12 January 2018

11/01/2018 Blind tasting at Cadenhead's

New year, new formula. The good guys at Cadenhead's have decided that pouring sample after sample of new stock is a boring way to spend an evening, and that the outcome is too predictable: punters end up buying labels, rather than good whisky. Tonight, then, paves the way for a new approach. And it is a prototype too, because no new bottling has been released yet; we are therefore trying stock from the previous months. We do not know that yet, though. All we know is that it is a blind tasting, for which SW did the selection and RO did the sequence. All are poured in pairs, and we are only told what they are once the pair has been tasted.
There are eight of us chatting (PP, CC, DW, SOB, JS, cavalier66, BH, xildeblix, or however one writes his name, newcomer D and tOMoH) and the pace is quick. Notes are therefore short and unimaginative.

Lots of delicious nibbles too!

Dram #1: nose: fruit eau-de-vie, Turkish delights, grapes. This nose is sweet, though not over the top. Mouth: light and spritey. Finish: soft, custard-y and warming, it has warm coconut yoghurt. I think it is a 10-to-14yo Speysider, or perhaps an Ord. It is Linkwood-Glenlivet 24yo 1992/2017 (50.9%, Cadenhead Small Batch 175th Anniversary, 2 x Bourbon Hogsheads, 384b) 7/10

Dram #2: nose: this is nuttier, with notes of chestnut purée and baking marzipan. Mouth: it is warm, peppery, nutty, still, with a hint of wasabi (cavalier66) and chalky cardboard. Finish: spicy, it has white pepper, ginger, nutmeg and hay. Decent dram. The nose beats the mouth and finish. I venture it is a Pulteney between 10 and 13yo and miss again. Linkwood-Glenlivet 20yo 1997/2017 (57%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection 175th Anniversary, Bourbon Hogshead, 282b) 6/10

Dram #3: nose: tobacco, balsamic vinegar, aged olive oil and, as I discover later, raspberry vinegar. Mouth: bitter, with nut shells and grape pips. It also has unripe grapes and anti-freeze. Hm. Finish: unripe grapes, pistachio shells. This is bitter and acidic, now. What a disappointment. The nose is initially enchanting, whilst the finish is much less my thing. It feels unbalanced to me. My money is on a 17yo Glenburgie, perhaps a Fettercairn. Wrong again. Glen Spey-Glenlivet 16yo 2001/2017 (55.4%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection 175th Anniversary, Bourbon Hogshead, 282b) 5/10

cavalier66: "I like the nose of this."
tOMoH: "Of course you do: it has balsamic vinegar."
cavalier66: "How do you know I like balsamic vinegar?"
tOMoH: "You married a Greek. Of course, you like olive oil and balsamic vinegar!"
CC: "I married a girl from Essex and I don't like white stilettos!"

Dram #4: I fail to take any note for the nose. In my defence, it is in a tall plastic cup, making nosing rather arduous. Mouth: plum liqueur and warm peach skins with a compote-y texture. It reads delicious, but somehow does not work for me tonight. Finish: I find it rather bland; warm, with fruit skins rather than fruit flesh. I suggest it is a 15--17yo Glen Moray. Nope. Glen Spey-Glenlivet 21yo 1995/2017 (57.7%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection 175th Anniversary, Bourbon Hogshead, 150b) 6/10

Dram #5: nose: flowers, yellow and cut. A dash of almond milk, too. Mouth: warm flower broth, slightly bitter. In fact, very bitter. Finish: it has the gentle bitterness of flowers, complemented by milk chocolate and verbena. This is revealed before I have a chance to guess. Glenburgie-Glenlivet 25yo 1992/2017 (54.6%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection 175th Anniversary, Bourbon Hogshead, 240b) 6/10

Dram #6: nose: acidic, with the softness of flowers, once more, crème brûlée and, later, sulphur. Mouth: very acidic, strong, black pepper and chilli. Finish: acidic too, with a touch of fruit, then a lot of unpleasant, unripe fruit and unbloomed flowers. I do not like this at all. Glenburgie-Glenlivet 13yo 2004/2017 (54.7%, Cadenhead Small Batch 175th Anniversary, 2 x Bourbon Hogsheads, 576b) 4/10

DW wins the guessing game.
SW: "We have a clear winner... Do you want to risk it all?"

cavalier66: "What was that weird spice you talked about?"
tOMoH: "Black cardamom? Black cumin?"
cavalier66: "No..."
JS: "Nigella seeds?"
cavalier66: "She has her own seed?"
tOMoH: "Yeah. Bitches grow from them." :-) (No offence, Nigella, I do not know you)

Of course, extra drams are poured too.

Dram #7: nose: lots of gherkin brine, then grapes and brand-new, squeaky rubber. Later, mirabel plums come out, flour and chalk. Aultmore? Mouth: warm, with a pinch of hot paprika and green chilli. Finish: nice, fruity and chocolate-y, with an acidic touch. I think I like this better than the first six. Aberlour 17yo 2000/2017 (52.8%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection 175th Anniversary, Bourbon Hogshead, 258b) 7/10

Dram #8: nose: cork, old staves and fine smoke. Mouth: spent camp fire and old logs. Finish: cork, wood smoke and pizzette (crackers dressed as a small, dried pizza; try them, they are delicious). Kilkerran 8yo (55.7%, OB, b.2017) 7/10

The following two are kindly offered by club members.

Ledaig 12yo 2005/2017 (61.1%, Cadenhead Single Cask 175th Anniversary for Taïwan, 1 x Butt, 510b): nose: immense, it has peat, vinegar, potato skins, shoe polish and tyres. Mouth: big, earthy, vinegar-y, with also tobacco and shoe polish. Finish: huge, pungent, with spent matches, burnt wood and a camp fire in a smokey bothy. Lovely, this. 7/10 (Thanks for the dram, SOB)

Knockdhu 10yo 2006/2017 (56.5%, Cadenhead Small Batch 175th Anniversary, 3 x Bourbon Hogsheads, 768b): newcomer D bought two of these on the back of its being voted one of the best Cadenhead drams of 2017 by staff and customers... and he does not like it. He thought he would share it tonight with people who do. Nose: green grapes, boiling custard and cologne. Mouth: fruity, custard-y, it has peaches in creamy crème caramel. Finish: chocolate, dunked into melted, liqueur-infused chocolate. 7/10 (Thanks for the dram, newcomer D)

Great fun. None of the drams impressed me much, tonight, but it was a socially rich experience, and certainly interesting from a sensory point of view. Cannot wait to do it again!

6 January 2018

1/01/2018 NYD drams at Dornoch Castle Hotel

With our session aborted yesterday, we decide there is no time to waste today. The weather is beautiful, but who cares about hikes? We can hike another day. Many of those bottles are almost empty and another chance will likely never present itself.
Hiking is therefore cancelled. To be fair I do feel silly for not taking advantage of the weather more, but hey! One cannot do everything at the same time.
Consequently, we are at the bar at 10:10. So early, in fact, that the receptionist has to ask if she is allowed to serve us. Scottish law forbid early alcohol consumption, you see. Since we are staying at the hotel, she is allowed, we are told. Bring it on!

She does break two corks, though, which presents another obstacle...

Tamnavulin d.1970 (40%, OB The Stillman's Dram): nose: pickle onions, gherkins, pickled quail eggs, dry hazelwood. Mouth: this pickled profile is most peculiar -- pickled quail eggs, pickled onions, a touch of rancio (!)... It is gently drying too, which is not surprising, considering the vinegar-y profile. Finish: much softer, with custard, vanilla, but also pickles. Just about makes it to 7/10 (by the skin of its teeth)

Balblair 1973/1995 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail Centenary Reserve): nose: pickled sherry, with rubber and burnt wood. Soon, peppermint and fruit come out too, which is more to my taste. Mouth: strawberry bubblegum, gentle rubber, smokey wood. Interesting mix of sherry and fruit, this palate. Finish: perfect blend of, again, fruit (raspberry, sultana, prune) and warm, dry wood, softly smoked. 8/10

Chichibu ePower b.2015 (61.1%, OB Ichiro's Malt, Hogshead Mizunara Heads + New Barrel Hard Charred, C#1490+1683, 538b): nose: sweet, caramel-y, butterscotch-y, tablet-y. Mouth: it has the undeniably rounded elegance of a Japanese whisky, with caramel, custard cream biscuits and Bourbon cream. Finish: long, warming, with hot coulis and happiness. 8/10

The time has come. We set off, following the course of our yearly hike. Today, though, no hike: we stop on the beach. After seeing it last year, I was foolish enough to decide I would take part in the Loony Dook. We have met lots of people doubting, or, worse, daring me, which convinced me even more -- although I have to admit it feels like a dodgy idea as soon as we exit the bar: the road is slippery as an eel, covered in icy frost, and the temperature is around -1°C. But then, the sky is blue and the sun is shining. How could the conditions ever be better?

A big group is gathered on the beach, some with wet suits, some in bath robes, some with a drink in their hand, hinting at their not having been to sleep yet (it is almost midday).
The MC counts down, a piper starts playing, and it is off... to the sea! It is hard to explain how alive I feel, after what must have lasted fifteen seconds in total. Lots of giggling, searching for my towel, then the drying process starts. The sun is shining and it feels warm. My skin dries and it is comfortable. And then, as I hurry to dry up, I realise my feet are on damp sand, and my toes are completely numb. Numb to a point they have never been before. I do my best to move and friction them as I pass the towel, but with all the sand, it is too soon to put my socks on. Only once I have done that do they slowly come back to life.
I am so happy to have done this silliness! :-)

One of these muppets is yours, truly

Back at the hotel, I go for a shower to clean off the salt, JS goes for a nap. I join dom666 in the bar. To warm up, you understand.

Glen Mhor 21yo d.1976 (43%, Hart Brothers Finest Collection): nose: brine, capers, sardines, bread, bread crumbs, bread crust. It also has crackers (biscuits for cheese) and granola. Top nose, this. Mouth: soft, sweet, mildly briny, it even has black pepper. The texture is milky, whilst the taste is vaguely herbaceous, with a pinch of thyme and oregano, as well as a note of wood. Later on, marmalade comes out. It does not feel weak at 43%, even coming back to it after the next dram, which has a very high ABV. Finish: long, earthy, with bits of charcoal and, perhaps, a touch of smoke. Smokey marmalade, embers, capers, anchovies -- this is a tomato-less putanesca sauce! 8/10


Glen Mhor 17yo 1975/1992 (60.9%, Cadenhead Original Collection): an oddity at cask strength, when the Original Collection is usually bottled at 46%. Nose: Ah! It is from that period when Cadenhead were bottling whiskies with oddly-integrated alcohol. It has petrol, lamp oil, engine oil, ... is that fruit? Roasted apples, apricot stones, then dried orange rinds. Mouth: more fruit, here, but it is quite austere all the same -- apricot stone, flint, dried orange rinds, ground to a dust, acidic, not juicy. In fact, it is rather drying; but then, with an ABV such as this one, it is hardly unexpected. Finish: powerful, sooty. This is another old-school dram. It is not extremely outspoken, but pleasant, if one can muster up the resistance to the high strength. Marmalade develops, as does mixed peel. 8/10

Both Mhors are superb!

PT emerges from the depths and invites us all to a distillery tour -- JS has reappeared, by now. The distillery looks much more used than last year, and PT is his usual enthusiastic self to explain the process, which is great. He pours Longmorn 23yo 1969/1993 (61.2%, Gordon & MacPhail Cask, C#3271+5297) which is my favourite dram of the stay, so far. Unbelievable stuff that I rate 10/10.


This, now, ...works

The kit has been put to good use. Not shiny, any longer

A long wash

We are then treated to a dram of...

Dornoch New Make (unknown ABV, unreleased): nose: herbs and a little metal, such as old copper coins, sage, dried parsley and maybe kale. Behind that, glazed pears, coated in sugary syrup. Mouth: soft, it has custard, almond milk and squashed banana. Finish: big, with the promise of lots of fruit, almond paste, and light nut liqueur. I am not a fan of new makes, but this is promising alright. 7/10

And bowls of...

Mushroom soup
Cullen skink

PT bids good bye and leaves us at the bar.

Millburn 31yo 1974/2006 (52.3%, Cadenhead imported by Japan Imports System, Bourbon Hogshead, 246b): nose: balsamic vinegar, engine oil, olive oil, old wood, leather-bound books. A moment later, marmalade shows up and the nose dies on a whiff of a smokey workshop. Mouth: similar notes to the nose's, with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, books and engine fumes. This is complex and wonderful, as well as rather warm. Finsh: smokey, with burnt wood, crusty earth and caramelised marmalade on a roaring camp fire. How amazing is this? Totally my style, that is how amazing it is! 9/10


87.6 16yo 1983/2000 (57%, SMWS Society Cask): nose: the nose is pretty closed, and not much comes out -- even alcohol is muted. Very faint jams, marmalade, even, ashy hearths. At last, marzipan and baked apple struggle through the nasal canal. Is there a metallic note, too? Mouth: green chilli in custard, souped-up custard creams, a pinch of hawthorn or oregano, nigella seeds on marmalade, citrus chutney. This is intense, in the mouth. Finish: big, spicy (nigella seeds, dried chilli), vaguely musty. Dried leather, hay and hot marmalade, or caramelised apricot compote. Scary stuff! 8/10

Bowmore 25yo 1973/1998 (51.2%, Blackadder, C#3174): nose: quite tame, but it has some smoke and an underlying layer of squashed raspberry, as well as candied cranberries, blood-orange paste, tamarind paste and raspberry-scented marzipan. Oh-ho! Will this be the best dram of the stay? Mouth: gently smokey raspberry coulis, caramelised raspberry and cranberry jams. It is rather spicy, too; the alcohol bites a little. Finish: the raspberry madness continues, joined by lingonberry compote, stewed pears and the subtlest smoke. Fruit turns yellow and more exotic (tinned peaches), if not quite tropical. A splash of raspberry vinegar completes the picture. Phwoar! Dram of the stay for JS. 9/10

dom666 has Royal Lochnagar John Begg (unknown ABV, OB, b. late-1930s)... because he can. Only a dram left of it after our passage, hint-hint. It is still a great mix of fruit and yesteryear's soot. Wonderful drop. 9/10

Miltonduff 23yo d.1973 (43%, Hart Brothers Finest Collection): nose: extremely floral, it also has faded leather, drying grass, sunflowers and a hint of wet cardboard. Mouth: soft, light and flowery again, with a milky texture. Dandelion broth, lemon juice and baked salmon fillets. Finish: more flowery goodness, with sunflowers, dandelions, buttercups, lemon juice sprinkled on custard, flower petals, custard-cream biscuits, lemon juice, and even delicate smoke. The acidity and the bitterness compete in the background. 8/10

Welcome, 2018

JS goes for a short nap and joins us for the last drop of the following couple.

Glenturret 20yo 1978/1998 (53.8%, Signatory Vintage imported by V.E.L.I.E.R., C#356, 196b, b#176): nose: earthy fruit, strawberry bubblegum, peach nectar, strawberry turnovers, almond paste, mocha sponge cake. Another amazing nose! Mouth: meow. This has strawberry coulis, soft bubblegum, pink marshmallow (lards, for the French speakers), raw choux dough. This is sweet and fruity, really lovely, with a pinch of spices -- ground rose petals, cassiah bark, black pepper, paprika and cardamom powder. Finish: long, with a soft bitterness to it, it has more of that strawberry- or raspberry-bubblegum goodness, crushed rose petals, marinated cassiah bark and paprika. Fabulous dram! Unctuous, creamy, with just the right bitterness. Simply beautiful. 9/10

We are treated to live music by a couple with a guitar and a tambourine. They only play two songs. Unfortunately, one is by the Beatles, and I do not care for it.

Lochside 1981/2015 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail Rare Old, RO/15/07, 161b, AE/JBDI): this is for dom666, obviously; JS and I already know how good it is, since we had it two years ago. Nose: a touch of dusty books, then juicy mango, overripe peach, ground nutmeg and tree bark. Mouth: soft, fruity, peachy, creamy. Finish: an explosion of fruit, with creamy mango, banana, peach, overripe plum. Mostly yellow-flesh fruit. This is exceptional. Better than the first time, even. Dram of the stay, for me. 10/10

Food is served: it is the traditional day-three buffet with a baked salmon to die for as starter, then roast beef and gammon as mains. There are lots of accompaniments too, of course. No lamb, this year and, most annoyingly, no gratin dauphinois! :(


Oven-baked salmon and pasta salad

Roasted potatoes, parsnips, carrots, kale

Slicing the gammon

First serve

Second serve

The gammon is the donkey's bollocks, just like last year. The roasts are served with English mustard (eye-watering) or horseradish sauce (also rather hot). I chat at length with the cook, who recognises me from the previous years. I mention my morning adventure at sea to whoever cares to listen and am met with lots of admiration.

Looking back, it was the size of Cornwall
dom666 takes a slice of strawberry pavlova the size of his head, which amuses JS and me greatly. I am not too enthusiastic about the dessert myself (too much meringue) and complain that I should have gone for a third serving of the main instead. dom666 jokes that if I go for third after dessert, my legendary status here would be guaranteed until the end of times. I toy with the idea, but really, I am not hungry any longer. The food disappears before I can change my mind -- phew!

Back at the bar, the usual band of youths is playing folk music -- no accordionist, this year, but a flautist has joined. They get better and better as the years go and I like it a lot. It is a pity not many people stay to listen, though.

We have work to do at the same time.

Tamdhu 1971/2011 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail The MacPhail's Collection, AA/JDAD): nose: roast beef!? Yes. Pineapple juice sprinkled on char-grilled roast beef. The pineapple becomes louder as time passes. Mouth: powerful, surprisingly so, considering the ABV. High-octane pineapple, ginger, horseradish and meat juice, black tea and hot ginger. Finish: lots and lots of ginger, galangal shavings, cold black tea. This is bitter, drying and not exactly my thing. 6/10


Tamdhu 34yo 1969/2004 (40.2%, Duncan Taylor Peerless, C#7314, 253b, b#62): nose: waxy orange skins, pithy tangerine segments, discreet rosehip and then ginger rises. Orange rinds grow in intensity, over time, but the ginger remains. Mouth: this too is surprisingly hot for the low ABV. It has juicy peach, but then it is so smothered by ginger and galangal it is just too spicy. Unexpected. At second sip, it is less aggressive. In fact, it now feels weak and tired. Finish: warm, woody, gingery, galangal-y, with also lots of pepper, dried lemongrass and a pinch of ground coffee. 7/10

How disappointing, these two Tamdhus. dom666 blends the last drops of both together, and the result is better than the sum of its parts. The ginger is gone, leaving peach stones and a softer mouthfeel. Fruit and milk chocolate appear in the finish too.

Cannot win every time

Littlemill 12yo (54%, OB imported by F&G Bruino, b#0462): nose: wood, sawdust, ginger, galangal shavings. Crikey! Three in a row that are too spicy! Dust, shit in the loft... this is too woody, really. Dried orange peels turned blue and ground into a powder. With water, dusty oranges and gingery heat. Mouth: dusty and gingery here too, with a little more fruit (dried tangerine segments) and fierce horsepower. With water, orange shines more and the ginger is more controlled. It is still hot though. Finish: ridiculously hot and astringent, gingery, biting, poorly integrated and dusty. Water helps more fruit come through, as well as chocolate, but it does not make it much more to my taste. I suspect this is the sort of bottles that gave Littlemill a bad reputation for so long. It is simply not enjoyable, according to tOMoH's taste. 5/10

Glenglassaugh 22yo 1978/2000 (48.6%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection imported by Preiss Imports, Sherry Wood): nose: coffee, OXO, oxtail broth, miso paste. This is a sherried nose, without a doubt! Mouth: heavily sherried too, with peppermint, liquorice allsorts and black-lace liquorice sweets. Finish: coffee and liquorice, heavily sherried and heavily woody. A decent dram, though I expected more. This is not dissimilar to the bottling for TWE's 10th Anniversary. 7/10 (Thanks for the dram, NB)

The bar is now deserted, leaving the band to play for a minimal audience (us three and the staff). Enjoyable nonetheless.

Coleburn-Glenlivet 17yo 1978/1995 (62%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection): nose: austere, powerful Cadenhead offering, with horse's hair, faded leather, lots of alcohol, old hay bales. Pine-forest freshness too, which is counter-intuitive, when one sees the first notes. Ink and... ginger, yep! Later yet, ash comes to the fore. Mouth: hot, but better balanced than some of the previous. However, the gingery heat cranks up, with a touch of fruit in the back and the green leaves of leeks. Odd. Finish: huge, warming, disinfecting, with burning citrus peels and lemon-flavoured boiled sweets. 7/10

Am I super-sensitive to ginger and wood, after supper? It feels odd that I note so much of it in so many drams in a row.

Glen Albyn 29yo 1979/2008 (56.5%, The Whisky Shop Glenkeir Treasures Cask Strength Selection, 208b): nose: caramelised marmalade, roasted pears, baked apples, wood stove, charcoal, brine, burning fox skin. Much later on, hot custard pierces through too. Mouth: grape-y, very powerful, but balanced, with hot embers, stewed prunes, puffed-rice crackers, roasted honey toasts, apricot liqueur and hazelnut shells. Finish: huge, it has prunes, sultanas, Smyrna and lots of alcohol, ink, ground apricot stones, boiling apricot compote. This is great, but too powerful to score higher than 8/10

There. We did the Inveress triplets in one day. Again.

Port Ellen 1982/2003 (60.5%, Robert Scott Scott's Selection): nose: a car's exhaust, hot engine, refined-but-strong peat smoke. Much later on, it is minty sweets, then back to earth. Later yet, cockles, fishing nets and a camp fire on the beach. Mouth: sharp and hot, very hot, with red chilli, spicy mussels, curried cockles and charred wood. Finish: it has the burning heat that the nose suggested, lots of smoke, a distinct sweetness and then roasted barley, which I like less. Good dram. The roasted barley makes it lose a point. 8/10

JS has gone to bed. We realise that the lad at the bar has been waiting, in case dom666 and I were to order something else -- which we will not, of course. We happily relieve him of his duties and bid each other good night. The stay has come to an end. We seem to have made up for the premature closure of the bar, last night. Today was long and intense.