17 November 2017

16/11/2017 Whisky Squad -- High End

Several of the characters who regularly feature on these pages have told me about Whisky Squad and encouraged me to take part. The opportunity never presented itself -- or, to be honest, the themes never fully convinced me to make plans on a school night. This, however, is called High End. If anything will pull me out of the solace of my shadowy cave, it is the promise of golden decanters poured by supermodels into Swarowski tumblers, whilst the audience sits in platinum-plated Bentleys.

Amusingly enough, Cadenhead is hosting a shindig on the same night. The whole street is celebrating Christmas and how better than by pouring whisky to everyone? Representatives from Dalmore and Cotswold are present, the shopped is packed, the mood is merry. JS, EC, OF, cavalier66, jazzpianofingers, DW and others are there, happily trying whiskies and rums.

Around 19:00, JS and I take a leave with two more (N&C), since we are attending the Squad do at the Red Lion pub. That is the most common pub name in the whole country. Try locating it, ha!


The four of us are last to arrive and BA is about to start when we do. Yes, BA is the Whisky Squad.
Six Glencairns in front of each person, all will be tied blind. We are all encouraged to try the whisky toegether, then guess the ABV, the age, the provenance, the price tag. BA tells us the bottle prices range from £150 to £375. High End? We will see about that. ;-)

Dram #1: nose: perfume-y, with rose petals, dry earth and ivy leaves. The audience says Turkish delights, which I can understand. Mouth: fresh, if dry. The perfume has gone, leaving only dust and earth, perhaps gunpowder tea. Finish: drying tea leaves, green and black, gunpowder tea again. The perfume comes back too, discreetly. This is very good, elegant and delicate. The tea could be too much, but it is not. I guess the ABV right, everything else, we all get wrong. It is Aberfeldy 28yo b.2017 (40%, OB, First Fill Casks + Refill Hogsheads + Sherry Butts, b#ABZB02133, L152872 A805 2307) 8/10

Dram #2: nose: wine, fortified or not, and nuts. The back of the nose is a little spirit-y for me. Mouth: varnish-y, spirit-y, woody, with the decomposing carcass of a dead animal. I immediately think of Mortlach. Finish: spicy, mildly meaty, with coating corn syrup. Water pumps it up with nutty butter. This is not my thing. No-one guesses any detail accurately. BA explains it is a £150 Diageo blended malt containing produce from their twenty-eight active distilleries -- including Roseisle, which means this is 3 or 4yo: Roseisle started producing that recently. It is Collectivum XXVIII (57.3%, Diageo, Refill American Oak Hogsheads, Refill European Oak Casks, 3105434231) 6/10 (pushing it)

Dram #3: nose: ha! I come alive again! Extremely flowery and fruity, with honeysuckle, carambola, lychee, jasmine and physalis. Very beautiful. It seems to grow thicker and more suave, with squashed apricots and scented plasticine. Mouth: "cola," says my table mate. Flower petals, mango juice; this is perfectly balanced, elegant, fruity and rich, soft and well-mannered. Finish: fizzy, with lots and lots of lovely fruit. If BA had not given the price range, I would guess this is a 1960s Bowmore. In the circumstance, I am wonering if it is the Garden Festival decanter. Killer dram, in any case. BA seems delighted that JS and I like it so much. He bought the bottle recently, after long hesitations. He knew we would be there and that helped him decide, he says. True or not, it is nice to tell us that story. :-) I guess 45% and the highest price tonight (£375), which is the only thing remotely correct BA will get from the audience. It is Littlemill 1985/2013 (46%, GMP Rare Old, B#RO/13/02, 260b, AC/ADIA) 10/10

Dram #4: nose: sweet sherry influence, I say (PX or Oloroso). It moves on to give more fruit (blood oranges) and soap. It feels warm. With water, the nose becomes very fruity, with sweet lipstick. Mouth: sweet and fruity, it has figs, prunes... and a lot of power. Some suggest it could be Bourbon, but then it has no vanilla. Finish: sweet, with some mulled-wine spices and toasted milk buns. I had it one point higher, but it turns out to be rather tiring a profile. BA puts us all out of our misery and reveals it is the £180 Midleton Dair Ghaelach Grinsell's Wood Ballaghtobin Estate (57.9%, OB Virgin Irish Oak Collection, Finished in Virgin Native Irish Oak Hogshead, B#1, Tree #07, b#0754). BA is excited about the wooden plinth and its bottle spur. Click. He also mixes up blended and pot-still whiskeys; a quick word in private and he happily corrects his explanation to all, which is pretty elegant. 7/10

BA hints at things to come

Dram #5: nose: pine wood, the smoke from a fruit-stone fire, a whiff of ash, apricots, peaches. JS mentions the Dovr-Toutes-Mares Port Ellen from Dornoch and she is right: fruit and ash, akin to that stellar dram. Fruit-tree wood on a bonfire -- the smoke grows bolder. "Smells of what you get behind...  kebab fan," says one co-taster. Wax and plasticine are here too. Mouth: unripe-orange juice, served with caramelised, barbecued cutlets. This has a perfect balance, with wax and souped-up raspberries. Finish: a huge peat discharge, now. It opens up to reveal lots of fruit as well; juicy peaches and a drop of raspberry. Nice, perhaps a bit too peaty for me, tonight, yet awfully well made. BA reckons it is close to a Brora, while I think it is a 1992 Ardmore. It turns out I tried this last month and am unable to recognise it. It is in fact a £205 Inchmoan 1992/2017 (48.6%, OB Island Collection Vintage Release, Refill Bourbon Barrels), LB/166/17) 9/10

Dram #6: nose: smoke and biscuit (digestive biscuits or Custard Cream -- without the custard). A pine-wood fire, with some berries thrown into the flames. Mandarin segments, Kashmir curry (mango and almonds in a creamy sauce), squashed strawberries. Mouth: squashed berries here too, the tiniest veil of smoke, maybe, but it is really fruity, here, with also a hint of minty freshness. Finish: lovely fruit, with a distinguished cloak of smoke. Cracked black pepper appears once we are told what it is (suggestion, eh?), though nothing overpowering. This is ca £200 (down from £265) and, if we list the island whiskies that this could be, it is only BA's clue about the ABV that tips off the provenance. It is Talisker 25yo b.2013 (45.8%, OB, 5772b, b#0042) 8/10

Great session, pleasant, entertaining and it shook some of my prejudice too. Good night out.

30 October 2017

29/10/2017 Clearing the shelf #13

Tomatin 36yo (46%, OB, B#2, b.2016): nose: concentrated wax, with drops of peach juice thrown in for good measure. It does not take long for tropical fruits to emerge (mangoes, physalis), competing with crushed nuts (macadamia, Brazil, cashew). A whiff of wood polish is also present. It teasingly alternates between lively, tropical fruit and noble, exotic wood; neither is too loquacious, unfortunately. This one does not have the first batch's exuberance. Mouth: similarly taciturn, it has more fruits than wood, though it retains a certain gingery heat too. That aside, it is all juicy cherries, papayas, cut peaches, dried apricots and a drop of wood varnish. The texture is velvety and unctuous, and one could easily overlook the most minute "green" bitterness, on the middle of the tongue. Finish: pleasant, if somewhat discreet, it delivers apricots, peaches, perhaps papayas, but no mangoes. There is a dollop of custard and fluffy doughnut, as well as half a pinch of ground green pepper. This is very nice, yet it suffers from the comparison with its illustrious ancestor. 8/10

Lochside 22yo d.1981 (50%, Lombard Jewels of Scotland, b. ca 2003): nose: dead branches, forest floor, and a definite animal characteristic -- fox's skin, wet dogs, the cat's basket. Shortly thereafter, dry cork, dried red-wine stains and forest mushrooms, sizzling in butter. This is a most unusual Lochside 1981! Crushed nutshells, nut liqueurs, as well as raspberry vinegar... this is interesting and complex; just unexpected. I wonder what type of cask this was matured in. Mouth: soft and fruitier, with apple compote, flat peary (scratch that: it does turn fizzy), galangal shavings on a slice of pan-seared gammon. The texture is thick, coating and waxy, reminiscent of cork (the stopper, not the town in Ireland). Finish: smoke!??!? Yes, it definitely has smoke. After the first sip, it becomes clear that the nose also has smoked ham and scorched earth. Back to the finish, there are caramelised apples, roasted on an open log fire. A pan, in which mushrooms were shallow-fried, and which was deglazed with apple cider. The smoke becomes more and more assertive, funnily enough, and it is wood smoke, not another kind. Smoke and apple cider. Essentially, that is it. Not much of the expected tropical fruit to be found. They fleetingly appear, for a tenth of a second, long after swallowing, but it is hard not to put that down to autosuggestion. Regardless, it is a cracking dram. 8/10 (Thanks for the sample, PT)

Lochside 42yo 1964/2006 (47.7%, Robert Scott Scott's Selection): the single blend that started it all, so to speak. Nose: immediately, this is another beast, with lots of nail varnish, wax seals and an unmistakable fruitiness. Juicy peaches, mangoes, satsumas, a dose of pomelo, pink grapefruit and lime, perhaps unripe maracuja too. It even has a vague whiff of smoking wood chips, but nothing like the Lombard expression above. It is mostly yellow-fleshed, slightly tropical fruit and waxy fruit skins. Dunnage warehouse (in other words: lichen on staves and alcohol vapours), though not too bold. Mouth: milky texture, with the same waxy fruit from the nose. The citrus is much tamer (pink grapefruit and pomelo, mostly), the peaches are much less ripe. Wax seals are here, nail varnish (the grain influence, likely), and a very faint bitterness. The whole becomes creamier and creamier, not unlike lukewarm fruit yoghurt, or coconut cream. Finish: here, it is a cascade of buttery fruits -- mangoes, peaches, papayas, tinned pineapples in syrup, overripe satsuma slice. It is creamy as hell, and gorgeous. The mouthfeel after swallowing is that of avocado (but no the taste). A delicate note of persimmon-flavoured nail varnish shows up (if that does not exist yet, you read it here first!), ripe bananas and coconut cream. A great drop. All the same, I prefer it TWE's 46yo by a rather comfortable margin. We will have them back to back at some point in the future. Because we can. 9/10

27 October 2017

26/10/2017 Three Lowlanders

This could fit under "clearing the shelf," but since they form a cohesive whole...

Rare Ayrshire 35yo 1975/2010 (45.5%, Signatory Vintage Cask Strength Collection, Bourbon Barrel, C#553, 150b): I tried this a few years ago and liked it a lot. The circumstances were very different, though. Nose: candle wax, crayons and honey, primary-school glue (the white stuff in pots with a small, oar-shaped spoon), custard cream biscuits and milk chocolate. It even has a distant whiff of latte. A few minutes later, the glue becomes more heavy-duty (or heavier-duty; will the Grammar Police please send suggestions in the comments section), and it is joined by tame shoe polish. The biscuits are soon back, though. Doughnut batter. Coming back to it after the next dram, gentle incense is also to be found. Mouth: soft and mellow, it has more custard cream biscuits, doughnut batter, chocolate milk, almond milk. This is silky as silk. Not hugely complex in the mouth, but pleasant, it is. Finish: again, it is soft, milky, with a touch of chocolate, crushed almond, custard and raw doughnut batter, as well as late ashes from a spent incense stick. Agreeable and dangerously easy to drink. 8/10

Ladyburn 27yo 1973/2000 (50.4%, OB for the USA, Bourbon Cask, C#4467): first official Ladyburn on this blog. Strangely, official bottlings of this ill-regarded distillery are always expensive. Nose: it is stronger and that feels. Metal polish and powerful glue. It also has crushed herbs (gentian, bay, marjoram, maybe sage). This nose is much less welcoming than the Signatory's, yet it works for me. It might have some berries, but they are hidden behind the alcohol. Timid apricot compote ends up appearing, yet one has to look for it. Tree bark is here too, warm and dry. Much later, candle wax shows up. Mouth: milder than expected, it displays similar characteristics as the Signatory's -- raw doughnut batter, custard and bakery shenanigans, augmented with crushed herbs (the same as in the nose, with the sage more assertive) and a metallic edge (or is that the sage again?) The texture is milky and would be silkier, were it not for the metallic bitterness. I can see that metal bothering some (hi, SW!), not me: I like it. Finish: similar odd mixture of custard, pastry and crushed herbs. This is not very far from some grains' profile. The metal note lingers on and on, obfuscating fruit that is really too shy to be properly detectable. The finish then move to fish scales and sardines off a tin, and the blade used to gut them can still be tasted. This is one for metal fans only. If the hardest you like is Bon Jovi, avoid. Works for tOMoH. Less immediate pleasure, more cerebral. 8/10 (Thanks for the sample, Vit and RO)

Littlemill 22yo 1992/2014 (53.8%, Hunter Laing Old & Rare, Hogshead, C#HL 10882, 194b): nose: a little closed at first, it seems to make a promise of overripe, tropical fruits. It better deliver, now!... and it does! Jackfruit, mango, papaya, Chinese gooseberries are all there and have spent much time in the sun, as has that bowl of sangria, next to the fruit. It is not all, however: nail varnish is in the picture, and so are apricot turnovers. Mouth: warm and peppery, with the skin of the fruit from the nose, not so much the flesh, here. Powerful white pepper, a vague touch of wood (the wooden crates they sell six bottles of wine in). It is a bit of a let-down, compared to the nose, to be honest. Finish: this has a hefty dose of bitter wood (even thickly-lichen-covered staves), yet also a reminder of the tropical fruit from earlier -- jackfruit, papaya. Unfortunately, the wood is too loud and bitter to allow the fruit to shine and, therefore, the score is not higher than 8/10

That's a wrap!