17 October 2016

16/10/2016 Three Islay whiskies to celebrate 50k visits

This little blog passed the milestone at some point last week, after four and a half years of existence. More popular blogs receive that amount of visitors on a daily basis, perhaps. Considering tOMoH's Key Adventures are written primarily for tOMoH's own recollection, tOMoH is touched that so many other Internet users read his adventures. Many of those users are recurrent visitors, be they lurkers or active commentators, which is both flattering and rewarding.

Enough with the sentimentalia. Three drams, because. And three Islay, because. Let me do something unusual, however: none of them is from a closed distillery. Also: in decreasing order of ABV. Burn the heretic.

Bunnahabhain 16yo 1997/2014 (56.4%, Edition Spirits The First Editions, Refill Hogshead, 170b): 1997 and its peaty Bunnas. Ahhh!... Nose: hot embers on very rich earth, ploughed fields, distant manure, fresh upla (cow-dung cake used as fuel in India). This is almost muddy, bold and generous. It further has a note of limescale and roasted peanuts. The back of the nose is closer to tractor tyres, after a rainy day out in the fields. Mouth: warming, though not overpowering. It has hot, caramelised apricot compote, then incandescent charcoal and back again. Green chili chutney -- hot and sweet. Finish: the peat is very present, at this stage -- a chimney, warmed by a fire place, roasted orange rinds and the caked caramel that sticks to the pot after making a caramel sauce. Nice, this. More complex than I expected and probably one of the best 1997 Bunnahabhain I have had. 8/10 (thanks Ludo for the sample)

Ardbeg 22yo 1993/2016 (55.3%, Cadenhead Single Cask, Bourbon Hogshead, 228b): nose: although peaty too, this is a whole different kettle of fish. Dry earth, dried-up riverbeds and gardening tools, after they have spent the winter in the basement, dried up and the soil on them hardened by the proximity of the boiler. Bone-dry peat, in other words. And then, magically, it turns coastal, with dried algae, kelp, drying fishing nets, salty, smoked mackerel. It changes again, however: soon, it delivers roasted orchard fruit, apple compote -- heaps of organic apples, waiting to be made into cider. Mouth: warm, with ginger and lemongrass, it numbs the palate a little, before unleashing the apple compote from the nose. It is not extremely fruity, yet enough to keep the whole experience rather engaging. The peat smoke is most delicate, a mere component of a more complex whole. Finish: smoky, with remnants of a camp fire (ooOOOoooh!) on very dry land; on that camp fire, apples were roasted and a few drops of their juice flavoured the embers. Either that, or it was an apple-tree camp fire. The finish also has cigar stubs and a vague note of rubber. The latter prevents me from scoring it higher. Good stuff all the same. 8/10 (thanks SW for the sample)

Laphroaig 10yo (40%, OB, *undisclosed code*, b.1980s): these are colloquially known as "Pre-Royal Warrant" and are rather popular, as well as supposedly better than today's equivalent. Nose: haha! It is one of those drams! :-) Watermelon, guava, khaki, even maracuja and mango. A distant veil of gentle smoke hovers over the fruit market, yet peat freaks should steer well clear: this is not for them -- at all! Decaying peaches, melon skins, grapefruits. Long after the glass is empty, it is moules marinières that shine (mussels in broth with vegetables). Mouth: it holds itself together, despite being 13% lower in strength than the Ardbeg. Again, the peat smoke is all but absent. It has a remote medicinal filiation, yet the dominant tone is that of fresh, tropical fruit, green grapefruit first.The texture is velvety and it is only after a long while that some spices appear (mostly black pepper). Finish: multivitamin fruit nectar, warmed in a cast-iron pot over a log fire, dried green grapefruit peels (it has a gently bitter fruitiness) and, at last, the most minute smoke. Wunderbar! 9/10 (thanks SW for the sample)

6 October 2016

02/10/2016 The Whisky Show 2016 (Day 2 -- Part 2) Bowmore: from one master to the next

Is it better to have loved and lost, or to not have loved at all?

The story started here.

The most desirable (and by far the most expensive) masterclass of the year is upon us. Desirable for aficionados of a certain type of whiskies, that is -- this might not be for everyone. In any case and despite the price tag, there was little hesitation in OB's, JS's and my mind when the line-up was produced: six Bowmores presented by Eddie McAffer (previous distillery manager) and David Turner (the current manager), a symbolic passing of the baton, with two gentlemen who spent enough time working at the distillery in various roles to have made all the drams today from distillation to bottling -- Eddie was a Bowmorian in the 1960s already, whilst David is launching the newer expressions, these days.
Oh! And guess who is going to referee those fine hosts? None other than Master Dave Broom himself. How could this possibly go wrong? We bought tickets seconds after they went on sale. And here we are.

We are taken to a different venue to last year's, which is nice. The room last year was noisy, cold and felt like a big corridor. This can only be an improvement. On the way there, I share a lift with Charles McLean. I joke that Stuck in a Lift with Charles McLean would be a great title for a book. He is not coming with me, though: he is presenting a Chichibu-and-Kilchoman masterclass in a different place.

Finally, I join my co-tasters and the room is indeed much better. The cream of the whisky world is present, with lots of people from the trade.

Broom gives a quick introduction, not about the distillery, rather about the two presenters. I cannot help but quickly dip my olfactory organ into the six glasses in front of me; that puts a smug grin on my mug. We are in for a treat.

Turner starts off with the first dram, one of "his".

Bowmore 10yo Tempest (54.9%, OB Small Batch Release, First Fill Bourbon Casks, B#VI, b.2016): Turner tells us a bit too soon about sweet almonds and ocean breeze. Nose: marshmallow and citrus, with a distant whiff of smoke. Mouth: spicy and lively; this takes a bit of effort to understand. Ruthless and stormy, yet not fully indomitable. Finish: pink grapefruit, lemon, an elegant veil of smoke and quite a bit of spicy, gingery heat. Those Tempest batches are excellent and show a promising future. 8/10

Bowmore Deluxe (43° G.L., OB, b.1970s): McAffer tells us these bottles were given to all staff at the time, at a rate of one per month. He says the line to the manager's office was very long, in those days. Nose: meaty and musky, fox skin, the sweat of malt-barn boys (EMcA). Behind that, it has a note of grapefruit. The dominant is as said, with also rancid butter (the sweat, see?) However, grapefruit takes over in a dramatic turn of events. Mouth: fresh, grapefruit-y, lively, with coriander and lots of citrus. The musk has now all but gone. Finish: a wonderful mix of sweat, coal smoke and gorgeous grapefruit, tar, rubber and lime peels. This is complex and ever-changing. Wow. 9/10

Around fifteen minutes in, my left-hand-side neighbour leaves with his suitcase. He spent the last ten minutes silently calling a taxi to the airport and rushing through the drams. I am wondering what the point is and think it is displaying a certain lack of respect. I nick his untouched third dram as a consequence.

Bowmore 25yo (43%, OB Small Batch Release, American Bourbon and Spanish Sherry Casks, L3692, b. ca 2016): the 25yo is a staple in Bowmore's catalogue, yet I have never had this particular version before. They changed the livery just a few years ago. Nose: wood and fruit stones, stewed fruit (DT), polished dashboards. Citrus comes out, late in the game and barely makes its way to the top. Mouth: drying wood, prunes, dried figs, caramel. Finish: heather and rubbery tar, liquorice (those sweets that look like black laces), a hint of lavender, as well as caramelised, candied grapefruit peel. This is alright, probably too heavy a profile for my palate, today. Good quality, though. 8/10

Asked whether they felt the dip in quality in production (which both blame on management's insistence to work more efficiently), David Turner answers:
-The 60s were good, the 70s were good... the 80s went downhill a wee bit...
-When did you start at Bowmore? asks Broom. :-)

OC -Does Suntory invest in quality wood today, still?
DB -Ask Shinji! He is at your table, he flew from Japan just for this class!

Broom refers to Suntory's chief blender, Shinji Fukuyo. Remember Suntory (now Beam-Suntory) owns Bowmore and has access to all the stock. The fact that someone as high up as Mr. Fukuyo flew in specially for this masterclass should be an indication of how special the occasion is.

AMcR asks what gave Bowmore the distinct fruitiness of yesteryear. Both managers answer without hesitation that it was the longer wash. That point is very interesting, since, up until today, no-one was ever able (or willing) to give a clean-cut answer to me. Are they right? is the question, I suppose, yet they are close enough to the production to deserve some credit, at least.

The gears, they shift here.

Bowmore 30yo (43%, OB, Ceramic Decanter, b.2003): nose: a LOT of tropical fruits. Mango, papaya, guava, grapefruit, but also sea spray and a hint of smoke. This is so deep and beautiful I could weep. OB is lost in the dram and cannot believe it. He had Bowmore Bicentenary yesterday and still he is shocked. Mouth: citrus-y, grapefruit-y, lime-y, gingery. Perfect balance of fruit and spices. Finish: an explosion of tropical fruit -- pink grapefruit the loudest. A symphony of it, intertwined with distant tar and rubber. This is a killer. 10/10

Although the confirmation comes from whiskynotes.be
I am upset that my own bottle, although very good too, is not like this at all. I later ask EMcA who confirms there were three batches: 1996ish, 2003, 2006. This is the 2003 release, mine has to be the 2006. In the mid-to-late-1970s, the whisky became less fruity. Mine was likely distilled ca 1976. QED.

A lady walks in, sits for ten minutes, talks a bit too loud, then leaves. Once more, I am baffled by the episode.

With quite a bit of ceremony and pomp, Broom and Turner introduce the next dram, which turns out to be an emotionally-heavy one.

Black Bowmore 2nd Edition 30yo 1964/1994 (50%, OB, Sherry Butts, 2000b): nose: earth and fruit, in a nutshell. It has the tropical fruit of the previous dram, alongside toffee, caramel and fudge. Like the fourth release, it is intensely fruity, yet there is a lot more to it. The big difference between the two is that this is not oily and tarry, it is earthy and thickly sweet (caramel syrup). Mouth: thick and chewy, it has caramel again, melted chocolate, dark cake, pain au chocolat. It is really thick and coating, yet surprisingly well-paced. Definitely not one to smack you in the face with any overpowering flavour. Finish: an unbelievable  mix of earthy and oily tones and delicious, tropical fruits, chocolate, grapefruit, soot, dry earth. This is incredible. A smell of this took me to another place, earlier. I remind JS that the LA Whisky Society hid a Black Bowmore in a blind line-up and no-one realised they were drinking something exceptional. The point of the article's author was that, once the label is obfuscated, no whisky shines so bright. Our conclusion today is that, despite the LA Whisky Society members being described as "hardcore whisky enthusiasts" by the author, they must have been on crack. This is an unmistakable masterpiece, the sort of things that stop one in their track. No affordable whisky smells like this one. None ever has. None ever will, probably. It might have cost £80 when it was launched, yet who paid £80 for a bottle of whisky in 1994? No-one, that's who. I am delighted JS enjoys this much more than the fourth edition we had a few years ago. I do not, yet I give this one 14/10

Several ask whether there is any hope to find this sort of quality again in the future. Both managers say that it is indeed going to happen, that the focus is now on quality, not on efficiency.
Taster -It's been long coming!
DT -It'll come back.
Taster -When?
DT -You're too old, you'll be dead when it's ready!

Room. In stitches.

With the pinnacle of the tasting behind, it is only normal for things to wind down. Except they do not and the pinnacle is supposedly ahead, still. That is right. Black Bowmore was a class warm-up act, not the headliner. What, then?

Broom lets Eddie McAffer introduce the last dram to a room in awe. The bottle has seen a proper Dalmorisation (silver stopper, ginormous case, engraved, hand-blown glass, that sort of stuff) and everyone wonders if the juice will live up to the expectation.

McAffer takes a sniff, tells how it reminds him of the distillery scent in 1964. He takes a gulp and... admits it leaves him speechless. SS is so excited he gets teased by Broom.

Enough filling the gaps -- ram-pam-bum!

Bowmore 46yo d.1964 (42.9%, OB, Fino Sherry Cask, 72b): yep, I also fell off my chair when I discovered this was going to be offered today. Many people we met this week were put off the masterclass by the admission price. To those who paid up and are present today, it seems a bargain. A real bargain, so far. Then again, this last drop could turn out to be a disappointment... Nose: Did I say 'phwoar,' today? This is on another level of phwoar. Name a fruit, it is there. Peach, coconut, mango, lychee, passion fruit, jackfruit, carambola, banana, melon, persimmon, Chinese gooseberry... I will not go on. This is White Bowmore level, perhaps higher. Someone says he has smelled mangoes that smelled less of mango than this. Mr. McAffer himself seems rather emotional about it. Mouth: more fruit-juice pornography, rose water, orange flower water, peach flesh... Solemnity hovers over the room as everyone is lost in contemplation. I have a hard time repressing tears. This is so fruity, so balanced, so complex too. It is beyond words. Humbling. Finish: soft and never-ending, still with that fruity debauchery. Bliss. Plenitude. Life can stop right here, right now (please remember this, it is important for the rest of the article). In need of seventeen new pairs of trousers and a new tissue to dry my watery eyes, I decide this is the best dram I have ever had and wonder if anything will ever top this. The obvious answer is: probably not. A few things that the two MCs said today make me believe it is worth trying a few more all the same. With ease, this scores 18/10

"I have been looking forward to this tasting for about nine years," says half of Simply Whisky.
Three of the above were bottled in the last five years... ;-)

"I was expecting something fabulous. This is way beyond anything I had hoped for," admits OB.

Dave Broom runs a poll for a billboard slogan to promote Bowmore. The best slogan will receive a dram... of Bowmore 46yo Fino!!!1

Several suggestions are put forward, some funny, some witty. I shout mine across the room and receive a murmur of admiration, then a round of applause. I just proudly won a dram of Bowmore 46yo Fino. :-D \o/\o/\o/

We wrap up, take pictures of each bottle, I talk to McAffer and Broom (who was serious about his game: I do indeed receive an extra dram -- thank you so much for that, Dave), thank SS for organising this ("Wasn't it amazing?" is the only thing he answers with an indelible smile) and join my fellow tasters with my extra glass. I cannot wait to share it with them. Since I have two, I let one of the staff try the whisky (she seems excited indeed), then put the rest of my plan to work.

The finish line trophies

The clock is ticking, we get out and call the lift. Shinji Fukuyo and his associate are in a corner of the landing. It feels right at the time to cover myself with ridicule and say hello, ask them to carry on making great whiskies and share a few words. Their patience and tolerance regarding my awkward manoeuvre is exemplary and I shamefully thank them for not calling security on me.

It then takes me a while to catch a lift (the first one has gone, with my co-tasters in it) and rush to TWE's stall, where I meet up with JS and OB. Last pour has rung, the show is dwindling down. I want to rush to a few stalls to share the beauty in my hand: MR gets it (and dies a little), the Swissky mafia all get it (and hug me), DR gets to smell it, then rushes away, cursing me for letting him smell it. :-)
My first glass is empty.

I hurry back to TWE's to leave the second glass in good hands: my bladder is begging for mercy. JS and OB are nowhere to be found, though. BA and EG both have a sniff of Bowmore, but I decide against leaving my glass with them: they are packing up and surrounded by a horde of punters, eager for another dram. I try to find my companions. No luck.

I cannot take any more.

I think very carefully about my moves. "Something like that, I have done a multitude of times," I tell myself. "No, too risky," I retort. Eventually, I give in. With my glass firmly stuck in my hand, I proceed to the toilets. As I open the door, I spot someone coming out and stop to let him do so. Some random maintenance worker follows me too closely and smashes into my back. The shock makes the precious liquid spill over my glass and land on my notebook and the floor.



Time stops.

"Sorry," he says.
-This is a multi-thousand-pound dram!
-Well, if you hadn't stopped right in front of me...
-TO LET SOMEONE OUT! Why did you follow me so closely!?
-Sorry. Can you get another one?
-No, I cannot get ANOTHER dram of a £17,000 bottle from a masterclass, after everyone has stopped pouring! (yes, I do realise the RRP was £9,999; adjusted for inflation)

I make no apology on this blog and I do not think my friends see me as someone ever abiding by the rules of political correctness. All the same, I cannot reasonably describe what goes through my mind at this point, for fear of receiving some sort of flak for it, or even a visit from the Old Bill. It takes me all my rationalising to not escalate the already-rotten situation.

I need to pause and explain myself, here. In the grand scheme of things, is this important? The lame-arse "no-one died" would probably be bandied about. It is a First-world problem and a half, of course. The city is full of people who sleep rough and eat irregularly. The world is full of wars and decimated families. Too many animal species are facing extinction and no sooner than last week, there was an article in the papers about farmers in Spain torturing pigs for "fun." And that is even before mentioning deforestation and ocean pollution.
Is the fact that I lost half a dram of an extremely luxurious commodity to the clumsiness of someone in a rush to do their job a catastophe? Many would think not.

The context is that, after two days of drinking whisky, a masterclass which brought me to my knees and an unbelievably generous gift from Dave Broom, whom I admire, losing the (stupidly expensive and) Divine nectar in my glass, which I was so looking forward to sharing with my friends, losing that all of a sudden, is an extremely hard blow. I cannot stop thinking of what I could have done differently to avoid this situation. Firstly, not expressing that the world could now stop and I would die a happy man. I should know by now that the world has much harder lessons to teach one than to just stop like that. Secondly, not stopping on the way out to talk rubbish to esteemed visitors from Japan who probably had better things to do anyway, and consequently lose track of my friends. Thirdly, bringing an empty sample bottle to transport this in, should the opportunity arise (as it did).

The situation upsets me. It makes me more angry than I would have preferred it to. It makes me angry that I was robbed of the privilege of sharing this capital dram with people who I know would have appreciated it as much as I did. Angry and sad.

If the guy who bumped into me at that fateful moment reads this: I have no intention to seek revenge, yet I am afraid I do not accept your apology. You were too close to me, the room was full of imbibed people, your moves were dangerous and could only lead to the horrible conclusion.

Back to the story. I cannot refrain more tears -- not of joy this time, but of rage. When I finally find my patient friends, their comforting and compassion unfortunately do not ease the pain much. The accident ruins the jolly effect of the festival for me for a long moment. I fear that my resulting mood taints the memory of the weekend for my co-tasters too, which I deeply regret and that makes me even sadder and angrier.

And then I remember the brief conversation I had with OB on the way out of the tasting room: is it better to have tasted great whisky and lost or to never have tasted at all?

The answer is uncertain, right now.

On the bright side, my notebook smells really nice.

5 October 2016

02/10/2016 The Whisky Show 2016 (Day 2 -- Part 1)

The story started here.

Surprisingly fresh after all that sampling yesterday, JS and I comfortably arrive at the venue 15 minutes before the doors open. The queue is long already, but it matters not: we have weekend passes and belong to the other queue of returning visitors. PS, BC, DW and others are there already; their position in line suggests they have been there for some time.
We are in in a matter of minutes.

If we had no plan yesterday, today is even more of an improvisation. The only thing that is set is a 16:30 meeting. It does seem relevant, however, now that we have gone through the "whole" show for one day (it is a figure of speech -- I mean: we know what is where), to tick the dream drams off the list. The ones we have not yet tried, that is. Straight to the jugular it is, then. Signatory Vintage. Oh! whisky.auction has something to pair SV's with too. We grab a table for a parallel tasting, then. OB joins us there, we meet DR, MC, BC and his pal we met at Cadenhead's earlier this week.

Glen Mhor 50yo 1965/2016 (47.1%, SV Cask Strength Collection, Refill Butt + Oloroso Sherry Finish, C#3934, 353b): this one has been tickling my fancy since the day I discovered its existence. Considering the price of a full bottle, it is probably fair to say it will be my only chance to try it. For this Glen Mhor fan, this is pretty exciting indeed. Nose: Christmas cake, dark and rich, sultanas, dried figs, dried apple flakes, maybe dried mango slices too and dried plums. Rich and fruity alright! I am relieved, at this point, that it is good, though probably not worth the price tag. No desire to shell out, then. It later opens up to reveal dusty bookshelves, which I adore. Mouth: blackberry liqueur, old brandy, a smoking pipe, seasoned with Calvados. The fruit is still dark, a little dryer and the spices grow. It ends with a lush note of dark cherry pulp. Finish: wow! More dark-fruit action (prunes, cherries, blackberries, blueberries) and old, soaked wooden staves. Is this wonderful, or what? I changed my mind. It is worth the price tag. 10/10

Glen Mhor 28yo 1982/2010 (56.8%, SV Cask Strength Collection, Wine Treated Hogshead, C#1328, 272): nose: cut apples, fresh grass, a sunny morning in the garden and oily, sappy flowers. Mouth: a gently spicy omelette, creamy with a touch of woody bitterness, then crisp apples. Finish: it is now a beautiful ping-pong of fruit and spices, green and yellow, fresh, woody, but not overly so. Lovely. It bows to its ancestor, naturally, yet manages to shine all the same. 8/10


scotchwhisky.com is the next port of call: they have something special too...

Port Ellen 20yo 1978/1998 (60.90%, OB Rare Malts Selection): yep, the bottling that put Port Ellen on everyone's radar. The first PE RMS. I am not ashamed to say I have never tried it, as it was an expensive leap of faith at the time, provided one could find it. Will it live up to the myth? Nose: peat smoke, of course, yet also dry sage, verbena, a camp fire, drying hay. Then the shells come forth: clams, cockles, smoked mussels, whelk, drying fishing nets and warm, sandy beaches. Mouth: very mellow, at this stage. It has pâtes de fruits (red and green). It is assertive, yet nowhere near as brutal as other RMS, not as damaging. Finish: the mastery of this is unbelievable. It has all sorts of shells and smoked seafood, alongside the sweets form the mouth (pâtes de fruits). It is never-ending. This is a delicate PE, on the same level as the Dovr-Toutes-Mares -- actually even better. Meow. 10/10

Back to whisky.auction.

Bowmore 15yo (43%, OB for Glasgow Garden Festival, Ceramic Decanter): nose: phwoar! honeysuckle, ripe melon, mango, even passion fruit. This is a nose I like indeed. Mouth: it feels thin after a few cask strength drams, yet so fresh! Milky, vaguely herbaceous, with a gentle fruitiness. Scratch that! It is very fruity. Leave it in the mouth for long enough and it cuddles you with fruit. Finish: yogurt, fruit, with mango again and canary melon. The low strength makes it suffer, in this sequence. It would otherwise score higher, I am sure. 8/10

Time for lunch, where the efficiency is, again, impeccable. As is the staff's lack of humour. Why do I even bother? I have roast chicken, JS has cullen skink. Sticky toffee pudding for both. Excellent.

Loch Lomond is our next stop. The guy with the imported accent is busy with other visitors and his colleague is not there. I take pictures, resign to coming back later... and he makes an entrance. I want to try two or three more things, here.

Loch Lomond 12yo (46%, OB, American Oak Casks, 73721F): nose: nutty, sticky toffee-like in character, with orange rinds. Mouth: it feels watery, with a splash of orange juice and gentle spices (nutmeg?) Finish: a lot more fruit now comes out, not too dissimilar to the Inchmurrin 12yo from yesterday. 7/10

I receive a text from MS: he is not coming today. He regrets not having a chance to ask Dave Broom to sign his book, yet he needs to recover -- I suspect agoraphobia more than hangover. Pity, but his call.

Loch Lomond 18yo (46%, OB, American Oak Casks, 73921B): nose: dark-fruit tart. This is really full of pastry and fruit, with added Scottish tablet (JS). Mouth: mellow and fruity, with melon and sponge cake. Finish: very mellow, with dark chocolate and muffins. Lovely again. Loch Lomond, mate. Believe! 8/10

In between all that and to thank them for the nice time, I pour both boys a drop from my flask. Their reaction suggests they love it (or they are being very polite). I am delighted that they get to try their own product. :-) It is Old Rhosdhu 1967/1999 (40%, OB The Original Whisky Collection), which I pour all day to pretty much everyone I know.

Time for the big guns.

Littlemill 25yo (50.4%, OB Private Cellar Edition, Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish, 1500b, b.2015): we had this last year and I remember thinking the quality-to-price ratio was disastrous, especially when compared to that of the Inchmurrin 12yo. It was, however, one of the last drams of the weekend and poured in plastic cups. Need to make a second opinion. Nose: lots of fruit, with a hint of toffee and dough-y pastry. Is that coffee cream, in the far back? Mouth: round and fruity, it tickles the sides of the tongue like citric powder capsules. It also has a dash of green pepper and... passion fruit? Finish: a wave of delicate tropical fruit comes in (mango, jackfruit, banana), followed by sweet pastry. This is much more appreciated than last year. 9/10

We finally manage to stop at Gordon & MacPhail to try some of their bottlings. Well, only one, as the stand is rather busy.

Glenallachie 1999/2015 (46%, GMP Connoisseurs Choice): an unusual distillery sighting indeed, and one that the staff brought on purpose, as they knew no-one else would have any. Clever, SR! Nose: perfume-y, it has jasmine, then... spirit. Mouth: this is thin, with cut pears, green wood and fern. Finish: milk, milk chocolate and some herbs. I am sure it suffers from the sequence. I do not find it terribly appealing. 6/10

OB goes for a dream dram and I get to try it.

Ardbeg 27yo 1976/2004 (51.4%, OB Single Cask, Sherry Butt, C#2398, 504b): nose: farmyard aplenty, a seashore farm, that is. Ploughed fields, oil engines and smoky whelk. Mouth: what a wonderful balance. Perfectly integrated, with all sorts of old tools, old engines and smoked shells. Finish: a smoky chimney, more smoked seafood, old engines. This is amazing. I keep telling everyone and their dog that I prefer the reduced small batches to the single casks, when it comes to 1970s Ardbeg, but this is on the same level. I believe it is the first 1976 I try too, which might be where the difference lies. 9/10

JS convinces us to stop at Hunter Laing's, where she spent a long time yesterday.

Bunnahabhain 26yo 1989/2016 (49.8%, Edition Spirits The First Editions, Refill Hogshead, C#HL12627, 114b): nose: now, that is an interesting mix! Cheese (brie) and fruit. I have not smelled such a cheesy whisky since 2011, when Douglas Laing poured their 1975 Banff at this very festival. Mouth: lots of fruit, here, dunked into a bowl of yogurt with a pinch of spices. Finish: gentle smoke, spices and lots of yellow fruit (jackfruit, apricot, peach). This is beautiful. 8/10

We have time for a couple before our first meeting of the day. Yes, JS signed us up for a pre-meeting meeting. We run to TWE's stall.

Rosebank 21yo (55.1%, SD True Love, 498b): nose: floral and fruity, it has peach and melon. Mouth: soft and fruity. Finish: honey, apricot, peach, melon. The notes do not do it justice, really. This is great. 9/10

OB brings back another dream dram.

Deanston 40yo (unknown ABV, duty sample bottle): nose: thick honey. Thick, thick, thick. Yellow flowers too (forsythia). Mouth: coating, fruity and balanced. Finish: long, it has honey, honeysuckle and cut peaches. Two great Deanstons in a row! (Remember we had a great one last week) 9/10

Time to take a break.

JS and I attend a mini masterclass in the Secret Garden: Exploration of Peat with Dave Broom. OB is on the waiting list; first on it, even. Unfortunately, no-one bails out, which rules him out. See you later, then!

I am surprised JS is interested in this, to be honest. Firstly, she is not a peat fan; secondly, it is time spent drinking pedestrian drams instead of being on the floor, trying potentially more interesting ones; thirdly, it is right before the other masterclass we are attending. Regardless, I welcome the break and an opportunity to sit down and switch off.

Broom leads this group of eleven and talks about the different types of peat from the different regions of the world. The audience is a mix of aficionados and newbies, which makes for interesting interactions with the host.
Broom is his usual self, full of humour and interesting facts, and he presents this with as much passion as he puts into any masterclass. Groovy shirt, too.

"Those of you who have been to Scotland, Ireland, Northern England, know that the weather is occasionally moist."

Highland Park 12yo (40%, OB, HPF023, b. ca 2016): nose: farmyard, before the more traditional heather furnace comes up. Mouth: delicate honey and blooming heather. Wonderful. Finish: delicious touches of heather honey on the stove. It still manages to hold its head high after the dream drams. 7/10

Dave states that, to know a distillery, one must be familiar with its core expression, which HP12 is. It makes me think twice. He is probably right, actually.

Benriach Peated Quarter Cask (46%, OB, Quarter Casks, LK10469, b.2016): nose: the farmyard is much more pronounced, as well as forest undergrowth and some barley. Mouth: woody, gently smoky -- a dry smoke, this time -- then spicy ginger. Finish: lots of peat smoke, dry and warm. 6/10

Hakushu Distiller's Reserve (43%, OB, LS5KPB): nose: light and fruity, with hardly any smoke at all, or so it seems. Mouth: again, fruity and flowery -- is it lychee? Dave reckons green bamboo -- what a panda! Finish: green grape, sweet and soft, easy and delicate. With water, refined smoke emerges a little. 7/10

Connemara Peat Single Malt (40%, OB, L15089, b.2015): nose: this is muddy, with decaying vegetation. Broom, in poetic mode, notes bicycle inner-tubes and turf. Mouth: smoked nuts, muddy bogs, algae, almost. Finish: algae and funghi, decaying plants, clams. 7/10

Ardbeg 10yo (46%, OB, L65667 16004 918, b.2016): nose: oily, with peat smoke, charcoal, scorched earth, dry earth. Mouth: fresh, dry and earthy, almost sooty. Finish: barley and smoke, chimney-like, says Dave, who also detects lime marmalade. It is sooty indeed, manly and straightforward. It still does the trick after all these years. 7/10

"Old Ardbeg aromas remind me of the old Glasgow underground."

I bounce back on that remark (it takes a long time to do so: two gents monopolise Broom for ten minutes) and ask Dave whether he knows Proust and his famous madeleine. He does -- he is reading Proust right now, he says. I tell him whisky often has such a "madeleine" effect on me it is puzzling. He seems to agree. We chat briefly. I wonder if he would like to try the Rhosdhu I brought, but he politely defers it to after the other masterclass he is presenting shortly. It will not be relevant, then, I think, yet it is the professional thing to do. Fair enough.

OB, JS and I have a second lunch (cullen skink for me, butternut for JS, sticky toffee pudding for both), offered by people who "do not have time to eat, when there is so much whisky to try." We need to replenish our stamina for the last act of this extravaganza.

Read on here.