27 June 2012

26/06/2012 Holiday after-party at the SMWS

Back from a trip near the W source (see here) and with a co-taster in town, a visit to the SMWS was necessary.

The suspects: JS, dom666 and myself.

The menu:

30.71 14yo 1997 Burnt crumpet and Highland Toffee (57.5%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Sherry Gorda, 756b) (me): no inspiration, so I go with staff recommendation. Nose: coffee, touch of vanilla, butterscotch, quite a bit of sulphur (rotten eggs and all), then a little rubber. Mouth: Sweet. Overly sugared coffee with sherry bitterness. Finish: liqueur pralines, cake, cough syrup. This is ok. Too much on the sherry tip, though. 6/10

39.78 27yo 1982 Welcome wake-up call (55.1%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 232b) (dom666): nose: nuts, almonds, leather. Mouth: wood, some herbs (?), distant mint. Finish: Some vanilla, wood, fern. Good dram.

73.49 9yo 2002 Ice-cream sundae (58.9%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 176b) (JS): nose: very sugary, caramel, overly ripe banana shake. Mouth: sweet and creamy, a slight hint of musk, nearly sparkling. Finish: vanilla, sweet and nice. The only downside is it leaves the tongue very dry.

A "forgotten" malt: someone ordered drinks while I was at the bar and left one behind, right next to mine. I took the wrong one. When I realised, I went back to the bar to take mine and give the wrong one back. No one to be seen anymore. Easy to guess how it ended. Nose: butterscotch, leather. Mouth: More sweetness a la 30.71. Finish: sweet, sweet, sweet. Cough syrup, crème brûlée. Too sweet for me.

105.19 28yo 1983 A dram for Santa (55.1%, SMWS Society Single Cask, ex-Sherry Hogshead, 315b) (dom666): a favourite of mine and I want to convert dom666 to this distillery (or bottling, at least). Nose: ash. Ashtray, in the back. Not in a Kilchoman-new-make way, though -- all in subtlety. Mouth: cherry waffle assault with some vague ash remnants. With water, creamier, pharmaceutical and a little less cherried -- more chocolatey. Finish: round, fruity, berries, more floral than before (dom666). Simply fantastic. With water, more chocolate and cherry coulis than full-on cherry waffle, toffee. dom666 buys a bottle. Yay! :-) 9/10

25.62 20yo 1991 Classy and attractive (54%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 205b) (dom666): another auld acquaintance. Nose: marmalade, rose water, various bakery enhancers, bubblegum. Mouth: jammy, orange. Finish: Seville orange bitterness with some wood, very long. This remains a fantastic dram. Happy to have a couple of bottles at home.

106.18 27yo 1985 Bottled essence of summer (52.6%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 197b) (me): a rare sight, this distillery. Nose: alcohol! Some wood, varnish, diffuse pipe tobacco, sea-related shenanigans, then frangipane. With water: jammier, and a distant touch of cedar wood. Mouth: it stings, though it is tolerable. Quite creamy, interestingly enough, honeyed. With water: thinner, now. Better alcohol balance, but better without water, probably. Finish: long, silky smooth, milk chocolate, lemon, after a while. Very good, this! Pity there is none for sale, as it is a rare distillery. The alcohol is not extremely well integrated in the finish, hence it loses a point. 8/10

77.26 23yo 1987 A foodie dram (55.6%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 246b) (JS): nose: sawdust, varnish, torrefied or freshly ground coffee. Mouth: drying, spicy (pepper), resinous. Finish: fiery pepper with more sawdust. Another nice one, this. Could not drink litres of it, though.

71.34 13yo 1998/2011 Rabbit, ginger & treacle tart (56.8%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Sherry Gorda, 830b): nose: thick soup and sulphur, game casserole. Mouth: invading beef stew, more than rabbit pot, this time. Finish: more stew, dark OXO broth, bordering on dessert, after a while. Still no ginger, but well. :-)

With that, we had fish & chips (JS), steak & ale pie (dom666) and veg' cannelloni (myself). Gutted it is not the blue cheese cannelloni any longer, but it was good all the same.

A fine evening, as usual. The staff was coming back from a "team-building" trip to Islay and were in jolly mood. I had a lukewarm argument with one about closed distilleries; he claimed it is a waste of time, as there are enough working distilleries to cater for all tastes, that they were closed for a good reason (namely: their output was bad, according to him) and people are only interested in them because of the names, so they can tick boxes. He reckoned one could spend a lifetime exploring the SMWS expressions of Laphroaig and never get bored, so why bother with closed ones?
Although the point is valid to some extent, I could not just sit there without reacting. Quite foolish, as that time was pretty much wasted. Oh, well. :-)

16 June 2012

14/06/2012 Grain tasting with Dave Broom at the SMWS

Does it not look like the best way to celebrate anything? Yes, it does!
First organised tasting at the Society for JS and I. It starts late, because the room is not ready on time, but JS is late too, so it is actually not that bad. Another couple of people get the cake, though: they show up 30 minutes after it has started.

Anyway, the menu:

G2 16yo 1989/2006 (65%, SMWS Society Cask, 164b): Interesting one, this. It is the same distillery as G1; at first, the society never thought they would bottle grain on a regular basis, so they gave the first couple of bottlings numbers in the same way they do fo Rums and Armagnacs, i.e. no reference to the distillery. Then came a second distillery and they had a hard time differentiating them. So, G1, G2, G1.3 are North British, G2.1 is Carsebridge, G3.1 is Caledonian and so on. To the point: nose: oak! That is woody! Varnish, lacquer (including hair lacquer), banana after a while (and since Dave is from Glasgow, it has got to be fried banana; I agree, though), fudge (really? Alright, Dave), a little touch of wood (It is full of it!!) Mouth: wood! 65% take their toll too. Wood fire. Finish: cedar wood, pine tree. The incarnation of wood juice to me. Pretty good, but not exactly subtle. Licking a plank, innit.
This one, we are told, is made from maize, which is quite interesting. There is also a small percentage of malted barley -- for the enzymes, so they remove the starch. Yep, we are treated to crazy information and anecdotes.

G7.3 27yo 1984 Fresh toffee and glossy magazines (59.4%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 234b): wheat whisky, this one. Nose: flowery (heather, pot-pourri), but still lots of wood. Mouth: creamy, peppery; with water, pepper and wood become quite fiery. Finish: spicy and fresh. Mint, menthol? Pepper, nutmeg, also some fruit, though I never find out which one. A bit disappointed with this one: it is a great dram, but we have tried it before.

Supper pause: steak and ale pie.
'Do we have vegetarians in the room?' A few arms are raised. 'We have something for you too...'
'An ale!' says Broom. :-)

G4.1 29yo 1979/2008 (53%, SMWS Society Cask, 236b): wheat again. Nose: a whole lot of wood again, with a lovely bit of caramel, candied fruit and glue. Mouth: coffee first, then glue. Finish: coffee bitterness, then truckloads of white pepper. Pretty good, this. Cannot say if I prefer it to my own DT 25yo Cameron Bridge, but it certainly is nice.

G5.5 18yo 1993 Rich, sweet and comforting (65.4, SMWS Society Single Cask, Hogshead, 243b): another wheat one. Nose: dunnage, wood, cellar and bonded warehouse, lichen, vanilla, toffee, butterscotch, aaaaaaaaahhhhh! Mouth: pepper (it is a peppery day, is it not?), butterscotch, potent. Finish: liqueur praline, vanilla, caramel, Grand Marnier, crème brûlée (spot on, Dave). Another disappointment (sort of), since I have it. Top dram nonetheless and actually dram of the day for 75% of the audience. Relieved to have a bottle, after all, as it is sold out. JS notes that G5.5 is almost 65.5 ABV, which makes me laugh a lot.

Nikka Coffey Grain 12yo 70th Anniversary (58%, OB): this one is served blind. A few wild guesses included Loch Lomond and Lochside (that was mine, based on the shape of the bottle, similar to a recent release of Lochside grain). Nose: coffee (or should I spell it Coffey? oh-oh-oh), sugar, maple syrup. Mouth: pepper, salt, coating. Finish: chocolate, brown sugar, coffee, melon (says my neighbour), fruitiness (JS). Everyone raves about this one. It is good, but not my favourite. I think I preferred other Coffey Grains.

The party then slowly fades away. The late couple leave their glasses nearly untouched. I feel forced to finish G5.5, which is a very stupid mistake. It is now sold out, though, and a friend would like a bottle. I cannot decently tell him we left two drams of it behind. Note to self: next time, bring a flask or empty samples.

I manage to exchange a few words with our captivating host about those short-lived malt distilleries that saw the light of day within grain plants. PS joins us and ends up offering a dram of the following -- he had donated it for the tasting, but there were enough bottles as it were.

G3.1 29yo 1978/2008 Hours of Entertainment (60.1%, SMWS Society Cask): first Caledonian, I think, and the only reason I bother: by this time, my brain is not working properly (or at all, really), and the notes I manage to take are thin. I find pepper in the mouth and vanilla in the finish. A wasted dram, yet thanks to PS for his recurrent generosity. Double checking my list, I realise I have had it before. Oh well. :-)

Mixed feelings about this tasting. The selection was half-disappointing: two recent bottlings we have tried, including one I own; I was hoping for more non-Society bottlings (what was I thinking, eh?) and rarer distilleries; and the food, although good, was way insufficient to tamper the crazy alcohol levels.
Having said that, it was great to get a chance to try G2 and the others, of course, but what made the event worthwhile is the host. Second tasting with Dave Broom and he is a star. Passionate, knowledgeable, kind, funny as hell and down-to-earth. A great pleasure. A few selected pieces:

'Malt producers said, "It's not good, that's not whisky. We should know, because we've made it for a long time." The Irish said the same. With an Irish accent.'

'Will they normally have only one grain in a blend?
-No, they won't! Fantastic! Glad I asked you!'

'Girvan. It's a bit like Listerine. In fact, those who've been to Girvan will know that's what happens.'

'Maybe it's a Scottish thing -- if it's not fried, it's sweet.'

'Leather, new leather characteristics -- like a Scot's wallet. It's rarely been used.'

'What's it like with water?
-Add water and find out!'

7 June 2012

03/06/2012 Penderyn Distillery

While visiting a family member in Wales, it seemed logical to stop by the one Welsh distillery. Or, to be honest, looking for an excuse to visit the one Welsh distillery, it was convenient to be able to visit a family member. Ha!

The suspects: FN, adc, JS and myself.

The distillery is quite a drive away and one needs a car to reach it. It is dead easy to find, though.
They are open every day, including Sundays and bank holidays, yet booking is essential: three tours a day; ours was packed. Never saw that many people during a distillery visit. Perhaps the bank holiday effect? While waiting for the tour to start, people who had not booked were told they could not tour that day, as everything was sold out.

The complex is tiny. To a point I wonder if they mature on site. No waiting room or cafeteria -- only the shop and a small reception space.

The tour starts in a room full of panels telling about the history and geology, as well as whisky-related memorabilia: jugs, bottles etc. One spends only ten minutes in there, which is insufficient to read through everything, unfortunately.

After that one, the group is lead to the main room: a corridor defined by a wall of casks on one side and several windows on the other. Each window opens to a part of the distillation process (wash charger, still, safe, bottling plant). What it means is one only sees the process from behind the glass. The good point is that pictures are allowed throughout.

The process itself is best left for a specialist to describe. It is interesting in that a) Penderyn do not mash themselves: they get their wash from a brewery in Cardiff; b) the spirit is distilled only once; c) the still is very particular in shape, is split in two parts (fragmented column) because taller buildings are forbidden in the area and contains pierced plates in the neck.
I think it looks more like a Lomond still than anything else. I ask about similarities and try to find out how well this one would abide by the SWA regulations, but am met with incomprehension. All the same, it is almost certain Penderyn would not be granted the Scotch Whisky label, were it produced in Scotland.

After the production line, the group is taken to a corner where they can smell the different notes in the spirit: cask (Bourbon from Buffalo Trace and Madeira), various aromatic herbs and spices. There is also a short introduction about gin and vodka, both produced by the same company, though neither on the same site.

The visit ends on a bottle from the Frongoch distillery that operated in Wales between 1889 and 1903. Most interesting to this collector, naturally. There is an awkward moment when the guide calls for offers and someone bids 200£. A private collector apparently offered 250k£ for this bottle, which is believed to be the sole in existence. Another *might* be concealed in Prince Charles's private cellar, though it is unconfirmed.

Then comes the tasting. The bar is a lot larger than the corridor used during the visit. Nicely organised it is too, with stools, tables and even chairs: one is comfortably seated to sip their two-drams-each in peace. There are four different bottlings to choose from, which are easily shared between the four of us.

Penderyn Madeira (46%, OB, b. ca 2012): this is really their regular expression, uniquely enough. Nose: a little citrusey, toffee. Mouth: some sting for a reduced whisky! Orange rinds. Finish: more similar to 128.3: clogged sink, then toffee and dark chocolate. 7/10

Penderyn Portwood (41%, OB, b. ca 2012): a recent addition that gets adc quite excited. Nose: off-putting at first. Vinegar? It makes room for butterscotch and hay. Mouth: refreshing like a fruit bowl. Finish: vanilla and a bit of mint. 8/10

Penderyn Sherrywood (46%, OB, b. ca 2012): nose: smoked meat with a hint of toothpaste. Mouth: creamy with that sherry touch. Finish: chocolate again, cocoa milk. Very good. 7/10

Penderyn Peated (46%, OB, b. ca 2012): interestingly, they do not use peated malt; they do not have peat and do not wash themselves, so it would make no sense. Instead, they mature the whisky in casks from Islay distilleries. To balance it out, they then blend that with some regular Penderyn matured in Buffalo Trace bourbon casks. Nose: peat smoke (no kidding!), rubber. Mouth: a little sting and cream. Finish: light smoke and smoked ham. Quite nice, in fact. 7/10

Since we ask questions, stay longer and generally show some interest and knowledge (ahem), the guide treats us to a few extra drams: we can taste the Madeira at room temperature, with a few pearls of water ('because I don't add water to my whisky,' he says) and in a warm glass. The differences are interesting, though they are not unexpected at all from our part. However, he has something else in stock for us:

Penderyn Sherrywood Limited Edition (50%, OB, C#546): nose: varnish, wood. Mouth: more dried wood. Finish: very long, on dark chocolate and mocha. Lovely indeed. 7/10

We are told Penderyn does not sell casks any longer. They did a few times in the beginning to get funding, but stopped doing so. Nothing goes to blenders, then. I ask more about it, since we copiously indulge in 128.3 during this trip, but again, I am met with incomprehension: the guide thinks I am talking about an official single cask. Since we do not carry the bottle with us to show him (nor a hip flask, at this point), I do not insist.

We are kindly pushed towards the exit around 12:30 to make room for the 13:00 group.

Nice enough visit. A little too crowded for me and, to be honest, a comment John MacLellan gave at Bunnahabhain comes to mind, 'We are a distillery that welcomes visitors, not a tourist office that happens to make whisky.' This one seems quite the opposite. But then it is new and needs both the money and the publicity, I suppose.

It seems fitting to describe the following, which we drink again later in the day:

128.3 5yo 2006 Chestnut Puree And New Hiking Boots (61.3%, SMWS Society Cask, ex-Bourbon Barrel, 229b): nose: some wood, vanilla and a little toffee. Mouth: powerful, at 61.3%. More wood and some citrus. Finish: still that clogged sink feel, then toffee and chocolate. When I take off my hiking boots that evening, I notice the exact same clogged sink impression. The label was right, then, although my boots are not new. Too much information? ;-P

1 June 2012

31/05/2012 Supper at Boisdale

Boisdale and its impressive whisky selection (around 500) seem like a good place to go to end May in beauty. adc, JS and myself go for supper... and a few drams.

Littlemill 20yo 1990/2010 (54.3%, The Nectar of the Daily Drams) (myself): nose hay, vanilla, dried, aromatic herbs. Mouth: quite some sting in there! A fleeting taste of passion fruit (w00t!), pepper. Finish: long, with vanilla and passion fruit. It gives way to fiery pepper, then returns to passion fruit. Cannot go wrong with that! Interesting and unexpected dram from Littlemill.

Linlithgow 29yo 1975/2004 (46%, MMcD Mission IV, 600b) (JS): nose: candied apple (JS), leather and herbs, handbags, driving gloves, soft loafers (worn once, for good measure, ha!) Mouth: light and easy, with vanilla and a little wood. Finish: dominant white pepper along with some wood shenanigans. Nice dram, but not radical enough to change my prejudice against Murray McDavid.

Ayrshire 35yo 1975/2010 (45.5%, SV Cask Strength Collection, Bourbon Barrel, C#553, 150b) (adc): the nose is discrete, yet becomes a lot more assertive after a little opening time. Herbs again, flowers (violets), with some lovely marzipan in the back. Plastic toys too -- doll head, to be accurate (JS). A lot later on, some aniseed and liquorice show up in the distance. Mouth: vanilla, almond paste, butterscotch. Finish: more vanilla, almond powder, then some bitterness (let us say it is the violets' stems), clover. Nice and interesting, but cask 558 remains my favourite, so far. 8/10

Johnnie Walker 12yo Black Label (40%, John Walker, b. ca 2012): that's right. I go to the bar for some geeky conversation and go home with a shot of JWB, courtesy of the bartender. Nose: bit of leather, wet dog or musk and distant smoke. Not very appealing. Mouth: bland, thin, even watery. Cheap leather sofa. Finish: rather short and uninteresting. Not disgusting; simply not worth drinking, in my not-humble-at-all opinion. Seems like a recipe for a headache as well, to be honest.

Time for food: superfood chopped salad and fish pie for JS, Orkney herring and haggis for adc, mackerell and salmon for me.

BenRiach 42yo 1966/2008 (43.9%, SV Cask Strength Collection, Hogshead, C#1019, 175b) (myself): been willing to try this one for a while, so it is nice to have a chance. Nose: citrus (the anticipated grapefruit?), flowers, meadows, some vanilla, shower gel, hint of shoe polish in the back, beeswax, salicornia (adc). Mouth: fruity and stringent. Grapefruit again, though not overpowering as in C#2712 we drank last year, apple compote. Finish: long, long, long and refreshing. Actually quite delightful. Not as much a fruit bomb as expected; in fact, it is a whole lot woodier. Great drink all the same and dram of the day for me. 9/10

Glenury Royal 37yo 1973/2010 (42.1%, TWA, ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 187b) (adc): nose: orange rinds, kumquat (adc), a little bit of wax, then some burnt rubber before turning to orange blossom water. adc finds Praderadego hay in it (how precise can one be!), burnt wood and kalamansi in the background. Mouth: orange, faint hay, Mandarine Napoléon. Finish: orange, orange rind, boiled oranges, Seville marmalade, perhaps mixed with other citrus -- but you get the picture. Not as complex (or refined, according to adc) as the 29yo RMS, but a lot fruitier and an all-round cracking dram, this. 9/10

Rosebank 15yo (50%, OB for Zenith Import, Ceramic decanter, b.1980s) (JS): yup, another one that begged to be tasted. Nose: lots of herbs and flint with a good dose of spent matches. Mouth: quite refreshing, maybe some fruit (apricot jam) and flint again. Strange, in a good way. Finish: long, neverending, oscillating between flint/spent matches and jam to finally linger on the former. Animal, according to jenny, who calls it a Rosebanklish. Perhaps the excitement and anticipation were not justified (this is as unsexy and out of fashion as the 1970s could come up with), yet this is a wonderful dram. 8/10

Glenfiddich 15yo (40%, OB, b. ca 2012): being asked if we wanted vouchers for a 'fiddich 15 (apparently, we were entitled to it for some reason), we said, 'why not?' and made sure they were vouchers for later, not another drink for today. All the same, we got three double drams of it, which were as welcome as a pubic hair in the soup, after the above line-up. No way we were leaving them untouched, though: wasting is against my principles. Nose: nutty and orangy. Not blinding, especially at this point. Mouth: nice and smooth, with some orange again and wax. Wonder if this one came out of a Solera. Finish: nuts and wax, now. A lot better than what I remember the 12 being like and, objectively, a decent dram.

An unfortunately spoilt night: the food was good and the drams were noteworthy; however, I cannot honestly recommend the place. Without going into too much detail, the prices are on the higher end of the spectrum (as one would expect), but the service is worse than a greasy chip shop's. A recurrent flaw in that chain of establishments. The barman is nice, though -- and knowledgeable enough.