidentally – have one of the best whisky web-based shopfronts I’ve ever seen) have come up with the perfect solution to this ever-present dilemma: Drinks By The Dram!

After I expressed humungous amounts of enthusiasm at this concept, the Master of Malt team sent me a couple of free drams and invited me to write an article about it, and that – gentle reader – is what you’re currently looking at.

Seizing the excuse, we had a loungeroom picnic.

A “dram” in this case is a small glass vial containing 30mL of the spirit you’ve ordered, sealed with a burgundy coloured screwcap and wax.  The label is a raggedly rustic square of textured paper with the name of the spirit typed onto it – straight away the whole thing’s got a sort of organic, renegadey feel to it which immediately made me think “some of these would make a good present for a budding whisky enthusiast…”.

The choice of spirits is immense – currently covering some 375+ different drinks including rare whisky, bourbons, gins, and rums.  They range in price from £2.15 up to £77.95 for a dram of 40 year old Glenfarclas (retailing at £1489 a bottle).  This is where I think the strength of the range is – the bulk of drams are below £5, and you can use this to create quite interesting tasting groups.  I bought drams of the Bruichladdich “Octomore” releases – the 01.1, 02.1 and 02.2 versions, which would have totalled £382.85 for a bottle of each – for about £24.

The drams the Master of Malt crew sent me to try were the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban and the Bruichladdich 17yo Pedro Ximénez Sherry finish.  I took the opportunity to sit down with my whisky-discovering girlfriend and do a spot of tasting.

The Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban (no age statement) is bottled at 46% abv, and is the successor to the earlier series’ Portwood Finish.  We decided the colour was a gold with pink blush to it, with a warming glow rather than a sparkle, and a treacly/viscous look about it.  The nose revealed sherbet, guava and cinnamon bark, reminding us of Swedish saunas and apple crumble.  Tasting extended this with sweet citrus, a tiny hint of smoke, and a faint plastic flavour.  The finish reminded me of oranges, although thinking back on it I always wonder if I’m buying into autosuggestion there based on the distillery name.

We noticed that trying to share a 30mL sample between us was a bit tricky, but possible.  Ideally though you’d have one dram per person, and that seems perfectly fair enough to me.

Moving on to the Bruichladdich 17yo Pedro Ximénez sherry finish (also 45% abv), the notes we wrote down for colour rather alarmingly said this also pinkish whisky looked a bit like petrol or rosy furniture polish: presumably due to the cask finishing.  This whisky was released as a pair alongside a Fino sherry-conditioned bottle as well, and in hindsight it possibly would’ve been a better idea to get that one too… ah well, live & learn.  Bruichladdich also released another sherry pair a could of years back – a 10 year old Oloroso and Manzanilla pair.  I wonder if they’re just frustrated that you’re not allowed to make sherry in the UK.  Hmm.  Anyway, in sniffing our glasses we picked up the scent of orange syrup, salt, candied orange peel (like you’d find in mince pie mix), and a faint waft of woodsmoke.  The flavour moved up the tongue and rolled back down, a bit like tidal action – giving up further salt, a morsel of peat, a “hot” flavour, and berry fruit.  After swallowing it reminded both of us of the departure of the William Curley sea salt caramel we’d tried in Richmond a couple of weeks ago. (Incidentally, for further info about sherry, a nice starting point might be Billy’s excellent post on the topic of sherry)

We enjoyed being able to taste in this manner, as on the balance of it neither bottle seemed like something that would logically leap out as something to buy in and of itself, but tasting them was interesting and fun, and prompted further pondering on what other drams might be worth having a look at.

Extending the concept, those wacky Malty-Mastery-types have also put together a bunch of dram sets – groupings of 5 drams centred around a theme as selected by whisky experts, and they look like they’d each make for a fun tasting evening – I was particularly taken by the Highland set (Brora 30yo, Signatory Clynelish 1995 13yo, Signatory Dalmore 1990 19yo, Edradour 2003 Port Cask and Chieftain’s Choice Glenturret 1990 18yo), the Premium Rum set (Renegade Grenada Westerhall  1996 12yo, Mount Gay 1703, Renegade Trinidad Angostura 1991 17yo, Ron Barceló Imperial and Ron Zacapa XO Centenario Solera Gran Reserva Especial), and wouldn’t object in the slightest if someone wanted to buy me the Old & Rare set (Signatory BenRiach 1966 42yo, Glenfarclas 1952 Family Cask, Duncan Taylor Caperdonich 1968 40yo , Signatory Kinclaith 1969 35yo  and Miyagikyou 1988).  Or just engineer your own set of drams – it’d make a neat second-place substitute for the poor tortured souls who can’t make it to Whisky Squad sessions.

Already possibilites are springing to mind.  And my aching credit card once again begins to twitch in fear.

Whisky galore, and more. For sure.

It’s not often when your first post-breakfast decision to make is, “Now, which whisky should I start with?”.  If you’re an attendee at The Whisky Show however – and provided you’ve had a late enough breakfast – it’s more than likely going to be the case.

Following an excellent Bar Solo breakfast, Liz & I bee-lined to The Brewery function centre near The Barbican for the shining highlight of the London whisky enthusiast’s calendar.  Eagerly clutching our tasting glasses and palming our Ultra Premium Dram tokens expectantly we rounded the corner and entered the Aladdin’s Cave of top shelf booze.  And I cunningly neglected to take a photo.

Starting with something light-ish, we headed for the Auchentoshan bottles – a favourite lowland malt, I grabbed a snifter of the 3 wood and Liz made for the 18 year old, which we sipped excitedly as we started wandering about the room, sizing up where to go next.  The words “option paralysis” applied here – so many wonderful, wonderful whiskies to try, and also ever present was the knowledge that if you rushed at it with too much enthusiasm you could easily write off the afternoon.

We said a quick hello to Iain from Springbank, who I’d met the previous week at the previous week’s Whisky Lounge tasting, and consummate salesman that he is – he succeeded in getting a Longrow CV into each of us, then a Longrow 100 Proof for me and a Hazelburn Cask Strength for Liz (who’s less a fan of smoky whisky, and didn’t take completely to the Longrow).

We split up to cover more ground, and immediately next to Iain’s stand were the chaps from Berry Brothers & Rudd, and I had the pleasure of meeting their spirits buyer, Doug McIvor – the chief architect of the excellent Berry’s Own Selection range, which we had the privilege of tasting some of at Whisky Squad recently.  Whilst there I stopped in to try a Teaninich 1973.  About this point I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to make much in the way of tasting notes, having now tasted 6 whiskies in the space of an hour.

Liz had wandered off on a recon mission to see what was on offer, but she retrieved me from staring confusedly at the BOS range with the news that it was now time to try some Japanese whisky, and this made perfect sense as far as I can recall.  Between us we made our way through some Yamazaki 18, the Yamazaki “Puncheon”, the Hibiki 17 blend, and Hakushu’s “Heavily Peated” expression.  We chatted with a nice chap called Roger, and we all agreed that Japanese whisky is indeed excellent.  Which of course it is.  Somehow though we got chatting about the other whiskies that Suntory own, and the topic of Bowmore invariably came up.  Actually, I’m not sure what the discussional progression was exactly, but happily it wasn’t very long before we were sipping a very excellent Bowmore 1992 Bordeaux Finish from the secret stash under the counter, which I can describe – the Bowmore peat was balanced nicely with woody flavours and overtones of sweet claret, which I guess came from the Bordeaux barrels.  Gorgeous stuff.

The next logical step had to be the Diageo Super Premium stand, however I’d spied a chap wandering up and back who looked a lot like Darren Rook, The Whisky Guy, only without his trademark “My Name Is Earl” style facial hair – however when I called out “Darren!” his head whipped around and I faced a newly facially en-nuded whisky guru.  The reason for Darren’s de-shrubbification was of course for Movember, which gives you some idea of how long I’ve been procrastinating over writing this blog post.

Having seen Darren, we moved up to the Diageo stand and thought we’d chance our luck at seeing how many of their whiskies we could try without surrendering our Ultra Premium Dram Tokens.  The chap up there was talking about the Auchroisk 20 year old to a group of interested punters, and much as I wanted to give it a go, I opted for a Brora 30 instead.  Oh god, good choice.  I mean, anything from that stand would’ve been a joy to behold, but any day you get your face into a Brora 30 is one worth writing at least a paragraph about.

Losing focus somewhat now, we took another lap of the show floor and lingered in front of the Dalmore stand.  I remarked to Liz that I’d never gotten around to trying a Dalmore before, and now seemed like a perfectly excellent opportunity to do so.  I think the reason had always been that the most memorable bit of branding they’d done which I could remember was to release the Dalmore “Cigar Malt” – a whisky ostensibly designed to enjoy with a nice cigar.  I’m not the world’s greatest cigar aficionado: primarily as the direct result of a couple of particular experiences, and hence the idea didn’t leap out at me.  We learned that since the EU smoking ban nobody else has been buying it either, and so Dalmore took the cunning step of sticking a new name on it (Gran Reserva).  We rewarded ourselves with a dram of the Dalmore 15 and the Dalmore 18, and what happened next was a bit surreal.

Master Blender at Whyte & Mackay, Mr Richard Paterson, has been celebrating his 40th year working for the company and has very much been in the whisky spotlight.  Noteworthily, he’s blended & assembled a limited run of 3 bottles of the world’s most expensive whisky, the Trinitas 64, retailing for £100,000 each.  An energetic hive of activity (and a bit of a player), he also cuts a very distinctive figure with his famous moustache.  And that famous moustache was making its way directly towards Liz and I, surrounded by an entourage and a documentary camera crew.

For the next 20 minutes or so we got the up-close-and-personal Paterson experience, complete with threats of violence for holding our glasses incorrectly, chucking whisky all over the crowd, describing how to nose and taste whisky in quite florid and lurid ways, and getting a couple of more-than-generous helpings of the Dalmore 1263 King Alexander III – a whisky aged in 6 different types of wood, and which Richard was more then keen to point out the features of.  And very very enjoyable it was, too.

It seems foolish to describe the trying of every single whisky in detail, so skipping forward a bit, we’d had the good sense and discretion to sign on for a whisky & chocolate pairing session – the name of the chap running the tasting session escapes me, the types of chocolates we had don’t spring immediately to mind, and I’d be a bit hard pressed if you were to ask me who the chocolatier was.  However I know that the whiskies that were matched with them were Dewars 12 year old blend, Dewars 18 year old blend, and an exquisite Aberfeldy 21yo (whose honey notes were an excellent match to the orangey chocolate we had).

Realising that time was slipping away, we dashed out to the restaurant area and availed ourselves of the included 2 course meal – we opted for the delicious lamb chops in orange gravy, and then dessert.  It might have been the booze factor creeping in, but I was amused by listening to a couple of chaps on our table who had come quite a distance to attend the event, and told me of The Whisky Fair – a much, much larger event in Germany in May.  Just what I needed to know.  Additionally there was Tim Hain the blues singer in the corner cranking out whisky-themed tunes.

As the shadows of the day grew longer and the ambient pitch in the main hall grew louder we returned for a further whisky and chocolate tasting, this time with Diageo ambassador Mr Colin Dunn (who we had at Whisky Squad back in summer) and chocolatier par excellence, Mr William Curley.  This time the pairing was 4 of William’s chocolates to the Johhnie Walker range of blends – Black, Green, Gold and Blue label.  I always enjoy a chance to try Blue Label, and even moreso when it’s at someone else’s expense.  As the tasting concluded and Colin handled the panel of eedjits in the third row who were on a collision course with “festive”, we suddenly realised that it was 17:45, the show concluded at 18:00, and WE STILL HAD OUR ULTRA PREMIUM DRAM TOKENS.

Colin Dunn and William Curley - Colin moves so quickly, it isn't possible to capture his image on conventional cameras

The Ultra Premium Dram idea was that in addition to tasting whatever you liked from the stands, each entrant could exchange this special token for a dram of whisky which was a bit more rare and/or special – the sorts of things that sell for upwards of £500 a bottle.  As there were no printed programmes for the day which listed who had what, the next 15 minutes became a bit of a blur of activity as we split up and darted around the room, desperately trying to get Ultra Premiums from our favourites.  And when that failed, and we became accustomed to the answer “Sorry, we ran out about lunchtime”, the idea of getting ANY Ultra Premium became quite an attractive one.  I couldn’t turn down the offer of a Port Ellen 1978 (even though it wasn’t a UPD), and in desperation approached the Dalmore stand in search of their UPD.  Though they’d run out, the guy reached behind the counter and instead offered me a dram of the Whyte & Mackay 40 Year Old blend.  There wasn’t time to spend too long enjoying it (although it was nothing short of gorgeous), and when I’d tried to hand over my UPD token he just waved me away.  In what was now approaching panic I shot over to the Glendronach stand and held out my glass hopefully, where the man poured me out a Glendronach 31.  Something must have caught my eye, because I walked away from the stand and necked that dram – and immediately as I felt it pass my tongue I inwardly thought, “Oh bollocks, I really shouldn’t have rushed that…”.

In the dying throes of the day I ran into Eddie Ludlow of The Whisky Lounge and Tim from The Whisky Exchange, so we had a bit of a chat, and the sense of urgency in the room seemed to tail off as the announcement went over the tannoy that exhibitors were to stop pouring.  The 3 of us managed to make eye contact with the nice lady on the Adelphi stand and sneak a final dram of the Adelphi Bunnahabhain 41yo.  If I’m honest, I’ve got no idea at all what it tasted like, but if there and then you’d asked me if I was going to book a ticket to next year’s event, I’d have signed up and paid for both days, and probably signed up for your newsletter and purchased some keenly priced swampland from you.

I hope that’s everything, because it’s damn near a 1800 words.

The whisky that was on everyone’s lips (for discussion, but sadly not for tasting) was The Trinitas – primarily wild speculation about whether and how it could possibly be worth 100 grand, and like the true tourist I am, I had my photo taken with it.  I expect it’s the last time we’ll see each other.

In summary, The Whisky Show was an excellent event – well-run, enjoyable, and civilised, and would make an exemplary whisky experience for novice and connoisseur alike.

I can’t seem to find a way to embed it, but the guys at Connosr.com were running an excellent setup of onsite video-blogging, called WhiskyPod – and one which captured my eye was a piece about Glen Spey, followed by a song by none other than Colin Dunn and Tim Hain!

Liz and I did a post-event analysis and counted up which whiskies we’d tried between us, and came up with the following list:
Auchentoshan 18
Auchentoshan 3 Wood
Berry’s Own Teaninich 1973
Longrow CV
Longrow 100 proof
Hazelburn Cask Strength
Yamazaki 18
Yamazaki Puncheon
Hibiki 17
Hakushu Heavily Peat Finish
Bowmore 1992 Bordeaux
Brora 30
Banes (S Africa)
Balvenie Peat Barrel
Balvenie Madeira
Balvenie DoubleWood
Cragganmore 21
Dalmore 15
Dalmore 18
Dalmore King Alexander III
Wheat Whisky of some description
Mackmyra No 1
Dewar’s 12
Dewar’s 18
Aberfeldy 21
Johnnie Walker Black
Johnnie Walker Green
Johnnie Walker Gold
Johnnie Walker Blue
Dalwhinnie Distillers Edition
Glenlivet 18
Port Ellen 1978
Glendronach 31
Whyte & Mackay 40
Glenfiddich 15 Solera
Adelphi Bunnahabhain 41

The more astute of you will have probably noticed that yes, I tasted 36 whiskies at The Whisky Show.  What a thoroughly excellent day.

The rest of the photos are in my Flickr Gallery for The Whisky Show.

Whisky-related nervous excitement

Checking for poison...

Argh! So much going on here at Humpy Towers – I’ve barely had a chance to comprehensively narrate all of it in an overly bombastic manner, such as is typically the custom…

The big news though is that tomorrow night – misleadingly, April Fools’ Day – will see the first instalment of Andy (of GoodDrinksEtc) & my new project: Whisky Squad!

We’re running a monthly whisky tasting club, with the idea being to keep it affordable & relaxed, and give people a chance to experience a range of whisky tastes & flavours with a bunch of like-minded enthusiastic amateurs.

The intention is to keep the group to a maximum of 12, and each month to run the tasting to a different “theme”, which will more than likely consist of a grouping of whiskies that Andy & I come up with along some thin justification, and which fit into our budget.

The first session filled up almost instantly, and so now all that remains is to get on with it.  More information to follow soon, I suppose.

On the offchance you’re interested, the place to look is www.whiskysquad.com – and/or follow us on Twitter, under the unsurprisingly selected name “whiskysquad“.

Top Ten Tuesday: Whisky

When I say “whisky” (for anyone not 100% clear on this), I mean Single Malt Scotch Whisky – not Bourbon, or Irish whiskey, or blended whiskey, or any of the other things that go by a similar name.  Whisky is something which has brought me many new experiences ever since first tasting it in around 1993.  Accumulating – and then demolishing – a modest collection back in Australia, my transition to this side of the world has meant greater access to a greater variety of styles, and it seems silly not to share a few highlights with you now.  I might hasten to add that I don’t own all of these things (in case you’re wondering)!

Bruichladdich Blacker Still – I like to think of this as Spinal Tap Whisky, because how much blacker could the bottle be?  None… none more black…  We first learned of it at The Machrie Golf Course bar on our Great Whisky Tour of 2007 – its smoky, sweet, dark flavours had us interested straight away, and our mission for the rest of the trip was to try to snag some.  Sadly, the distillery claimed that they had none left), and our hunt high & low proved fruitless.  It turned out that part of the reason for scarcity was that it was a release of about 2500 bottles.  We managed to track a couple down in Germany though.  They’re hens’ teeth now though.

blackerstill

Bowmore Darkest – it’s obvious from these first two entries that my predilection is for sherried peaty whiskies, isn’t it?  Bowmore Darkest is exponentially cheaper and easier to find than The Blacker Still, however.  It’s a bit drier and saltier, but still backs that “peaty fist in a velvet glove” that I love.  The old bottling (pictured here) was a 14yo, and the newer packaged one is a 15: differences subtle, but still a lovely dram.  We presented a bottle of this to Uncle Robert as a thankyou for the Edinburgh trip in 2007, and we polished off 2/3 of it over dinner.

bowmore_darkest

Glenfiddich Gran Reserva – back on the expensive shelf, this 21yo Speyside whisky is aged in Caribbean Rum casks.  The original bottling was entitled “Havana Reserve”, but apparently this didn’t impress the US consumer market, so it got a retitling.  It’s since been through again and bears the imaginative moniker “21 Year Old Caribbean Rum Cask”.  It’s got nice chocolatey, coffee flavours to it, as well as a bit of citrus, and the smooth maltiness of the aged Glenfiddich heart – none of the flavours are too strong or overwhelming I find though, and it’s very easily drinkable.  And by sheer stroke of luck I managed to pick a bottle up for £35 on the way out of Gatwick one day off a clearance shelf!  Not bad, when the current price seems to average around £65.

gran_reserva

Ardbeg 10yo – back to peat, and this one’s an absolute classic.  It’s the flagship product of the Ardbeg distillery, and I reckon if I’m out for a night and looking for a default one-dram whisky to finish, and this is behind the bar, then there’s no further analysis needed.  Having said that, I don’t own a bottle of 10yo.  It’s clean, it’s deep, and it sticks around for a week after you’ve swallowed it.  But only one for fans of the smoky flavour.

Glenrothes 1991 – man, I must’ve been on crack when I drafted the order of this list…  If there was ever a diametric opposite of Ardbeg, it’s Glenrothes 1991.  Glenrothes produce a different tasting whisky every year, so the year of production is critical if you’re after a particular one.  The 1991 (as we discovered at WhiskyLive) is a light, delicate, and spicy concoction, with a vanilla taste to it too.  It’s my number 1 go-to whisky when people say “Oh, I really don’t like the taste of whisky” – haven’t yet found anyone whose mind wasn’t expanded by meeting the ’91.

Glenrothes_1991

Glenlivet 18yo – probably a large sentimental connection to Glenlivet, as it was my first single malt.  I was introduced to these fine things by Whisky Bill in about 1993, and my bank balance has never recovered.  Glenlivet 12yo is what you might call a nice “standard” easy-drinking Speyside malt, which you can relax with and spend a bit of time getting to know.  The 18 adds a layer, making for a nice toffee, nutty, sweet but not overpowering or sticky dram, with a hint of peat playing around in there, but not the sort of peat you see in the big iodiney, salty, oily Islay offerings.  One of the reasons I insisted we visit Glenlivet on our tour (aside from the “homecoming” element) was that I’d joined the distillery’s “club” (aka PR Exercise), and in the welcome pack you receive a key which unlocks a “secret door” at the distillery, and in the room you & your guests are welcomed with a dram of the Glenlivet 21yo.  Lovely whisky, but I found it a bit of a guilty pleasure.  Comfortable with the 18, though.

glenlivet18

Ardbeg Supernova – if you were to sum this up in one word it’d have to be “experimental”.  There was something of a quiet “peat war” going on up on Islay last year, with Bruichladdich announcing the release of their so-frigging-peaty-you-wouldn’t-believe-it-oh-matey Octomore (peated to 141 parts of phenol per million), and almost silently Ardbeg pushed out their 100+ppm “club members only” Supernova release only days beforehand.   It really, really is peaty.  The Ardbeg 10yo comes in about 40ppm, and the Supernova is so peaty it almost burns.  It’s lovely.  I mean, not as a regular drink, but as a way to experience what’s possible it’s just sublime.  I’ve not tried some in a couple of months, but I remember the nose being deceptively gentle, and it’s not til you get it on your tongue that the fireworks really begin.  If you had an extreme cold, you’d be able to taste this stuff through it, no problems.  You wouldn’t taste anything else for a week afterwards though (no, not a pre-dinner dram, unless you’re eating army food).

Supernova committee green

Glengoyne 12yo – yep, definitely on crack.  Going from the most heavily peated beasts ever manufactured to Glengoyne: a distillery which uses no peat at all!  This was the first distillery I ever toured, back in June 2004.  All of the Glengoynes are amazingly easy drinking – I don’t put water in mine – but the 12 has something… a taste that sticks around longer than the others…  it’s sweet, but not sherry-sweet, rich, not overpowering, mellow…  actually, I’m useless at describing whisky.  I just really, really like it, OK?

Balvenie 21yo Port Wood Finish – I like to call this “Pirate Whisky”.  It’s not because Pirates drink port (they don’t they drink rum), or because they park their boats in ports…  it’s just something about the taste that immediately makes me think it’s the kind of thing that you could drink in the Captain’s Cabin.  Bloody gorgeous stuff.  Only tried it once, and haven’t ever gathered the courage to stump up £72 for a bottle, but it was fan-bloody-tastic.

balvenie_port_21

Glen Elgin 12yo – picked this up in an airport and demolished most of it in one sitting with housemate Emzo.  A nice malty & minty easy-drinker.  You don’t see it around so much, but it’s not too expensive, and definitely a welcome addition to any shelf.  If you buy some, let me know and I’ll come around & help you with it if you like.  It was the first bottle on my UK shelf to be completely drained.

Brora 28yo – back into rare country, this is another one not on my shelf.  But oh how I wish it was.  Brora closed down in 1983, and there’s a load of different bottlings around of their stuff (quite often whisky bottlers would buy single casks from distilleries and then do their own bottling runs – it’s great for variety and interest, and no doubt for flogging more cash out of completists).  I can’t remember ANYTHING about this Brora, other than that it was 28 years old, and that I utterly adored it.  Have you ever had something that you knew you loved, but were so busy enjoying it you didn’t stop to think why?  Well, that.  And sadly – Richie informs me – the bottle’s empty.

Oh buggeration, that’s eleven.

Oh well!  I guess just forget about the Brora.  It’s not like you’re ever going to see one.

If anyone’s wondering about the current state of my shelf, it looks something like this:

the_shelf

Although the Russell Brand book’s not there any more, and nor is the bottle of Old Pulteney – which met the same fate as the Glen Elgin.  Lower-right is the “new” bottling of the Bowmore Darkest.

Das ist die ganze sache

There was a parcel for me in building reception yesterday.  I wasn’t sure what it might be, cos I haven’t ordered anything in a while so far as memory serves.  The desk-lady reached under the desk and produced a box, and profferred it to me.  You know how you suddenly know what a box is going to be as soon as you see the way someone else handles it?  You can get a rough idea of its weight and mass-distribution by seeing how people lift and pass an object, and in this case, by the way that she fumbled it and fingertip-juggled to keep the box in the air rather than crashing down onto the stone tiles below.

Evidently as she was executing this 1-person volleyball equivalent skill she must have caught a glimpse of my eyes widening in panic, as her attempts to prevent a box-to-floor interface took on an extra degree of urgency and she caught it again.  In mock lightheartedness she said “Wow, I bet if that had broken someone would’ve had a bad week!”, and it struck me that given its ludicrously high peat content, the recipient of the bad week would be whoever had borken this particular bottle of whisky and therefore had to scrub the floor to get the smoky smell out of the building lobby.  Not to mention me running around screaming in anguish, as well.

Can’t wait to try this stuff – Bruichladdich Octomore: the bottle suggests its phenol level is 130ppm, so it’s gonna taste quite different (Lagavulin I believe is about 40ppm).

I pre-ordered this stuff on a whim a couple of months ago, and then clean forgot about it.  It’ll be interesting, and it’s definitely an “event” in whisky – I’m not 100% sure what’s going on, as earlier reports on Octomore talked about a peat level of 80.5ppm, and that the bottles were only going to be sold to people who had bought “Whisky futures” with the distillery.  In any case, I’m looking very much forward to trying it, and if my cold doesn’t get any better before the day I decide to open it then at least my knackered tastebuds should be able to taste something.

2007-06-04 : Liver rehab

Back from Scotland now. Wow, what a trip. Expensive – not as bad as it could have been, but I did manage to pick up 6 new bottles of whisky. Now to find room on The Shelf for them.

Anyone wanna come over & help me drain a couple?

2 immediate cool points from the trip: 1) we stayed in a place called Dufftown. Doesn’t it make you feel better about the world to know that a place exists with a name like that?

2) This roadsign.

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