9 January 2017

06/01/2017 CD's birthday bash at the SMWS

Dr. CD's birthday seems to be an annual recurrence. It also often coincides with the release of a new outturn. I cannot be bothered to complain.
PS is there, of course, and JS joins us too.

122.2 11yo 1992/2004 Almonds and bonfires (59.2%, SMWS Society Cask): it is no secret that CD is a big Croftengea fan, and his secret stash seems to be a bottomless pit full of the stuff. Again, I cannot be bothered to complain. Nose: starts out very ample and quite meaty, then, after five minutes, it turns all delicate! The others detect some smoke (the fools), whilst for me, it is prunes, milk chocolate, distant coffee, then apricot stones and the slightest hint of meat -- more marinated than cured. Water makes the nose even fruitier. Mouth: liqueur. Nut liqueur inside a chocolate praline. It has a velvety texture and a little tannins, like red wine, then chocolate milk. Woo! Water allows bolder white wine notes to surface. Finish: long, warming and full of chocolate, prunes, soaked in syrup, a touch of barbecued meat... Actually, it is fruity, with almost no smoke at all; red grapes and prunes in syrup. Water softens the finish, turning the whole into apricot turnovers with the tiniest hint of smoke. 8/10 (Thanks CD)

35.178 13yo d.2002 The dunnage bakehouse (58.3%, SMWS Society Single Cask, 1st Fill ex-Gin Hogshead, 294b): First gin cask that I know of. You read it here first, folks! Nose: odd, odd, odd! Juniper berries (no shit, Sherlock!), a bubbling mash tun, but a cold one. It soon gives away cut grass and orchard trees, aromatics, vulnerary plants, yeast. Someone in the room finds Marmite in it, which is unexpected -- that will be the yeast, I suppose. Mouth: close to gin, here; very fresh and juniper-y. This would not be out of place in a gin & tonic. It is, of course, more velvety and becomes richer, yet the toothpaste impression given by the gin remains. Finish: still heavily gin-influenced, with refreshing toothpaste, mint-chocolate ice cream and juniper berries. This is nice enough. Very original. PS and JS hate it, though. 8/10

11.32 8yo d.2008 Cirque de Saveur (61.6%, SMWS Society Single Cask, 1st Fill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 252b): the SMWS has not had an 11 for over five years. Excitement aplenty. Nose: perfume-y, then waxier and waxier, with lip gloss, then chicory and raspberry bubblegum. Even later, dead leaves and pastry show up, before it returns to waxy lipstick. Mouth: warm, with oaky ginger, sawdust, dried tree bark. It is acidic and, to be fair, a little stripping. Finish: hot, perhaps too much so, with green chilli and ginger powder. Nice fruit in the nose, while the rest is not as distinguished, yet. 7/10

7.160 23yo d.1993 Ending a perfect day (55.5%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 204b): nose: ginger, mango powder, green plants (kombava leaves, actually), sage. Not much of the trademark Longmorn fruitiness in there, is there? Mouth: although more fruit appears at this stage, it still does feel a bit green. Honey turns up, with plant bitterness. Finish: the action is here, with gentle pastry and hot custard. The finish is alright, yet I do not care for the nose and palate much. 6/10

Glenmorangie 10yo Cellar 13 (43%, OB, second edition, b.2001): nose: butterscotch and fruity bubblegum, then a pinch of wood spice, warm honeysuckle and custard. Mouth: it feels a bit watery, after the heavy-hitters, but still delivers a drop of fruit juice and gentle vanilla custard. Finish: warming, with manuka honey, hot custard, warm pastry dough. Lovely. The bottle shall be missed. 8/10 (Thanks JS)

66.94 11yo d.2005 Fire-roasted Sweet Potato (60.2%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 150b): nose: manure, thick mud, heavy clay, red meat, past the expiry date, smoke from burning hay. This burns the nostrils -- be careful. Mouth: creamy, muddy, it has baked clay vases, hot candles, drying decaying plants. Finish: big, bold, peaty, with barbecue smoke, burnt hay, then a hint of algae and tar. Dark fruit and nuts struggle to complete the picture -- Brazil nuts. 7/10 (Thanks KS)

Let us call it a session. It is almost closing time and I have not yet had supper. Carrying on would not be wise.
Happy birthday, CD!

8 January 2017

01/01/2017 NYD drams at Dornoch Castle

Last day here. Make it count. It is increasingly obvious we will not get to try everything we would like to, which means we have to select wisely.
adc insists she is whisky-ed out, though she is happy to drink the gin cocktails. JS and I soldier on, of course.

Scapa 1965/1988 (46%, Brae Dean Int The Sea imported by Moon Import, Hogshead, C#2879, 240b, b#091): it is not every day one tries an old Scapa, let alone one bottled by an independent. This is from a collection that has since become legendary too. Excitement everywhere. Nose: old bottle in full effect -- old books, vinegar, orange peels. It has a note of dunnage warehouse, though different to that of, say, Lochside -- less humidity, more drying lichen. Sawdust, dry cork and a vinegar that becomes rather invading, alongside gentle coffee. Later on, it turns more civilised, with honeysuckle and dill (JS). Mouth: mellow, honey-like. It retains the vinegar's acidity, as well as cedar branches, warm mead, slightly bitter, but mostly gentle. Banana bread dough is there too. Finish: long, gentle and elegant, with notes of honey, creamy custard, and still the lovely, dry dunnage warehouse touch. Delicate fruit crops up, slowly but surely, presented on wooden boards, vanilla custard, with a drop of dark-chocolate coulis. Wonderful. 9/10

Speyburn 1967/1988 (46%, Brae Dean Int The Sea imported by Moon Import, Hogshead, C#1198, 360b, b#319): really, I could make the same comment about this one! How many Speyburn have we tried, on this blog, until today? One. On two occasions, I will give you that. Nose: here too, the nose is very, very vinegary, almost sulphury. That will be dark-sherry vinegar, then. It turns vaguely animal, after a while, musky and warm. Sulphur takes off, with a box of unfresh eggs. Mouth: warm caramel, yet also vinegar, chocolate coulis, crushed raspberries, gherkins, black pepper (adc) and burnt wood (adc). Finish: the same, odd mix of chocolate and vinegar, gentle musk and gherkins. This is as strange as the 25yo OB, as interesting and as good. 8/10

Pouring Moon-shine

Glen Garioch 15yo b.2016 (59.6%, Three Rivers for Shinanoya Ginza 21st Anniversary, Bourbon Barrel, C#657, 207b, b#77): nose: buttery pastry, sweet shortbread, thick custard, unbaked banana bread (the dough), daffodils, lemon curd, maybe. Time makes it more perfume-y. Mouth: it feels gentle and flowery, at first, yet it quickly shifts gears to deliver spicy oak and gingery heat. It keeps the milky texture and hot-banana flavours, though now with lemongrass and galangal shavings! Finish: despite the high strength, this flows like custard, sweet, soft, warming and comforting. βανίλια, butterscotch, custard cream. Is this really a Glen Garioch? It tastes like a gentle Speysider to me! 8/10

This Western cardinal is following the birding tradition

Food time. Today's buffet has a selection of cold salads, which I carefully stay away from to concentrate on the hot goodies: honey-glazed roasted ham, roast beef, steamed veg' and the same killer gratin dauphinois they had last year. I don't even have dessert (cranachan or strawberry pavlova); instead I have a third serving of the above.

Just about enough

Need some liquid to wash down all that food goodness. Ooh! Here is the bar! Nice quink-y-dink.

Glen Scotia 12yo (54%, OB imported by F&G Bruino, b#0030, b.1980s): nose: old parchments, old ink, old ledgers, brine, old engines, a mechanic's workshop. This is austere! Whiffs of coal smoke come puffing out too. The sheer power becomes rather stripping. Pears emerge at some point, soon smothered by soot. In the end, thick honey wraps up the nose. Mouth: motor oil, an old toolbox with rusty tools, spilt petrol, screwdrivers. It is big, bold and difficult, untamed, ruthless, wild even, yet not childish. Finish: big and virile; picture Jeremy Clarkson wrestling the Stig, under the bonnet of an Aston Martin DB4GT. Or better, a fistfight to the Death between Staff Sgt. Max Fightmaster and Dr. Duncan Steel. Apricot compote, baked on a hot engine, slightly caramelised, then coal dust and hot wood shavings. This is incredible. So far from more modern, OB Glen Scotia. Maybe, it is closer to the SMWS offerings, yet with more of an industrial-revolution feel than peat. A great, if intimidatingly difficult dram. 9/10

Auk's Choir 34yo 1975/2009 (41.3%, Daily Dram for Bresser & Timmer and The Nectar, 97b): anagram experts will decipher the distillery easily. Nose: odd mix again -- juicy, yellow fruit and dust. Newspapers, hot off the press, copious amounts of ginger, toffee (adc), wet dust (adc), then more yellow fruits (plums, apricots) are joined by red ones (strawberries and blueberries). Mouth: hot peach pulp, kumquat. This becomes syrupy, then creamy, with honeysuckle, manuka honey, quince jelly. The whole is sprinkled with ground white pepper and ginger powder. Finish: soft and comforting, with tablet, custard, gentle cola. It sparkles on the tongue, whilst also anaesthetising it with lots of white pepper and ginger powder. Top dram. Lovely fruit with the right dose of spices. 9/10

adc calls it a night, but The T twins have another suggestion for JS and me:

Adelphi Liqueur (unknown ABV, Black & Ferguson, b.1930s): nose: amazingly coastal, with sea spray, brine, yet also thyme infusion, a thick cloak of dust and distant game (venison or pigeon). Coal dust rises to take over completely. Mouth: it goes all delicate in the mouth, with honeycomb, honeysuckle, vanilla custard, canary-melon juice and thick tapioca soup. This is creamy and grand, total craic! Finish: long, with an unbelievable balance of all things gentle (sweet custard) and austere (tools, engines, even gravel). Spectacularly good! Hot sand, lukewarm concrete, freshly poured, apple crumble -- my head is going to explode! I would never have chosen this over other bottles here, but I am very pleased someone pressed me into doing it! 10/10 (Thanks PT)

One last round.

We want your keys
Your bottles
And your motorcycle

87.2 13yo 1979/1992 (62.3%, SMWS Society Cask): Dornoch has two 87s available. Which other bar claim the same? The other one, we had last year, but this... Nose: boom indeed! Such power! Leather, melting chocolate, spent barbecue and gunpowder. Later on, it is farmyard scents, then green-grape marc. Mouth: ba-da-bing! Super powerful again, bold and austere; it has pickles, mustard seeds, gravel, wet stones in sea water, ginger, galangal, sawn teak. The growing power of it is impressive, menacing, even. This is a Wagner overture! Once past the sheer power, peppery grapes appear, morphing to become plum juice. Finish: long, powerful, spicy, wide and devastating. It quite simply strips the tongue naked and anaesthetised, leaving a feeling of having chewed on cork. 9/10

9.30 28yo 1972/2001 (56.6%, SMWS 18 Anniversary for Japan, 556b): nose: an immense sherry influence, here, with lots of moscovado sugar, oxtail broth, then fresh liquorice allsorts and peppermint. Mouth: stripping peppermint, wood varnish and paint thinner. This is a terrifying mouth, even so late in the game. Finish: a huge peppermint kick, sweet mint paste, dark chocolate (After Eight, innit) before dried, dark fruit starts shining (prunes, plums, dates, raisins). Cold meat (roast beef) and cold gravy are there too. I reckon this is a Pedro Ximénez cask, so sweet it is. 8/10

So much for the planned early night: it is past 2 o'cloch (typo intended). We thank the hosts and bid good bye. That would be ignoring the legendary Scottish hospitality, though: we will not be left to go to bed without trying one more thing.

Caol Ila 34yo 1982/2016 (60.1%, Cadenhead Small Batch, 2x Bourbon Hogsheads, 264b): just look at that ABV, ffs! Nose: ash, hay, farmyards and a touch of fruit, fishing nets with the day's catch in them. Next is stagnant water, anchovy paste, and vinegar, hot sand, sea spray... rrrrrhhhoooooooooooo! PT reckons it is the closest one gets to Port Ellen, these days, and I tend to agree. Mouth: as expected, this is also alarmingly strong, acidic and stripping, with fishing shenanigans (nets, boats, rod). Finish: long, warming, with a huge sea influence (clam chowder, shallow-fried scallops with the roe!), though it is not the cold North Sea, nor is it the deep Atlantic; it is too warming for that. Whelk, shrimps, crabs and bramble jam. Very nice. 8/10 (Thanks PT)

We finally hear how the SLTN Bowmore ended up here -- a story of a raffle, ages ago, lost bottles passed from generation to generation, a tale of debt and a resulting, pressing need for money, a middleman with a baby in tow and a rendez-vous on a dodgy parking lot in the Lowlands, involving flashy cars and suitcases full of money. It has a happy-ending too: we tried it yesterday. :-)

I end up hitting the sack at close to 3am, exhausted, dreading the day of travel tomorrow, sad to leave, yet so happy about the glorious weekend that is ending.

Memories of last year

6 January 2017

31/12/2016 NYE drams at Dornoch Castle

Today should be an interesting one. Certainly one that requires good pacing, in any case. And an early start, because there is a lot of work to be done!

Talisker d.1957 (70° PROOF, GMP, red screw cap): I am not usually a big Talisker fan, but I will gladly make an exception for such old juice. adc is a fan, so it is an easy choice. Nose: amazingly fruity -- ripe plums, overripe grapes, very ripe, very sweet conference pears. It also has a gentle, coastal character, akin to a log fire on a boat. Melon (cantaloupe or canary), crushed strawberry... Roar. Mouth: delicate, with soft fruits, yet also something bitter -- a hint of rubber, perhaps? Finish: similarly fruity, with a very delicate touch of rubber indeed, and black pepper. This finish is long and mellow, with lashes of strawberry bubblegum, extremely beautiful. Best Talisker I have had. Woo! 10/10

Good start. Next?

Bowmore 1969/1979 (56.2GL / 98.8° PROOF, OB imported by Fecchio & Frassà, Sherry Cask, C#322, 300b, b#28): hehehe. :-) This one sort of smiled at me last year already, but I thought it was a bit pricy and probably not close enough to my sort of profiles. I passed. With the level further down, it goes without saying this might be my last chance and I cannot miss it. Nose: dry earth, then soil, then mud, then wet sand. This is more coastal than I expected, to be honest. It soon smells of a smoky peat fire in a bothy. It goes back and forth between dry and wet earth and scents of a fishing port. Super complex, of course. Fruit joins the party -- blood oranges, green hazelnut shells. The fruit stays long enough to be noticed, not enough to be recognised fully -- a bit like a rare bird. It goes away, making room for fishing nets, mild coffee, melon skins and baking bread. Phwoar! Not half interesting, this! Mouth: earthy melon (whatever that is), white pepper (lots of it), acidic lemon -- this is both earthy and lemon-y, perfectly balanced, with a dash of melon juice. Finish: huge! Powerful, with the acidity of lemon juice, a few drops of peach nectar, pink grapefruit, pomelo, persimmon, ground coriander and bold pepper. Love this! 10/10

Even ST is a bit stunned at how rare this next one is
That will be hard to top... What is this?

Bowmore 30yo (51.4%, OB for 30th Anniversary of Scottish Licensed Trade News, b.1994, 3b): I do not know whether to laugh or cry. When whiskyfun tried this a couple of months ago, I was consumed with envy. Now I get to try it, I am both thrilled to sample it and phlabbergasted that I will never have a bottle of my own. Three bottles in existence, with one almost empty. It simply is not going to happen. Anyway. Nose: rhaaaaaaa! Those Bowmores! It has a gentle sherry influence (nuts, polished dashboards, furniture polish), but above all, the same amazing starfruit as in the 1964 Duthies for Corti Brothers we tried last year, in this very boutique. Further come faded leather, pressed apricots, decaying peaches, unripe mangoes (almost there), crushed walnut shells, then lychees, plums -- did I say 'phwoar,' yet? Let us recap: peach, carambola (or starfruit), pomelo -- pomelo indeed! The longer one waits, the fruitier it becomes. Passion fruit kicks in, late in the game. Ten hours later (who said, "get a life?"), it will still produce the crazy fruitiness. Mouth: pure pomelo juice, with no added sugar. This is so beautiful! Lime water with a creamy texture and a gentle, acidic edge. A tiny pinch of chilli powder, burnt wood? Yes! Finish: long and devastating, with more of that pomelo goodness, gentle lime and a good punch in the teeth. This moving Bowmore is not the most exuberantly fruity one (if you read this blog regularly, you will know which ones they are), yet it is quite high on the scale. Believe! 14/10

Can you spell W-I-N?

It seems clear we will not top that. Besides, the clock is ticking. Supper is calling.

The feast is slightly less copious than last year, though there remains more food than anyone could wish for -- six courses, you know. It is better, too, in tOMoH's opinion. Less fancy, maybe, but I like it more. It is also warmer, which is welcome. The seemingly smaller portions and the fact that there were fewer canapés during the apéritif also mean we are not completely stuffed by the time we reach the table, as was the case last year.

Ham hough and duck terrine, Seafood bisque, Mushroom salad, beef fillet, egg-custard tart, Scottish cheeses. Each of those has a more poetic name on the menu, but this is not a food blog.
Alright, see below.

Ham Hough and Confit Duck Leg Rolled Terrine
Served with bramble gel, crushed pistachio and bread tuile
Pan Seared Fillet of Halibut, King Scallops, Langostine (sic) and Steamed Cockles
Served in a rich shellfish bisque, samphire and wilted spinach
Sautéed (sic) Wild Mushroom, Chestnut and Glazed Green Beans
Served with rocket salad
Seared Fillet of Scottish Beef
Served with braised feather blade, smoked bone marrow, thyme fondant potatoes, scorched baby
onions, glazed chantenay carrots and white mushroom puree (sic)
Classic Egg Custard Tart
Served with blackberry gel, nutmeg and vanilla tuille (sic)

Selection of Scottish Cheeses
Served with Scottish oatcakes, homemade chutney, celery and frozen grapes

Our table neighbours are a couple from London who signed up for this nonsense at the last minute. He works for the company who designed the Master of Malt Web site, which amuses me enormously. It gave him an appreciation for whisky -- he tells me his favourite; I know exactly what he is having as a digestive, then.

ST brings a jar thus:
-This is the jus for the featherblade and marrow.
-What is it? asks our neighbour.
-Gravy, her husband replies.

Tomatin 20yo d.1976 (46%, Direct Wines Limited First Cask, C#27628, b#85): our table neighbour has this too, as per my recommendation. Nose: delicate pastry, fruit turnover. The fruit becomes quite exotic (lychee), with warm custard and gorse, quite close to an egg-custard tart. Mouth: caramel-y fruit juice, with crushed prunes, squashed berries, walnut oil, walnut cream -- wow! Finish: more fruity debauchery, with pressed prunes, berries aplenty (blackberries, gooseberries, brambles), walnut oil. It might not be overly complex, yet it is very pleasant, perfectly balanced. It opens up to unleash more fruit (peach and walnut cream). Love it. 9/10

Our table neighbours leave at this point, which surprises us. Still over an hour to midnight.

Slaney Malt 23yo 1991/2015 (48.3%, Adelphi Limerick Selection, C#10694, 204b): since we are stuck in fruit extravaganza, this seems like a good candidate. Nose: bold, fruity and herbaceous, with polished mahogany tables. Hours into it, it unleashes bursts of tropical fruit (mango, avocado, jackfruit) and a pinch of aromatics (sage, mostly). This reminds me of a newly-opened bottle of 117.3. Mouth: ripe fruit, with peach, mango, papaya, jackfruit. The texture is that of peachy yogurt -- with chunks. Finish: boom! Tropical fruit galore again; a mango explosion with a dash of rubber in the back, vanilla and coconut cream. Magical Irish. 9/10

Time to venture out for the street party. Lone piper, fireworks, Auld Lang Syne, whisky and what not -- it is as cliché as it is enjoyable, despite the distracting drone hovering about. The hotel staff is all merry, and joins in on the fun. I pour Glenmorangie Cellar 13 second edition to everyone and their mothers, which seems to be appreciated. ST cracks me up when he guesses it is an old-school dram, pre-mid-1970s distillation, probably 1960s. :-)
Somehow, we manage to completely miss the pop-up gin bar. adc is disappointed, but really, I am here for the W.

Back from the cold of the Northern streets, we need something to warm us up. adc is too tired to take another dram, while JS and I volunteer to fill in for her. It does not take long before we receive mystery drams, selected by the T twins.

Also soup and haggis cake, because if there is one thing
we need now, it is more food!

Mystery Dram #1: nose: old school, with salty water, brine, white spirit, turpentine. Thirty seconds later, it sparkles like a Piemonte spumante. Newly-picked apples wrapped in newspaper. Later, still, overly-sweet shortbread and vaguely fruity bubblegum kick in. The fruit grows, before it is overtaken by natural gas and volcanic stones. Mouth: sparkly, chalky, effervescent. It has limescale, and lemon juice poured over it. The second sip is more welcoming, with orange marmalade and berries. Finish: long, bold, chalky and fresh. This has "old school" written all over it; coal, burnt wood, spent matches, crushed strawberries and raspberries. I reckon it was distilled before the mid-1960s, probably coal-fired still. We are not told what it is, but it is wonderful. 10/10 (Thanks ST)

Mystery Dram #2: nose: austere, with old books and brine, old medicine, bandages, old engines, then ripe fruit, then leather saddles. Plasticine, clay figurines -- this will not stay put for a minute! Coal smoke grows in intensity to become quite strong in a yesteryear fashion. Mouth: it feels old school here too, with more old books, dusty newspapers, the brine and orange juice from the nose. A brown-label GMP, maybe? It is spicy (pepper), not aggressive. Finish: vibrant, yet also dignified. Old cardboard boxes containing brass candelabra, sepia-ed parchment, a smokey coal stove -- the smoke gets bigger as time passes too, industrial-revolution style. This is an old man's whisky. Another one that will remain a mystery, unfortunately. I love it. 9/10 (Thanks ST)

Mystery Dram #3: they always come in threes, do they not? Nose: meaty barbecue, nail varnish. Soon after that, it morphs into a dark-chocolate tart, sticky toffee pudding. The meat comes back in a jiffy, marinated in red-wine sauce, then served with a thick cranberry sauce. Mouth: another ancient one, this, with a mix of brine, pickled gherkins, old books, leather-bound, of course, coal dust, anthracite and marinated meat. Finish: similar, combined notes of coal dust and smoke, red meat, red wine, fortified wine, even, and thick cranberry compote. This is good. I should have guessed that it is a Macallan, since it is what PT gave me last year to celebrate the new year. This is not the same, though: Macallan 37yo d.1940 (43°GL, GMP imported by Pinerolo, Sherry Wood). 8/10 (Thanks PT)

What a day! We finished 2016 as we started it and started 2017 as we mean to go on.