7 May 2015

06/05/2015 Whisky and chocolate at Cadenhead's

Cadenhead's is hosting a chocolate-and-whisky-pairing evening at their shop. It was a bit of a headache, I understand, since the tasting room is in the shop's basement and said basement was flooded three times over the last few weeks -- the last two times taking place in the same week. The culprit? The infamous non-flushable, "flushable" wet wipe, of course. I am told fifteen metres of pipes were clogged with the bugger. Cannot understand how this environmental disaster (the wet wipe does not dissolve) is still legal.

Anyway, ignoring the shitbomb we all avoided (literally), the plan is to try old whiskies and pair them with artisan chocolate. Being from Huy, the Old Man has generally high expectations, when it comes to chocolate. However, this is not a chocolate blog, nor will it become one. Consequently, the only notes you will find below are about the whiskies -- and then they are sometimes thin, seeing the pace. The chocolates were good, particularly the salted caramel and the 62% dark ones.

The twelve-strong attendance is made of regular customers and hardcore whisky geeks. I finally meet BC from Ben's Whisky Blog. This will not be a discovery tasting, that is certain! We determine the order more or less at random, since we do not know in advance what we are tasting.

Tomintoul-Glenlivet 28yo 1995/2014 (48.9%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection, Bourbon Barrel, 198b): nose: pineapple, citrus peel, undergrowth flowers, very fresh and lively. Mouth: crisp, fresh and citrus-y, with lashes of crushed mint leaves. It feels rather drying, with chocolate notes -- probably the wood influence. Other than that, the alcohol is perfectly integrated. Finish: a weird note of grassy chocolate and daisies. Water does not change it much. Glad to try this, as it has been looking at me from the shelves for a while. I was probably hoping for better, though. 7/10

Tormore 30yo 1984/2015 (55.8%, Cadenhead Small Batch, Bourbon Barrels, 432b): this one I have had before and liked. Excited to try it in better conditions. Nose: much deeper nose than the Tomintoul, with a distinct blood-orange sweetness and an odd note of oilcloth fabric. It brings me back to a particular smell at my grandmother's, one of her sewing boxes, if I remember correctly. Why it smelt of oilcloth fabric, I do not know. Back to the topic: mango skins. This nose is a very unusual blend of fruit and plastic. Mouth: velvety and orange-y with a hint of green pepper. Lovely, this! Water makes it sparkly, not unlike cider (BC). Finish: woah! A generous sprinkle of green pepper on a bowl of milk-chocolate mousse (I know, that is wrong, isn't it?) Wonderful dram. 8/10

Glentauchers-Glenlivet 38yo 1976/2015 (50.8%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection, Bourbon Hogshead, 210b): another one I previously tried in a tiny plastic cup. Nose: lots of metal and herbs -- gunmetal, thyme, rosemary, oregano, tarragon. Lovely and complex with even a note of bacon in the back. And everyone knows bacon is the magic ingredient that makes anything better. Mouth: a different game, now, with unripe pears. Have to rush it down, as I am behind, unfortunately. Finish: milk chocolate and more herbs, tarragon dominating the lot. Best Glentauchers I have had, which, of course, does not say much. 8/10

Glenburgie-Glenlivet 29yo 1985/2014 (55.3%, Cadenhead Single Cask, Bourbon Hogshead, 222b): nose: hints of dust, cocoa powder and lots of varnish alongside dried orange peels. Mouth: very concentrated fruit juice (orange and pineapple), white pepper. My co-tasters spell it out for me: it is mandarin, not orange. Finish: more mandarin and the bitterness associated with its white pith. It is not too ripe a mandarin, you see. Beautiful. This is everyone's favourite, so far. 8/10

Clynelish 24yo 1990/2014 (44.7%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection, Bourbon Barrel, 156b): nose: wax. Remember we do not know what we are served; that says something about the nose, surely. We all guess Clynelish in unison, so pronounced are the distillery markers. Honey, waxy fruit, such as plum. It is a bit shy, after the previous ones. Mouth: watery and indistinct, though it does come alive, after a moment, with notes of lemon juice. Still tame, though. Finish: waxy fruit again, freshly-cut grass. I find it average, though I have to admit it probably suffers from the sequence. 6/10

Springbank 21yo b.2015 (46%, OB, 15/52): this is the only one we were told everything about prior and several recognise it easily. Nose: chemical and herbaceous -- lots of rosemary and grilled bacon, cured meat and herbs. Others find it coastal, but I do not. Mouth: very metallic, now, though the word 'very' is likely undeserved, seeing how tame the thing is. It seems mostly silent, probably overpowered by the previous drams. I have no time to let it open up, unfortunately. Finish: cured meat, with lots of beach action, at last. A barbecue on the seashore, clams, mussels and pinches of herbs. A decent dram with a weak mouth. Others love it, I think it is overrated and certainly not a patch on the 21yo from 1999, which remains the benchmark all the others are judged against. 6/10

Host: -People ask me how I can tell the difference between the different batches of Springbank 21.
The golden label is shiner on this version and the colour of the whisky is a bit darker.
tOMoH -Also, the bottling date is written on the back of the bottle!

Undisclosed Distillery 49yo 1966/2015 (52.9%, Private bottling, Bourbon Cask, re-racked into Sherry Cask, re-racked into Rum Cask, 1b): you read that correctly. This is a cask that is privately owned and is not legally Scotch any longer (it spent most of its maturation time away from Scotland. Our host, who is not the owner, wants to know what we think of it, which means it is pretty much the sole pretext behind this whole party. Needless saying we are delighted to be given this opportunity, considering this has otherwise never been bottled and never will be. We are never told which distillery it is from (a promise made to the owner of the cask), but we are told the sort of prices it would command, should it be made available for retail. Nose: silt, algae, stagnating water and old books in a damp basement. Wet, lichen-covered rocks, moss, dunnage warehouse. Merbromin too, which is a bit strange. There is peat in it, but it is never overpowering, rather a thin veil of smoke in a room next door. Once all that scum dissipates, cherries show up with a wheelbarrowful of soil. Complex and intriguing, this nose. Mouth: perfect balance, little wood to speak of, which is always staggering, at this age (is it because of the cask swaps?) Instead come lots of wild, black cherries and a sprinkle of spices -- turmeric and cinnamon, mostly. Marzipan also rears its head. Finish: cinnamon sticks? No! Cassia bark! Boy, that takes me back to my curry-cooking days. Prunes, plum liqueur, old cherries (whatever that means) and dusty books. Phew! Is it a romantic reaction to the pedigree? I doubt it: it is a killer dram, even though it is not for everyone. Is it worth the RRP of twelve-to-twenty-five thousand pounds? Perhaps not, but I would easily fork out quite a bit for this. I love it. Pity it will never be bottled. We first think it might be an old Ardbeg, but we are told it is not an Islay. Other guesses are Glen Scotia and Oban. It is unlikely a Glen Scotia would reach those prices any time soon, in my opinion. What it really is, we will never know. 9/10 (Thanks to the anonymous donor)

Caol Ila 31yo 1984/2015 (ABV TBC, Cadenhead Cask Ends, Fresh Bourbon Wood, London Exclusive, 1b): the full retail version of this will come out in the next few weeks to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Cadenhead's London shop. Our host has been pimping it up for months, so it is not really a surprise. In the meantime, we get this pre-release only for ourselves. Nose: farmyard, with a note of barbecued mussel (again!?) It is pretty mouldy to me, while one of my co-tasters finds it heathery. Nail varnish is the final note I get. Fire-engine-red nail varnish, to be accurate. Mouth: powerful, yet balanced, with red fruit thrown into the mix. Cranberries, I reckon. Finish: cranberries, lingonberries and lots of peat. This is on the verge of too much for me today (not in a peat mood), yet it remains on the right side of things (just about). Enjoyable. A good Caol Ila, probably a bestseller in the making, but it is not my favourite profile. 7/10

Eight whiskies in just under two hours is not for the squeamish. Others try the Spirit of Freedom 45+ and a recently-bottled Tomatin too. I have had both and do not bother.
The pace started out perfectly, then increased to reach a gallop by dram #3. Understandable, seeing the ambitious lineup, yet a pity from this taster's perspective. It reminds me of the GMP masterclass last year, where the most time was spent on the most insignificant dram, then the regal ones had to be rushed down.
Other than that, a fine tasting in fine company.

5 May 2015

02/05/2015 May outturn at the SMWS

They come and go so quick it it is hard to keep up. Nothing fancy today, not even a cheese plate, just a few drams. In-and-out in 18 seconds. Sort of. PS is here, despite a toothache that saw him announce to the world he would not attend. "Oh, but I'm not taking notes," he argues.

70.10 9yo d.2005 Teenage Shenanigans (58.5%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 242b): not only is it merely the tenth expression from distillery #70 since 1983, it is also the first we see and try. Nose: crisp apples, pear peels, caramel custard and even rose water. With water, peach becomes more prominent, accompanied by bakery scents and Virginia tobacco. Mouth: unctuous at first, yet becomes pretty acidic, almost stripping. Hot and peppery. With water, it is more tamed, giving away doughnut and ginger beer flavours. Nicer, but it still tickles. Finish: Turkish-delight sweetness, followed by an onslaught of ground pepper (pink, black and green, all mixed together). With water, a spoonful of toffee dunked into a glass of ginger beer. Finally, pine sap rears its head. Disappointing. It seems rather simple and not very balanced. Then again, it is a nine-year-old dram. My expectations were likely too high. 7/10

128.5 9yo 2006/2015 As purple as Prince! (60.2%, SMWS Society Single Cask, 1st Fill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 213b): it is curious that I finally procured a bottle of 128.3 a week ago and this one comes out today. For the record, 128.3 came out three years ago. We have never seen 128.4. Nose: FRUIT! Melon, mango, a faint impression of leather topped with a spoonful of strawberry coulis. Mouth: light, floral and fruity, with further notes of melon and strawberry. Perhaps marzipan too? No! Make that frangipane. Finish: ha! Clogged sink, briefly (as in 128.3), then lots of fruit again. Melon, mango, a drop of caramel on the whole, and some custard too. The references to Prince songs in the official notes are funny to boot. 8/10

73.70 15yo d.1999 Frivolously fresh, with playful spices (56%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 215b): nose: basil and parmesan bread sticks, menthol cigarettes, pine-wood fire, Gocce Pino, chamomile infusion and yoghurt in the back. Mouth: menthol, cough pine drops again, warm tobacco (not burning) and green chilli. Finish: strange and unusual! A heap of pine needles on a soil bed in the forest. It then grows bigger, with sweet blood oranges and melted chocolate. Pretty good, though a bit unremarkable, altogether. 7/10

46.31 22yo d.1992 Sniffing a bee's knees (54.2%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 253b): nose: decaying fruit, wax, wasps on a bin full of fruit refuse in the sun. Nice notes, alongside really peculiar ones. Mouth: non-distinct. A hardly-noticeable note of plant juice, but mostly, it is silent. Finish: mature honey, wax and flower stems. A decent Glenlossie, still not fully convincing. 6/10

93.63 15yo d.1999 Unapologetic non-conformist (56.1%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 275b): nose: cured meat in a cashew and rosemary marinade. Mouth: chocolate and beef stock. Finish: yep, oxtail broth and chocolate-y satay. Funny how the independent Scotias never have the same profile as the officials (see last week's). 7/10

For a quality time
Make it Suntory time
G7.8 30yo d.1984 Sweet seduction in a car-wash (59.5%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 264b): might as well try the grain, while we are here. Nose: a light coat of varnish, blueberry muffin. Rather subtle, this. Mouth: a pleasant note of blueberry syrup emerges en force. Not too much wood or bakery action going on, but that blueberry is pretty insistent. Finish: more blueberry, in a warm coulis, this time. Sort of a one-trick pony, this one, but a nice pony all the same. 7/10

Good and reasonable afternoon. We spent a lot of time chatting to a member who is going back to Cleveland for good in a couple of weeks. He does a rather good job at marketing his city of origin. :-)

29 April 2015

25/04/2015 Golden Promise

There is one particular bottle I want to open, it has a golden label, the theme is based around that.
Only Glengoyne and Macallan still use Golden Promise barley, these days. Most distilleries have replaced it with Optic, presumably because it is cheaper or grows more reliably and efficiently.
That being said, anything with gold or promise in the name will do, as will anything which comes in the colour gold. Considering the usual colour of whisky, that should not be too restrictive.
No-one brings a Gold Bowmore, which disappoints me immensely.

Despite running a poll months ago to determine the best date in a democratic way, 50% of the participants flake out ahead of time, with 25% more flaking on the day (when asked what time they will finally make it in, an hour after the projected start time). Ah, well. More for us.

This one sees only JS, idealrichard and myself, with PS making a late appearance. Considering he had not voted for this date, the visit is appreciated.
The weather is relatively sunny and mild, but it is windy and I am starting a cold (it will prove to be a full-blown flu); we stay indoors.

Scapa 14yo (43%, OB, b. ca 2006) (offered by JS): look at all the golden sun rays on that label! Nose: light and fruity, with melon and grapefruit peels. Mouth: pink grapefruit, with sweetness and bitterness bouncing off each other. Finish: fleeting vanilla and lots of pink grapefruit again. Perfect as a light, summery dram. 8/10

Glen Scotia 17yo (40%, OB, b. ca 1999) (me): golden neck plus golden lines around the box. Nose: oily and earthy, coastal, yet it remains light and summery, with macerating apples. Pear toffee and fine machine oil, watch oil, to be precise (PS, later in the evening). Mouth: an apple bake on the tea shore. Finish: more baked apples and coastal stuff with a wee bit of leather. Love this. 8/10

Benriach 1976/1991 (40%, GMP Connoisseurs Choice) (me): golden cap. I was disappointed when we had this in July last year. Today? Nose: some fruit with lots of burnt leather. Caramelised (burnt) pears and more white fruit in the back. Burnt peach too. Mouth: peach again, then orange. Finish: the fruit tickles somewhat. This is crisp and long and, well, very nice. Still not what I expected from that vintage from that distillery, but better impression than the first. 7/10

Bunnahabhain 18yo XVIII (46.3%, OB, P029602 15 12297 16:15) (idealrichard): look at all those golden writings! Nose: a distinct sherry influence, here, with hot leather, soft raisins and dried figs. Mouth: black bun, caramelised dough. It is rather salty too (idealrichard). Finish: a whisper of peat, balanced out by the sherry notes -- raisins, dried figs, and leather. Very pleasant. 7/10

Five Lakes Canadian Whisky 3yo (40%, Five Lakes Blend, EMB 62140 549) (me): another golden cap and golden line, another one idealrichard has never had before. Nose: rum, through and through, Armagnac (idealrichard), hot cane sugar, perhaps even piña colada. Finish: rum again, with lots of sugar. Not blinding, well pleasant. Amusingly, I find out later I have not had this one at a tasting since the same day last year. 6/10

Ardmore 25yo 1988/2014 (45%, Gordon & Co. Pearls of Scotland, C#2455, 300b, L14 043 PB) (idealrichard): more golden writings. idealrichard bought this one because he liked the official 25yo so much and was disappointed with it. The comparison, although inevitable, likely did this particular bottling a disservice. Now that he has digested that, how does this one fare? JS finds it peaty, but crisp and delicate at the same time. Nose: super dry earth. And hay. Think a hay stack in a dry, crusty field, under the midday sun. Mouth: dry earth again, with lots of pepper, this time. Finish: dry, peaty and fruity. It is not a 1992, but it is pretty solid and good value for money. 8/10

Glen Elgin 30yo 1978/2009 (49.1%, Cadenhead Chairman's Stock, Bourbon Hogshead, 234b) (me): of course, this is the bottle that triggered this theme -- look at that bling label! One needs sunglasses just to look at it! Nose: perfume-y, with a touch of leather. Flowers, a few fruits, then the trademark earth -- it is a Glen Elgin from the 1970s after all. Mouth: rose water, orange blossom, a pinch of earth. This is complex and lovely. Finish: long and pleasant, flowery and beautiful, with a little touch of burnt sienna. Apple and blackcurrant crumble, light dessert pears and toffee (PS). Wonderful Glen Elgin, at the magical crossroads between old-school austerity and new-school consensuality. 8/10 likely 9, once it has had time to open up more.

idealrichard has to leave, which makes this a perfectly-paced lineup, probably. PS walks in an hour later and has the Benriach, the Glen Scotia and the Glen Elgin, as well as the following two.

4.172 13yo d.1999 Tangerine trees and marmalade skies (60.1%, SMWS Society Single Cask, 1st Fill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 235b) (PS): if Macallan still uses Golden Promise, Highland Park belongs to the same group. Alright, then. Also, marmalade is golden. Nose: vinegar, earth and heather or lavender. Mouth: warm, with hot honey, cough syrup. That was heather honey, of course. Finish: a whiff of light smoke, a tame heather fire, hot toddy. A good HP that probably reminds me a bit too strongly that my cold is getting worse and worse. 7/10

G7.2 27yo d.1984 Fascinating and inspiring (60.3%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 270b) (PS): if I remember correctly, this one picked the gold medal at a recent Girvan tasting PS posted about. Or something. Nose: corn on the cob, varnish, wood shavings, ground coconut. Mouth: warm and comforting, though it comes full of wood splinters. Or is that my throat getting sore? Finish: pineapple and coconut (piña colada), custard and even blackcurrants. A wonderful Girvan. 8/10

Another very good tasting, despite the low turnover. Good drams, good pace, good to catch up with friends I had not seen in a while.