20 September 2016

17/09/2016 Rare Malts Closed Distilleries at The English School, Zürich

After a day in town, during which JS and I stop lengthily in a store and are treated to six very nice drams, we end up where we left off last night.

Tonight is, of course, the reason tOMoH is here, in this neutral country of chocolate imposters. CD and PG are hosting this extravaganza, which JS, EG and I attend, alongside half a dozen locals, whom will henceforth be called the Swissky Mafia (© JS).

In pure RMS style, the Glenlochy's cork had to be replaced.
The other five are intact. We all reckon they are fake...

Now, Rare Malts are frequent guests at many of our tastings, as are closed distilleries. Even closed distilleries from the Rare Malts range are no strangers to this blog. This time, we are talking about six closed distilleries exclusively from the Rare Malts range, mostly off the beaten path. In other words: no Rosebank, Brora or Port Ellen. This should be very interesting.

Banff 21yo 1982/2004 (57.1%, OB Rare Malts Selection): I had this with adc a couple of years ago and remember being very impressed. Nose: it seems very gentle and ethereal, though that is perhaps due to the huge glass. Baked apple, a hint of smoke, strawberry juice, even. The impression is warmer and warmer, eventually delivering a drop of nail polish. Mouth: the fruit is now bold -- mostly baked apple, roasted apple, even. It is now rather hot with a bit of ash and burning straw. Strawberry bubblegum too, now -- phwoar! Finish: warming, waxy and jammy. The apple becomes so sweet it is close to apple chutney. At this point, the smoke has become the delicatest and elegantest. A class act. I like Banff. 9/10

Convalmore 24yo 1978/2003 (59.4%, OB, Rare Malts Selection): this is maybe the one I am most excited about: love Convalmore, never had this particular expression, not on my shelves. Nose: it has the delightful scent of a dunnage warehouse, bitter marmalade on slightly overdone toast. The heat is a little numbing -- it is an RMS after all. Apples in sizzling butter and, much later on (hours), smoky bubblegum. Mouth: this is a massive slap of old-school madness -- coal smoke, dark marmalade and numbing power. The marmalade survives the passing of time, as do the sheer power and a veil of smoke. Oxidation does not change it much, actually. Finish: long, powerful, big, with the smoke of a campfire and candied fruit. This is beautiful. 9/10

A brief interruption to explain this dunnage-warehouse note I use so often. A dunnage warehouse is a low-ceiling, clay-floored warehouse in which casks are laid to rest, stacked no more than three high, separated by wooden blocks. It is the more traditional storage way, as opposed to the more modern racking warehouse and its concrete floor, where casks are held in metallic structures that can reach much higher. The dunnage warehouse has an unmistakable smell that blends damp clay, old wood, moss and a titillating fruitiness attributable to the alcohol evaporating (the angels' share). Many distilleries do not allow visitors into their warehouses, and if they do, pictures are often forbidden (due to the rather obsolete risk of flash photography igniting alcohol vapours). Not to mention all the casks in there are in bond, subject to the taxman, who would not be impressed to see visitors pour themselves a dram. Given the chance, walking into one is an experience not to be missed, perhaps similar to entering a crypt.

Glenury Royal 23yo 1971/1995 (61.3%, OB Rare Malts Selection): another exciting one; I am deeply in love with the 29yo RMS, a big fan of Glenury in general, and I have not yet had this one. With the Convalmore, it is also the only one we are having tonight that is not on my shelves. Nose: another old-school heavy hitter. Musty warehouses, old staves, mushrooms in a pan and cured ham. This feels like a part-Sherry maturation to me. Quick debate on that: PG states all RMS are exclusively Bourbon casked, which I am sure is not the case. Interestingly, everyone has the decency to not check on their smartphones. We simply carry on with the tasting. Mouth: peppery, gingery, laden with green chili and lots of horsepower. Time makes it slightly more accessible, though it does remain gingery. Finish: mamma mia! This is big! Burning petrol, dark, oily and... on fire. Ginger and wood spices. JS does not care much for it, I love it. At first pass, it is my favourite. It ends up kneeling before the Banff, though, which I prefer in the long run. This Glenury is exhausting. Very challenging. 9/10

This gets tOMoH's
seal of approval
At this stage, TK, of the Swissky Mafia, pulls out some munchies and I am forced to ingest inferior chocolate -- for research purposes, you understand. I admit it goes really well with the Glenury, bitter and pistachio-ed. I concede the Swiss now make relatively decent chocolate... since they bought up all the famous Belgian producers! :-) Good laughs all round. This one must be from a former Belgian factory indeed: honestly speaking, it is brilliant.

This, not so much

The others are yonks ahead of me in the sequence. After mistaking the Hillside for the Banff in a blind tasting, EG claims, 'I like the Hillside. I was surprised by the nose.' to which his neighbour interjects, 'You were surprised it had the nose of the Banff?'

Hillside 25yo 1971/1997 (62%, OB Rare Malts Selection): ecstatic to try this too; I reckon it is the first Hillside I have, despite having tried multiple expressions of Glenesk/Glen Esk, the other names for the same distillery. Nose: apple liqueur, decaying peach, peach stone in fruit juice, ground fruit stone, zabaglione (EG). After a couple of hours, all scents are completely blended into each other and it becomes impossible to tell them apart. Another elegant dram. Mouth: initially a lot "lighter" than the strength suggests, it quickly grows into a frightening beast of a dram. Spicy broth with infusing prunes, hot marmalade. Amazingly, there is also a note of cold cream. A few hours in, a vague mustiness emerges. Finish: beastly again, with soaking stone fruit and dry cork. Musk too -- it is foxy, all things considered. Water does not change the character much; it merely makes it less strong. Just. 8/10

Millburn 35yo 1969/2005 (51.2%, OB Rare Malts Selection): the last and oldest RMS... until 2016's ridiculously limited batch (Talisker 40, Lagavulin 40, Caol Ila 40) released for a charity sale in China. Nose: it is a little funky at first, though that impression fades away quickly. Waxy red apple, slightly overly-baked tarte tatin. Mouth: a lot mellower than I expected (mind you, it is 11% lower than the previous), it has the elegance of old age, a nice, fruity balance, very gentle smoke and a creamy texture with a pinch of spices. Yum! Finish: this is beautiful and complex. It dances on the tongue in whorls of gentle smoke (a mere ghost, at this point) and yellow fruit (peach, apricot). Phew! 9/10

Glenlochy 26yo 1969/1995 (58.8%, OB Rare Malts Selection, B297): one of the hardest to get and most expensive of the RMS, this Glenlochy was bottled for the South African market. There were five Glenlochy expressions in the RMS, none of which was released on the old continent, it would seem. The few that found their way to Europe keep changing hands on auction sites for a lot of money. Nose: meaty! Is this a Mortlach? Rotting flesh, meat on the bone, left too long in the sun, game, roadkill. It quietens down a notch or two, though it never reaches the "usual" Glenlochy profile, which is more mineral and austere. In fact, it seems to become softer and more mellow. Mouth: the meat does not appear here. Instead, we have peach juice with a peppery kick. The pepper is slightly out of control. Finish: crushed peach stones, ever-so-slightly bitter. Vanilla and pistachio-tainted cream. This is complex and beautiful, though quite polarising -- JS does not like it. 8/10

In typical RMS style, all six were brutal, indomitable drams, difficult, fierce and wild, yet also very rewarding for those who give it the time and attention they deserve. They really put up a fight, those.
I personally thought the tasting was lacking the ceremony and guidance to set the pace and explain some of the history behind those bottlings. When I discuss it with the hosts, they answer that here are seasoned whisky geeks who need no fluff. At the same time, my neighbour had never had a Banff before and one in the audience is attending his first-ever whisky tasting. Without going into a full masterclass for novices, I reckon a little bit of introduction for each dram would have worked a treat.

'Morning piss, or evening piss?'

Bottles then appear out of bags and secret pockets and the whole thing takes another dimension. Most of them, I do not try. Pittyvaich 20yo 1980/2011 OB makes an entrance, much to CD's content. I tell him it is my favourite Pittyvaich. Upon hearing that, TK digs up a sample from his bag and pours it to me.

Pittyvaich 14yo (54.5%, James MacArthur Fine Malt Selection): nose: cracked eggshells, velvety cream, panettone (EG, sniffing out of my glass). Mouth: this is smooth as fook, velvety and pleasant, unlike the bottlings by GMP. Finish: sweet and soft, with rice tart and custard. Lovely, this! 8/10 (thanks TK)

Glen Mhor 15yo b.1997 (40%, GMP, IG/DJE): nose: phwoar, another old-schooler, full of dusty libraries and green tea (JS). Mouth: it suffers from the sequence, of course. This feels awfully watery, at this stage. Finish: marmalade, nigella seeds, black cumin. Watery, though. Hope to try this another time. It was obviously a mistake to taste it now, after the RMS monsters. At the same time, when will I have another chance to try this without forking out for a bottle of my own? 7/10

Distilled Somewhere in Speyside 41yo 1975/2016 (52.8%, Acla Da Fans Acla Selection, Fino Sherry Butt, C#19, 120b): brief notes, here. Nose: apples and lemon custard. Mouth: mellow, pleasant, with custard and coconut cream. Finish: custard, with a lot of pepper. Not bad for an active distillery. ;-) 8/10

TK pours me something else -- blind, once more. Nose: milk, lemon, grape seeds. The Swissky Mafia teases me to know what kind of milk -- it is yak milk. Mouth: again, this is milky and gentle, with a kick of lemon juice. Finish: a bit low on the ABV, yet it is well balanced. I very proudly manage to guess it is a Coleburn. I fear I might turn cocky for a minute. I has got to raprazent, yo. Coleburn 12yo (43%, James MacArthur Fine Malt Selection) 8/10 (thanks TK)

We hop onto the next-to-last tram back into town for a night's sleep.
What a tasting! Great drams with great friends, old and new. Yay to a flourishing network!

Stack to the plahn, Ahndy!

16/09/2016 Vorspiel in Zürich

JS and I are visiting friends in Zürich. Whisky friends. CD & RG, whom we met at the London Show, a couple of years ago. They invited us for supper tonight: a raclette. Funnily enough (ha!), the flight is delayed. For a country who supposedly master clocks, that is not a little surprising. Anyway.

When we reach the place, around 22:00, our hosts and the other guests are three bottles of wine down already. And supper is over. They kindly postpone dessert until we have caught up on the raclette and pierrade. Our hostess asks me if she may be so bold as to turn my meat, which amuses everyone immensely... and then she realises and blushes.
We leave no man standing.

Well done, pumpkin pie!

That is when CD brings out the goods. Ten or so bottles appear on the table out of nowhere.

Springbank 10yo d.2004 (54.9%, Duty Paid Sample, RS Butt, Rotation 570): whatever RS Butt means. Nose: initially rather sulphury, it then gives way to tar and charcoal-toasted leather (think of a blacksmith's leather apron), even a touch of cured ham. Later on, roasted apples show up too. Mouth: warm and peppery, it has stagnant water in an old tyre. There definitely is a mix of wet, burnt wood and hot rubber. Finish: burnt wood, melted rubber and overly tanned leather. This one is too extreme for my feeble palate, tonight. 5/10

Glen Grant 30yo 150th Anniversary Reserve (45%, OB, b. ca 1990): nose: milk chocolate, Amaretto and a certain fruitiness -- is it elderflower? Elderberry? Peach? Mouth: full-on peachy Amaretto. Finish: orange rinds, custard, Amaretto again, as well as soft peach. There is a less pleasant rubber note, which is why it will not score higher than 7/10

Benriach 28yo 1975/2004 (57.1%, SV Cask Strength Collection, Sherry Hogshead, C#7221, 208b): a sherried Benriach from that era could be good, though the sherry might also be too strong and smother the distillery's character. What it does is pique tOMoH's interest. Nose: phwoar! Marzipan, custard and a hefty dose of fruit (peach, apricot, mango). The fruit becomes louder and louder, bringing rose petals on its trail. Mouth: the beautiful tingling of chili on fruit. Finish: dunnage warehouse, fern, moss on wood and lovely, lovely fruit. Winner. 9/10

RG, seeing how we like the Benriach, allows us to try her favourite expression.

Benriach 16yo 1997/2013 (59.2%, OB Distillery Exclusive, Sauternes Hogshead Finish, C#3764, 293b): nose: fruity too, though so much sweeter. Turkish delights, Greek pastries, meringue, Nic-Nacs biscuits. Mouth: soft, sweet and fruity. This is very pleasant, yet I am not sure I could drink more than a dram or two in a row. Finish: long, sweet and syrupy, with the softness of peaches in syrup. Lovely. 8/10

Tomintoul 46yo 1967/2013 (47.6%, The Whisky Agency, Refill Hogshead, 215b): been willing to try a Tomintoul from that famous year for so long! Nose: this is classy. Blackberry bushes, blackcurrant juice, dunnage warehouse and a hint of crushed mint. Majestic. Mouth: mellow, soft and round, with lovely cake icing -- not over the top. Finish: dunnage warehouse again, with drops of soft, ripe fruit. 46 years in wood make it a bit nutty, but it is surprisingly under control. Excellent. Dram of the day for me. 9/10

Port Ellen 25yo 1982/2007 (58.7%, SV Cask Strength Collection, Sherry Butt, C#2845, 491b): nose: refined peat, sandy beaches, drying fishing nets, flint and a bucket of soot in the distance. This is very elegant. Mouth: big, bold, yet not arrogant. It has refined peat again, citrus and chili pepper. Finish: this is where it turns less interesting; hot paprika, ginger, lots of peat. All that is submerging everything else. Very good, not blinding, and the finish a reassuring sign that Port Ellen is vastly overrated, in tOMoH's opinion. I still like it, mind. 8/10

3am. Time to clock off and get some rest before tomorrow.


31 August 2016

28/08/2016 Another few at the Bon Accord

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Glasgow, go to the Bon Accord.
DH accepts to have one drink after dropping us off, following our visit to Auchentoshan.

Dalwhinnie 36yo 1966/2002 (47.2%, OB, 1500b): DH is excited, as this one is from the time Dalwhinnie still had worm tubs -- plainly said: a giant cold-water bath used to condensate the distillate. Nose: rich and voluptuous, with cigar leaves, walnut oil and roasted chestnut. It also has dried cranberries, polished dashboards, and even distant smoke. Phwoar! JS finds barley tea, while DH detects TCP. Time and oxidation make it fruitier (cranberries). Mouth: more generous treats in this velvety body, packed with walnut oil and a gentle spice mix (crushed clove, ground cardamom, black cumin). Finish: explodes in a great gig of walnut oil and hypnotising clouds of cigar smoke. Amazing. Dried cranberries, antique armchairs, tanned leather (DH). This is an old man's dram alright. I love it. 9/10

Teaninich 40yo 1973/2013 (54%, Càrn Mòr Celebration of the Cask, Sherry Puncheon, C#20237, 200b): nose: sawdust, peppered on top of a distant fruit salad. A whiff of foot sweat (for those who like that) and cooking cabbage. Do not be fooled, though: the dominant is sawdust on fruit salad. A Waldorf salad, with rotting pears instead of apples. Mouth: between the gentleness of soft, dried apricot and the bitterness of young wood. Juicy pears end up coming through on the palate too, as well as a hint of smoke. Finish: very long, with slightly too drying wood, unfortunately, dried apricot soaked in hot water, thyme, mint, chives. Very good, yet too drying to achieve a better score. 8/10

Glenugie 25yo 1981/2006 (51.5%, DT Rarest of the Rare, C#5158, 323b): although I almost convince DH to try yesterday's Inverleven (a distillery he has never had), his mind is made up as soon as he discovers there is a 'noogie in the house. Nose: shoe polish, drying hay, nail varnish, old cork and dunnage warehouse. Mouth: soft as a baby's skin at first, it unveils dark sherry-style prunes, and a touch of rancio. Finish: dark grapes, black olives, dark olive oil. The notes might be short, but it is still as good as I remembered it. 9/10

DH is thinking of going. I manage to negotiate another couple of sips before he goes. It will be one dram to share between the three of us and they will try it blind.

Nose: I die. It brought me to tears the first time and is doing it again. That is all I can say. Mouth: perfection. A deluge of tropical fruit and a velvety, silky texture. Finish: a tropical tsunami. Unbelievable. The complexity is unfathomable, yet what strikes the most is that fruit. That fruit!
Despite the apparent monologue, I should add my co-tasters seem to appreciate this dram immensely too. It takes DH a number of clues to finally pinpoint the distillery. It is of course White Bowmore 43yo 1964/2008 (42.8%, OB, 6 Bourbon Casks, 732b). Slightly better notes from our first encounter are here. Score unchanged. 16/10

Bow before more!

I make sure the waitress gets to try this monster and I explain it does not matter if I look ridiculous while drinking the divine.
JS -You are moved. You found your passion.
DH -Your passion fruit!

Shits 'n giggles innit.

Bowmore give tOMoH hands of magic