31 December 2012

30/12/2012 10, 20, 30, 40 (but not in that order)

A couple of things that have a dangerously low level and need finishing, plus another couple to complement. Let's go!
Yeah, let's go!
Tobermory 10yo (40%, OB): nose: it starts off pleasant, if far from noble -- feinty, spirity and full of grist (crushed cereals). Ethanol-flavoured porridge. Rather one-dimensional, apart from that note of apple. Mouth: dry, light and simple. Pleasant alright, yet not a monster of complexity. Finish: more porridge, distant alcohol, very light cough syrup, wheat. Pleasant finale. Again, it is on the low-brow end of the W spectrum, yet a nice dram for beginners, as an aperitive, or as a non-pretentious, every-day drink. Does exactly what one would expect from a whisky of that price. 6/10

Tomatin 40yo 1967/2007 (42.9%, OB, Bourbon Hogshead, 1614b): I had this at the Whisky Show: it was OK, not blinding, hence its early position, today. Nose: delicate leather, a pan of pommes rissolées with mushrooms and walnuts. It is all very nice, but it is not the most expressive dram! Everything in the nose is subdued and downplayed. Mouth: very refreshing, with berries (blackberries and black currant). Finish: it finally delivers a bit -- exotic fruit (mango, jackfruit), berries again (red and black currant, black- and blueberries, this time), strawberry jam and a little marzipan. There is even some passion fruit. This could be great, but it feels really tired to these taste buds. It was not more assertive when I had it straight out of a fresh bottle, so I doubt it faded away in my flask. It is simply too expensive for what it is at ca 400£. 7/10

125.36 20yo 1989 A tapestry of tropical tastes (51.7%, SMWS Society Single Cask, First-fill Barrel, 279b): this one will not stop agonising -- still one dram to go in the bottle, even after pouring for this session. Nose: melted butter, which was my impression the first time I had it, in February. Stale cream. This one has said all it had to say and is now out of words, it would seem. Mouth: the alcohol feels not very well integrated. Caramelised butter on the tongue with an annoying bitterness. Finish: at last, it speaks. Passion fruit emerges as in previous tastings. I still reckon the bottle is now too empty for the W to still be expressive enough. Oxidation all but killed it and it is collapsing. :(
A fun, great whisky that needed being tamed to be enjoyed. It is now too faded to let one ride its wave, though. Thanks Fixou all the same for the sample. 8/10

Lochside 30yo 1981/2011 (54.9%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon Hogshead, 246b): that's right! Gotta finish in a bang and this is a sure shot. Nose: quite bluntly, this is wood and lichen. Dunnage warehouse obscenity. It promises so many other things it hurts, though. A bowl of freshly-rinsed, dark cherries, some wood varnish, an omelette (I would say three eggs and chives -- not too sure), a wine cellar and a basket of indistinguishable fruits on the kitchen table. There is passion fruit in there, for sure. Mouth: velvety, coating, fruity in a dark-cherry jam sort of way. Finish: this is really where it is at: the fruitiness explodes on the tongue in a debauchery of passion fruit, overripe, dark cherries, mango and jackfruit. However, it still manages to maintain that balanced bonded-warehouse feel too, with its lichen and damp floor. A magnificent dram if there ever was one. My only regret is to not have bought a second bottle when I had a chance. 9/10

Home vatting of all of the above: let me go wild. Nose: it turned a lot more animal, all of a sudden! Then it settles down and goes back to fruit -- after all, it was a common denominator, tonight. Peach, apricot, guava. With water: a cascade of passion fruit, guava, mango, jackfruit, a little lichen and dark cherries. Mouth: marmalade, quince jam (not to be confused with Quincy Jones), apricot jam with a passion-fruit impression. With water: vitamin/fruit cocktail, a bit thin, perhaps, but oh! so fruity. Finish: this is actually quite outstanding. The Lochside shines through, despite there being very little of it. The Tobermory gives the youth's lightness, while the 'morangie unleashes the horse powers and the passion fruit. The Tomatin gives the whole an additional depth. Very happy with this blended malt, I must say. Pity it is limited to one dram. :D
Dram of the day. Ridiculously fruity at all stages and (believe it or not) it is even more ridiculously fruity with water! Proper multi-tropical-fruit-mix juice with a little alcohol in it. The rare kind I give 10/10 to. Trying hard to not be too self-indulgent, here: I was helped by great base products and a lot of luck in the proportions. In no way am I a good blender or trying to be one. If blenders were as lucky on a regular basis, I would buy more blends is all. 10/10

20 December 2012

18/12/2012 Three Invergordon (Ramsay)

On my way to meet a friend today, I walked by Gordon Ramsay's restaurant. That convinced me my idea for a small solo tasting was the right thing to do.

Invergordon 40yo 1964/2005 (48.1%, Dewar Rattray Cask Collection, Bourbon Cask, C#57633, 105b): nose: gingerbread, that box to keep the butter in (beurrier, in another language), kitchen utensils -- knives with wooden handles, to be accurate (that is wood and metal, then) -- lukewarm, white bread, maybe some cereals with milk. Mouth: stainless steel, a metallic bitterness, yet it is also velvety smooth -- almonds with the skin, macadamia nuts, also with the skin. Finish: more almonds, almond paste, the metallic bitterness seems more present than in any Invergordon I have had (pencil-sharpener blade) but there is something else, there: violet and sugary syrup. Croissant with a violet jam, perhaps? Macadamia-nut spread. Very long, but I cannot decide if that violet taste is enjoyable or not. I like the alcohol balance at 48%, though. You do not get the impression your teeth will fall off as much. 8/10

G5.2 17yo 1993/2011 Strumming the strings of the soul (65.3%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Virgin Toasted Oak Hogshead, 248b): nose: it sat there, breathing, for a good 30 minutes and it is now very grassy, after the vanilla assault it unleashed earlier. Dried sage, verbena, gentian, ginseng. With water, herbs come out even more. Dried fern, dead leaves, pencil shavings. Mouth: punchy, peppery, yet balanced. Black-pepper doughnuts. It is alcohol with icing sugar and it is lovely, even though a little anaesthetising. With water: more herbs and flower stems. Finish: long, warming, with pastry and pudding. Still a fantastic dram. Frangipane and marzipan. With water: violet marzipan, fudge and dried fern... and a little drying lichen or even verdigris. Great, but I am less seduced than the first and second times I had it. 8/10 (Thanks for the sample, PS)

G5.5 18yo 1993 Rich, sweet and comforting (65.4%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Virgin Toasted Oak Hogshead, 243b): thirty minutes in and it has become very similar to G5.2 -- herbs and metal, with violets behind. The black pepper is more present in the nose, though. Mouth: smoother, mellower. Strange, in fact, as it is bottled at higher strength. Verbena, gentian. Finish: massive violet-candy discharge, some metal (that pencil-sharpener blade again) and more verbena, before Paul, the town's baker, takes his residence. From that point on, it is more akin to the first dram: croissants with a violet jam, raw waffle dough, chocolate eclairs, and even mincemeat bites, which is quite topical on the 18th December, everyone will agree. 9/10

Yep, Invergordon can be nice, but also a bit weird.

10 December 2012

08/12/2012 Eastern Highlands and stuff at TWE

It has proven challenging to get the good TWE staff to venture out of their cubicle for a tasting. To not delay matters too much, Fixou and I decided to bring the tasting to their very cubicle.

Before that, we have a tropical Balvenie face-to-face: Cuban Cask vs. Golden Cask. No notes taken during this apéritif. Here are those from a previous session (19/02/2012 Two Balvenie):

Balvenie 14yo Golden Cask (47.5%, OB, b. ca 2011): nose: rather neutral today -- bit of wood, vanilla, maybe some rum (suggested by the name on the bottle, surely). Mouth: chocolate, milky, creamy, even. Flows easily, with a discreet roughness. Finish: lingers on gently with a few come-backs.
Balvenie 14yo Cuban Selection 1995/2009 (43%, OB): nose: sweeter (adc), sugar cane (adc). Mouth: less chocolate, as much milk, gulpable indeed. Finish: softer, silkier and very good. Sultanas. Shorter than the Golden Cask's.

A short WExEx (Whisky Exchange Express) journey and a long walk later (The WExEx stopped halfway there), we are on the site. A very, very busy Saturday in the run-up to Christmas. They open the hostilities.

Remy and Laddie
Bruichladdich 16yo The Laddie Sixteen (46%, OB, b. 2012) (provided by A): nose: melon. Fruity, with a spray of black pepper. The mouth is creamy and velvety. Finish: milk chocolate, mostly, with some chilli emerging after a while.

A not-too-often-seen 'Riach
BenRiach 13yo 1994/2007 (54.7%, The Whisky Exchange Straight from the Cask, C#105099, 225b) (provided by EG): nose: subtle. Cotton pads sprayed with make-up remover. Mouth: light again, with a huge discharge of black pepper. Finish: vanilla.

[in theme]

Glenesk 1984/2004 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice) (provided by me): some freeloader asks me if he can try it, then grabs a glass and steps away: 'I didn't say yes, but go ahead...' If he reads this: I would have said yes, naturally, but your attitude was despicable. You could have at least said thank you, ill-mannered richard. Anyway. Nose: a grandmother's knicker drawer, grass, hay, a dash of basalmic vinegar (© Fixou 2012), band-aid, slate (A and D), even some leather. Mouth: marmalade, now, yay! Orange juice, lovely. Finish: shortish, but quite elegant, with bitter or rather Acidic citrus, orange peel,
If you have not tried that, you have not lived
citric powder capsules, including the dryness. Old-school dram, not seducing for one bit, especially the nose. We all like it, though and I am happy to find in it exactly what I found in the first Glen Esk I ever drank (the 12yo OB), especially considering I was not able to understand what I was tasting, in the early-1990s. 8/10

At this point, it is worth mentioning that A is surfing for baby clothing, which amuses me very much.

It smells of moustache!
Glenury Royal 29yo 1970/1999 (57%, OB Rare Malts Selection) (provided by me): a few confused and confusing notes, now: sawdust is one, I think, grain whisky is another. Me? Nose: orange again (which no one else seems to get), hint of vague smoke (A and Fixou -- I kind of agree). After 30 minutes, it has opened up on shortbread and dust. Mouth: elegant and noble, posh marmalade with a mild punch. Finish: long, comforting and, well, simply an excellent whisky. Still kicking myself for not buying the second bottle when I had a chance (broken record, I know). Thanks adc for the sample. 9/10

North of Scotland 43yo 1964/2007 (45%, Robert Scott Scott's Selection) (provided by PS): when we met PS yesterday, he told me he had left something at TWE for Fixou and I, knowing we would go and unable to go himself. This, then, had my name on it. First NoS for me and more or less what provided the theme: I wanted to bring the Glenesk because A had asked me about it and he and the rest of the staff had never had a Glenesk. The Glenury has to go quickly, as the 15cl bottle contains more air than W. When P told me about the NoS, I realised those three were in the same region, so that was a done deal. ... "Wait!" I hear you scream. "North of Scotland used to be in the Lowlands!" Well, the distillery that started its life as North of Scotland and ended it as Strathmore was in the Lowlands, yes, and ended up as an annex to Cambus near Alloa. However, the early name came from another distillery that finished its life under the name North of Scotland and had started it as Bon Accord... in the Eastern Highlands. That one was a malt distillery, but I will still use the lame excuse.
Nose: mineral (slate, flint), a leather workshop behind closed doors, then it opens up and it is a full-on bakery. Mouth: doughnuts, more bakery shenanigan, liqueur. Finish: long, a bit drying, with more pastry/bakery goodness. This is happiness in a glass. More than an excellent first NoS experience: a treat. Thanks PS for the sample. 9/10

[/in theme]

Bushmills 21yo (40%, OB, b. ca 2012) (provided by EG who is on a mission to surprise us): nose: "Blimey! There's a lawn in there!" (Fixou) Grassy, with scents of red fruit in the back. Mouth: light, delicate, fruity, girly and wonderful. Finish: fantastically fruity, dominated by jackfruit with a hint of lichen. Lovely. 9/10

Port Charlotte PC9 9yo 2002/2011 An Ataireachd Ard (59.2%, OB, 6000b) (provided by Fixou): seeing how cold it has been, lately, Fixou had made up his mind about what he wanted to bring. Something manly, then. Nose: barbecue, cured meat, spent matches (not in an invasive way). Mouth: punchy. Not very original to say, but yes, punchy. Finish: char-grilled meat and sizzling bacon, just like PC8. A finds it too sweet -- the sherry influence, probably. It is a nice W in its own right, perhaps not my style, today.
Glasses are starting to do a Smooth Criminal impression

Braes of Glenlivet 23yo 1989/2012 (54.9%, Speciality Drinks The Single Malts of Scotland, Hogshead, 272b) (provided by E "the Truffle Pig"): nose: rose water. Mouth: pear eau-de-vie? White pepper, Acidic (Fixou) and malty (A). Finish: pear (the fruit), vanilla. Shoddy notes, yet I find it much better than at the Whisky Show. It is too late in the line-up to convince me to buy a bottle, though. 7/10

G5.2 17yo 1993/2011 Strumming the strings of the soul (65.3%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Virgin Toasted Oak Hogshead, 248b) (provided by PS): the staff pulled out three more miniatures earlier, left behind by PS. They are not sure who they are for and reckon it is also for us. I somehow do not think so, but will certainly be polite if offered. Especially as this particular one impressed me very much yesterday. Nose: BAKERY! Perfume, vanilla, honey, butterscotch. Mouth: more bakery beauty, a lot of Watts at 65.3%, which causes A to pull a few faces and perform a Gene Kelly impersonation -- come to think of it, there is a lot of dancing involved, today. Finish: pastry, bakery, sweet dough, not as fruity anymore, but beautiful all the same. Two days in a row, this remains one of the best grains I have had. This is something I would enjoy getting blind on. 9/10 (Thanks for the sample, PS)

Dumbarton 45yo 1965 (49.5%, Hunter Hamilton The Clan Denny, Refill Hogshead, C#HH7001) (provided by PS): first Dumbarton here, though I own one. Nose: deeper than the previous (A) -- it is also three times as old, so it makes sense. Mouth: Milky Way bar, stunning. Finish: cereals by the bucket, more Milky Way. The notes are shameful, by this point, but I am lost for words. This is great. 9/10 (Thanks for the sample, PS)

Port Dundas 34yo 1973/2007 (54.5%, Duncan Taylor Rare Auld, Sherry Cask, C#128321, 461b) (provided by PS): nose: a lot more sherry, after-shave lotion in the back, as well as some dark chocolate (60--70% cocoa). Mouth: cold coffee, which I am not too fond of. Finish: tons of varnish, wood glue, lacquer. This is a good dram too, yet it does not live up to its couple of glorious predecessors. In any case, thanks again PS for the samples. 7/10 (Thanks for the sample, PS)

-Coeur de Lily (provided by DR): DR's own blend for (or with) Compass Box. Although I take no note, it is pretty good.

A very pleasant afternoon with a few funny episodes (including a customer inquiring about the most expensive bottle and the highest-ABV beverage in the shop), constant nonsense chatting with the staff and great drams. The shop could have been less crowded for me, but all the better for business, after all.

9 December 2012

07/12/2012 December outturn at the SMWS

An unpleasantly busy Friday night at the local. Fortunately, we are only there for an aperitive dram, then a quick escape.

G8.2 23yo 1989/2012 Spun sugar and spooned honey – mmm! (62.4%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 252b) (me): nose: tons of butterscotch, custard, vanilla, a bit of wood. Mouth: toffee, pastry, butterscotch. Finish: varnish, wood shavings, toasted corn. A great grain again! It is very drying, though, just like that other Cambus I had a while ago (18yo SV CSC). Hours later, my tongue still feels completely stripped. This is a dangerous dram and I can see myself going blind if drinking too much of it.

76.97 17yo 1995/2012 Night time campfire treat (57.2%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Sherry Butt, 572b) (JS): nose: rubber (that is eraser, for our readers from across the Pond), some citrus. With water, it becomes jammier, even gives away some lovely marmalade. Mouth: lemon, coffee (hard to tell, because someone is having coffee near me). The mouth is a lot more balanced with water. Finish: marmalade, Seville orange juice. With water, a little smoke and a lot of jam. The finish is nice, the rest is a bit disappointing. Better with water.

That is the moment PS realises we are there. He has been on the premises for a loooong while, is now all merry and willing to impress. We are treated to the following:

The only picture taken before the battery died
G3.1 29yo 1978/2008 Hours of Entertainment (60.1%, SMWS Society Cask): third time I have this one. Considering the conditions in which I had it last time, it is nice to get to try it again. Nose: typical grain, with its bakery feel, also some chocolate and a little coffee. Finish: bakery, varnish, butterscotch. Right, so my notes are not better than last time after all. Nice dram, this.

G5.2 17yo 1993/2011 Strumming the strings of the soul (65.3%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Virgin Toasted Oak Hogshead, 248b): oooooh! an Invergordon I have not had! Nose: coconut body lotion indeed (it is written on the label), but also peppered melon, a bit of cologne and honey, with some wood in the back. Mouth: it is now one of those lurvely wood juices. Finish: melon, wood shavings. Rhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! This is superlative. 9/10

21.27 39yo 1971 An enticement of sweet oak (46.7, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 246b): yep, most expensive thing ever sold by the Society (in this month's outturn). Nose: perfume, honeysuckle, rose water. The sherry speaks out a little as well. Mouth: light and lovely, well balanced. Orange blossom, perhaps? Finish: bam! Orange blossom indeed. This is great. Is it worth 439£? Probably not, so it is nice to be able to try it by the glass. 9/10

A much longer session than foreseen, and a very agreeable moment after all. I carry a lowly Tobermory 15yo (46.3%, OB) in my flask, which I happily share with the guys to thank them for the grains. PS passes, C is very enthusiastic about it: the sherry/sulphur combination acts as his own madeleine, which is always a treat, of course. He goes on to tell us how he came across that smell when carrying jute bags during a summer job at a brewery. Good times.

22 November 2012

21/11/2012 Christmas outturn at the SMWS

We have not visited in a while after trying the whole October outturn in one sitting, splashing out at the whisky show and a disappointing November outturn. We were also bracing ourselves for the Christmas outturn and its debauchery of bottles (around 40 again, this year).
A mid-week session might seem daring, but we have no fear -- and no ambition to try everything.

As expected, PS is at the bar. It is packed, surprisingly. Ah, well. Fixou joins us a couple of drams in, which is a welcome surprise.

Cameron Bridge's new packaging.
(I do not own the copyright to this. Please get in touch if it needs removing)
G4.2 28yo 1984/2012 Attractive spirit in a cloak of oak (55.4%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 218b) (me): another month, another grain (but always you). Who am I to complain? Nose: an all-out bakery assault, full of dough. Lovely. Cereal dust, toffee. With water, it settles on hard, Greek vanillia (βανίλια). Memories aplenty. To think I have not been to Greece in twenty years exactly! Mouth: fleeting mirabelle plum, bakery again, βανίλια (look at me! I can write Greek characters!) Finish: here comes a strange, slightly bitter note that, with PS's help, we identify as poppy seeds. It then lingers on toffee, custard and distant citrus. It is not without a resemblance to the yellow, round, caramel Quality Street. It is great and I buy one. 8/10

77.29 25yo 1987/2012 Marmalade, Cornflakes and Bagels (58.6%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 266b) (me): not a usual distillery, therefore it has to be tasted. Nose: fiercely herbal to these nostrils. Fruits of the forest then emerge (PS), hazelnut, mostly, then elderberry. It finishes with bakery aromas and flowers, with a hint of vanilla. Mouth: pepper and plant stems. Finish: lots of herbs again, unripe fruit (greengage). 7/10

13.45 7yo 2005/2012 Sassy reverberations (58.6%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 174b) (JS): another lesser-spotted distillery in the indie world, and particularly at the Society for the last couple of years. Nose: chock full of wet leather, surprisingly animal. There is also a little bit of candle wax and pastel crayons. Mouth: a good balance of velvet and pepper. Finish: leather, marmalade, some candle wax again. Not a big fan of the nose, but the rest is decent. 6/10

31.24 24yo 1988/2012 Lively as an acrobat (54%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 255b) (me): PS got this one for me. Nose: Ooooh! That is animal! Milk chocolate, green tea, tons of bacon -- smoked rashers, to be precise. Mouth: smooth and easy with a slight sting. Finish: long, with lots of smoke and actually quite fruity.

26.89 27yo 1984 An exotic tearoom experience (56.6%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Sherry Butt, 485b) (Fixou): nose: some elegant wax, pears, custard. It is not the animal invasion I have come to expect from Clynelish. Much better, in fact. Mouth: waxy, soft and mellow. Finish: more wax, candied apples. Another one of those all-too-rare, great Clynelishes.

41.55 8yo 2004/2012 Bath time Treat (59.7%, SMWS Society Single Cask, ex-Bourbon Barrel, 252b) (JS & PS): nose: fruit, balsa wood, lavender, bakery, pâte à choux. Mouth: another good balance of velvety pepper. Finish: sweet and lovely, this. Bakery ahoy.

26.85 19yo 1992 Complex, captivating and Chrismassy (58.7%, SMWS Society Single Cask, 220b) (Fixou): Fixou and PS embark on a Clynelish tasting. Not being a fan, I do not take part, but try to sample each of them so as to not go home an ignorant fool. Nose: bakery, berries. Mouth: velvety to Death, pepper (they do seem to all taste the same, do they not?) Finish: long and elegant, shoe polish and leather conditioner. 7/10

26.71 25yo The Great Outdoors (57.3%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Sherry Butt, 464b) (Fixou): nose: apples, pears. Mouth: velvet again, peach. Finish: very distant coffee, very little fruit.

44.55 22yo 1989 Afternoon Tea at Fortnum & Mason (52.9%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 288b) (JS): the latest Craigellachie was so good that JS bought a bottle. Will this live up to the expectation? Nose: herbal and flinty. With water, it evolves towards moss on stone. Mouth: still herbal (verbana? tarragon) with a whole lot of jam. With water, it becomes... Wait for it... Watery. Finish: easy and mellow. With water, rocks, flint with an aniseed touch. 7/10

64.40 22yo 1990/2012 Gingery heat and oaky tannins (53.7%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 172b) (me): nose: in the eternal words of Michael Jackson: Jam! Honey, soaked Boudoir biscuit, dessert, whipped cream. 'Five floors of different things' (Fixou). Mouth: fruit juice, syrupy, but not too much so. Finish: everlasting marmalade and jam. Excellent. 8/10

Puns and jokes start to fuse, showing that it is way past our bed time -- "Evil Eye Cherry"
PS -Push it! Push it!
me -Pu-push it real good!

29.128 21yo 1990/2012 Deep, dark and hugely entertaining (58.8%, SMWS Society Single Cask, C#10840, 601b) (Fixou): nose: little ash and lots of fox skin. An old granny's arse (Fixou, in poetic mode). Mouth: velvet, even corduroy. Finish: long, ashy, yet the animal skin is what comes out most. Terrible nose, average rest. 5/10

G5.7 19yo 1993/2012 All Day American Breakfast (64.6%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 237b) (me): nose: ginger bread. Mouth: vanilla, more ginger bread -- this is excellent. Black currant. Finish: more ginger bread and lovely goodness. A cracking middle-aged grain.

Someone had 7.79 and 66.37, but I did not try them.

Excellent times. We did not go through the whole outturn (obviously!), probably overdid it already, yet what a quality moment!

12 November 2012

10/11/2012 Novembrrr

November is here, it is cold, we need an excuse to drink some peat, yet leave it open enough to also have other things. 'B' is a theme that has been explored many times, but never have we had a tasting in which the bottling names had to have a 'B' and a 'R'.The suspects: Fixou, idealrichard, JS and myself.

The menu
The menu:

Bruichladdich The Organic (46%, OB) (brought by idealrichard): nose: pill cabinet, which is unexpected for an organic dram. Peach pits, dried apricots, unripe apricots, even. Mouth: creamy alright. Crème brûlée, Greek yoghurt (Fixou). Finish: the sweet creaminess of chocolate milk and a little acidity, reminiscent of grape seeds. Good aperitive dram. Not too complex or impressive, but does the trick.

Two different 33s
Tullibardine 33yo 1972/2006 (43.1%, Dewar Rattray Cask Collection, C#2597, 141b) (brought by JS): nose: flowers, bakery, banane flambée, kiwi, oil lamp. Mouth: flower stems, flower juice. Finish: cola, a fleeting impression of clogged sink and a lot of fruit. This remains an extraordinary dram and consistently convinces non-believers of this distillery's quality. 9/10

25.61 20yo b.2012 (51.3%, SMWS Society Cask) (Rosebank brought by idealrichard): nose: waves of bakery aromas. Mouth: peppery -- one can feel the Watts, here. Finish: hiking boots (it is delicate), vanilla, grape-seed oil, ice cream, fudge, woollen socks worn once. Beautiful, this. 8/10

Bruichladdich 18yo (46%, OB) (brought by idealrichard): idealrichard tells us he cannot decide whether he likes this one or not. It is a wine finish and that is probably why: the oddness does not suit everyone. Nose: a bit winey, loads of rhubarb as well, which is good to me. Mouth: winey again, with balls. It is strange and spiky. Finish: more wine, sweet and unusual. This is not something I would drink too much of, yet one dram is interesting.

Springbank 18yo (46%, OB, b.2009) (brought by me): this one has been sitting untouched for over six months, when we tried it with Fixou at our first tasting together (not recorded on this blog). Nose: moved towards leather, but it still has some cardboard, and a little shaving foam has now also emerged. Dark cherries too, which is obviously enjoyable. Mouth: thin milk and animal notes kept under control. Finish: long and rich. Mocha? Milk chocolate. 7/10

idealrichard: -I can't remember what it reminds me of...
me:              -Opulence?

The shit.
Ardbeg 1978/1999 (43%, OB) (brought by me): nose: distant peat, some barley (really?), brine, oysters and a bit of leather. This is all extremely well integrated and put together, with a hint of pleasant acidity -- Fixou talks about basalmic vinegar (© Fixou 2012) again, as with the Laphroaig 30 a few tastings ago. Mouth: delicate peat again, as well as that high-end vinegar. Finish: beautiful and elegant, with pastry, then peated barley comes up again. Lovely dram indeed! Long and mellow, noble and elegant. 9/10

Fixou, 'It feels the same as when you solve a Rubik's Cube.'

125.36 20yo 1989 A tapestry of tropical tastes (51.7%, SMWS Society Single Cask, ex-Bourbon Barrel, 279b) (brought by Fixou): this one is not in theme, but there is very little left, I like it a lot and it should not come after the next one, lest it would be wasted. Fixou poured it at the beginning of the tasting to let it breathe. Nose: lots of fruit again, melted butter, pineapple, grapefruit, guava, mango and even lychee. Mouth: papaya and pineapple juice, a bit of ginger too. Finish: it is a debauchery of fruit -- passion fruit, banana, mango, guava, kiwi. Long and coating. 8/10

33.124 7yo 2005/2012 An engineer’s lunch-box (59.7%, SMWS Society Single Cask, ex-Sherry Butt, 602b) (another Ardbeg brought by Fixou): nose: 'a dirty, young Ardbeg,' says Fixou. Farmyard, earth, mud to a point I have not experienced before. Mouth: lots of pepper, ember and ash -- a young Ardbeg indeed. Finish: very long, with earth, some ashes and hot embers on the tongue that fade out to unveil strawberries. Yep.

Excellent tasting and great times, as usual. We were all less cold as a result. :-)

5 November 2012

04/11/2012 Broken corks

Anyone who has not had a broken cork probably has not drunk enough whisky. We all made fun of dom666 when it happened to him (he was the first, years ago), then it became even funnier when it happened to everyone in the group, one by one. Always looking for a theme that is as silly as can be, there was no need to look further.

The suspects: P, dom666, adc (in the beginning), kruuk2 (in the end) and myself.

The menu:

Scapa Flow claims another casualty
Scapa 14yo (40%, OB) (brought by Pat): an old acquaintance, this, yet we have not had it since August 2011, precisely when the cork broke. Nose: light bakery, scent of fruit (mirabelle plum, ripe grapes), a little bit of faint lichen, perhaps. A hint of nail lacquer in the back of the nose, too. Mouth: a big custard attack. Very creamy, this. Finish: more custard and chocolate pudding with a very vague bitterness. A cracking dram indeed.

A simple case of bad glue
Deanston 17yo (40%, OB) (mine): another old acquaintance. Nose: more wood, dunnage warehouse, nail polish and cedar wood. Mouth: some sting on the tip of the tongue, more cedar wood for a rather drying result. Finish: milk chocolate, white coffee, even more cedar wood. Lovely, if not very complex.

Enters food: boar casserole with a potato and courgette bake. Delicious.

Catastrophe avoided
Bladnoch 23yo 1977/2001 (53.6%, OB Rare Malts Selection, 6000b, b#00565) (me): nose: powerful and noble alcohol -- we switched gears in the horse power department! Mouth: skimmed milk, cedar wood (one of those days, it seems). Finish: hint of mocha, cocoa. Not spending too much time on this one: it is a stunning dram, end of 8/10

Double whammy
Lagavulin 1979/1997 Double Matured (43%, OB Distillers Edition, Pedro Ximinez Wood) (dom666's): nose: hot embers, smoked meat, cooking bread crust (moist bread crust, to be precise). Mouth: watery, cold and completely worn out. Finish: chargrilled red peppers, then wet, burnt wood.
We all bathe in a Mission Lagavulin
The legend, the first broken cork of the group, is empty. It is about time, as it turned awful. The nose is still good, the rest has completely faded away. As a sidenote, it became double legendary, as dom666 managed to also break the replacement cork. The few centilitres of whisky left were augmented with an armada of floating devices.

Chop off hish head!
Talisker 1989/2002 Double Matured (45.8%, OB Distillers Edition, Amoroso Sherry) (dom666's): nose: some velvety smoke, marmalade. Mouth: watery. Still alright, but it is time to finish it as well! Finish: coffee comes out, some jam, but it is, again, very tired.

kruuk2 tells us a story about four Czechs at this year's Maschinenfest. We quickly name them the Fantastechs.

Message in a bottle
Smoking Islay (55%, Blackadder) (kruuk2's): nose: peat smoke and barley with a little bit of fox skin. Mouth: bang! Hot and powerful. Finish: braised meat, embers, charcoal. Another empty bottle. This one did stand the time quite well.

Off-theme, we then have:

Port Dundas 17yo 1991/2008 (61.5%, Dewar Rattray Cask Collection, Barrel, C#120306, 180b): nose: cereal (oats, mostly), some paint thinner, nail polish and medicinal notes. Mouth: lots of wood and dunnage, distant plasters. Finish: drying, cedar wood (come on!), lacquer -- wonderful, innit. 8/10

A good session with an interesting, agreeable selection, even if not blinding. Good times.

15 October 2012

13/10/2012 Winter is coming

It really is. Even fired up the heating on Saturday, as it was so chilly.
Busy weekend, so it could only be a couple of hours, but given how infrequently Fixou and I have a chance to share a dram, we went ahead all the same.

Bladnoch 16yo 1991/2007 (51%, Taste Still, C#8411, 126b) (mine): nose: basalmic vinegar (© Fixou 2012), butter, Normandy (Fixou), walnut vinegar. Mouth: creamy, zesty, with vinegar and apple. Finish: lots of caramelised apples again, Waldorff salad. Fresher than in my memories. It remains a nice dram. 7/10

Isle of Skye 8yo (40%, IML) (mine): nose: nuts, a little peat, pepper and black grapes, as well as tamed sherry. Mouth: walnuts and even a touch of cardboard. Finish: maritime, salty, loaded with iodine and light peat. Excellent blend, this! Balanced, noble and plain great. Much better, in my opinion, than its main malt component (Talisker). For the price, it is an absolute winner.

125.36 20yo A tapestry of tropical tastes (1989 (51.7%, SMWS Society Single Cask, ex-Bourbon Barrel, 279b) (Fixou's): tried this one in February and was far from convinced. It was even one of the worst single-cask 'morangie I had had. I was skeptical when Fixou said he had bought one and curious to see how it would fare today. Especially after Fixou poured it at the very beginning of the tasting so it could open up. Nose: magnificent! We left it there for an hour and tropical fruits are now flowing by the basket! Passion fruit, mango, banana, pineapple, even strawberry, orange water. Mouth: jammy, with lots of citrus and tropical fruit. It is also spice-rich (ginger and pepper, mostly). Finish: the pepper is now a bit invading. Behind it, lots of grapefruit, passion fruit, pineapple. This is a BenRiach 1976. Boiled sweets come out too, after a bit and a drop of water. I missed it completely the first time around. Given the right technique, this is stunning. Fixou, 'Very fucked-up balance. With human intervention, it becomes great.' Would score even higher if it were more balanced from the start. 8/10

'Sans eau, c'est de la boucherie.'

Flaming Heart 4th Edition (48.9%, Compass Box, b.2012) (Fixou's): this fourth version is supposedly a blend of Clynelish and Laphroaig. Nose: animal skin, then peat. Laphroaig is talking loudly. A little ash too. Mouth: round, oily, not as aggressive as arrogant, with a taste of raspberry eau-de-vie (Fixou). Finish: peat, barley, distant chocolate, honey syrup (Fixou), quince jelly. A lovely dram again.

Brief tasting, but quality.

9 October 2012

07/10/2012 The Whisky Show 2012 (Day 2)

The particularly busy Adelphi stand.
Late again, though earlier than yesterday (12:10 instead of 12:20). No queue at all, yay! idealrichard could not make today, but JS could not make yesterday. That is why I am going both days and, to be honest, I am quite glad after all. I got to find the good bits not to be missed yesterday and I will be able to try the remainders at a pedestrian pace today -- we did not even go to Diageo's stall, yesterday.
The hall is not exactly deserted, but a lot less crowded, and the atmosphere is more relaxed. It is not all tourists trying to taste as much as they can in the few hours they are in town, now. To a point some stalls are so quiet the staff is playing with their mobile phones. :-)

The plan is to head for Diageo, but then Rosebank seems like a sensible starting point for JS. TWE's exclusive bottlings it is. I have:

Glen Keith 22yo 1989/2012 (50.7%, Speciality Drinks Single The Malts of Scotland, Hogshead, C#57243, 226b): nose: subtle and discrete, with some vanilla and a bit of wood. It is all downplayed. Some flowers, red currant. Mouth: honey and a slight berry-related bitterness. Finish: unripe berries, plant juices. 7/10

Braes of Glenlivet 23yo 1989/2012 (54.9%, Speciality Drinks The Single Malts of Scotland, Hogshead, C#689015, 272b): nose: downplayed again. There is a whiff of animal skin, some wood, hay. Mouth: creamy, with orange liqueur (Mandarine Napoleon? Grand Marnier?), coating, yet light at the same time, if that makes sense (probably not). Finish: orange, citrus. 7/10

While taking notes at a table nearby, I hear a couple of Indian punters being treated to something special at the Adelphi stall. I jump in and manage to get a dram.

Lochside 47yo 1965/2012 (54.6%, Adelphi Limited Release, 552b): datz ryte! I missed last year's edition, but this one does not escape me, hahahahahaha! Nose: dunnage warehouse, coffee, orange liqueur (again!?) Mouth: mocha, coffee, then black pepper on lychee cake. Finish: dunnage warehouse, though the dominant is peppered fruit cake. Butter, dark, red fruit (elderberry, black currant). Stunning indeed! I reckon I still prefer TWE's 46-year-old, but yeah, that one is not particularly easy to beat. 9/10

Upstairs to Diageo's before the dream drams run out. What? Brora and Port Ellen are dream drams, this year? Not that it matters much to me, but yes. That is not what we are interested in, though.

Handing the dream-dram token at Diageo's stall.
Glenury Royal 40yo 1970/2011 (59.4%, OB, 1500b): nose: coffee. It is a bit short, but that is mostly what comes out. Mouth: old jam, in which the fruit has all but vanished, pepper, mocha. Finish: balance of dunnage warehouse (really?) and jam, not so fruity anymore. It is a good dram, but the 29yo RMS is still superior to these tastebuds. 8/10

A couple of Irish shepherdesses gather as many people as possible for the Meet the Maker session in the corner of the room. Since we are there, we decide we might as well.
It is an informal interview with Billy Leighton, master blender at Midleton. If that was not good enough, Dave Broom is MCing it.
It is a rather interesting conversation, but the sound is not exactly splendid (not helped by the fact there is a cooperage workshop a few metres from us) and a fan is blowing cold air in my eyes. That unfortunately renders the experience a bit meh. We do get a dram, though:

Meet the Maker with Billy L. and a certain Dave B.
Jameson Select Reserve (40%, OB Small Batch): nose: mocha, cereal, not really my thing, here. Mouth: smooth and agreeable, creamy and floral with some honey. Finish: lots of meadow flowers, ripe, baked pear, more cream, honey, vanilla. Very nice with a so-so nose.

En route to the main hall, we stop by at the SMWS food-pairing stall. We try the munchies and one dram, but are not convinced. We chat with the staff for a few minutes, then it is time to hit the Douglas Laing bottlings again.

Glen Spey 25yo 1986/2012 (50%, Dougls Laing Old Malt Cask 50º, Refill Hogshead, C#DL8196, 299b)): nose: subtle, with sugar cane, candied sugar (who said candied camera!?) Mouth: milky. Finish: very, very sweet, sugary, even. White sugar, cake icing... and a little bit of pencil sharpener blade for good measure.

Glen Garioch 25yo 1986/2011 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask 50º, Refill Hogshead, C#DL7866, 174b): nose: butter and wood. Mouth: milky with some cedar wood. Finish: mocha, coffee, milk chocolate. 7/10

Glen Ord 21yo 1990/2011 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask 50º, Refill Butt, C#DL6856, 492b): nose: sour cream and white wine. Mouth: milk again, almonds. Finish: herbs. 7/10

Meanwhile, JS is seduced by the Carsebridge and Littlemill. I explain to Fred Laing that they are not in the shop any longer and the three bottles of the latter were bought by one customer.
There is a poster about the recent North British 50. I ask about it and we are treated to the story behind it: it was to be the driving force of a special bottling of their King of Scots blend... for Guy Ritchie and Madonna. But then they split up and they had to do something with the grain.

On to the SMWS for a "brief" chat, which ends up lasting for an hour (JS has some catching up to do and new bottles have appeared).
'It's called a waistcoat, ignorant fool!'

25.61 20yo b.2012 Lemon and vanilla delicacy (51.3%, SMWS Society Single Cask): it was there yesterday, but not available to taste. 25.61 is a 10cl bottle offered to people who join the society this weekend. Not available otherwise. Nose: honey, honeysuckle. Mouth: jam. Finish: a bit of pepper, lots of flowers, huckleberry, raspberry. Delicious. 8/10

JS tries G8.1 (see yesterday's note), the bar guy tells me how he is unable to smell anything else than vanilla, wood, varnish in a grain after our chat yesterday -- I see nothing wrong with that. I get him a glass of the DL Carsebridge. He thinks grains are ok, is not as big a fan. He changes his mind. He also does not like Karuizawa very much. I ask him if he tried C#7576 from across the hall (see yesterday's note), he says yes, and he changed his mind. Also, he found out they have something else I have not tried. I have something in my glass in the meantime, though:

Glenglassaugh 26yo 1983/2010 (46%, OB, 1002b): nose: some coffee. Mouth: nice, with milk coffee. Finish: chilli, milk chocolate, mocha-flavoured candy. Not bad, not entirely convinced. I chat with a couple at the stand and forget to take a picture of the bottle.

124.3 13yo 1999/2012 All the complexities of summer (61.9%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Sherry Butt, 509b): nose: dark oranges, maybe tobacco. Mouth: red chilli. Finish: orange, grapefruit, lovely and balanced, yum! 8/10

We go for food. It is the same as yesterday, which is fine by me. The bread is very good, by the way.
Mussels well on display, today.
En route, we stop for a lunch-time dram:

Port Ellen 32yo 1979/2012 12th (52.5%, OB, 2964b): it is a dream dram, this year and, at 700+£ a bottle, it reads like a rip-off (the first versions were under 200 upon introduction). Is it worth it? Nose: very distant peat, elegant. Farmland, though again, quite noble. An organic farm it is, in which customers come buy butter wearing chequered shirts and designer glasses. Mouth: it is still punchy for a dram that age! It is more like a short coffee than a creamy one -- the sherry influence, surely. Finish: coffee and pepper, never too invading, very nice indeed. It would be a very nice 100--150£ bottle. 800£? Stuff it! I can see why people like it, but it does not justify that price tag, in my opinion. 8/10

"If my name is on it, it has to be good!"
Another Meet the Maker session takes place in the mezzanine: Lorne Mackillop is introducing a few bottlings of his range. Now, earlier on, I asked him for a particular bottling, but he was saving it for this session. It would be rude not to be there, then. Unfortunately, we come in too late: they have moved to the third bottling, and the one I am interested in was the first. Since the fan is blowing in my eyes again, we call it quits without trying anything.

Colin D. looking his usual smart.
Rich with a few more dream-dram tokens and lost for inspiration, I decide Diageo is really close by, so I might as well try the new Brora. Colin D. is at the helm, which is a bonus. He cleverly pretends he knows me, which he probably does with everyone, but is nice all the same. No Manager's Dram under the counter and the Brora is gone. He offers a Caol Ila cask strength instead, which I politely decline. The girl from the coffee stall brings hot chocolates -- Colin promptly corrects them with said Caol and she lets me try hers. Nice.
JS decides she wants to try the hot chilli chocolate: it turns out to be disappointing.

Back to Gordon & McPhail, where JS tries the Inverleven (see yesterday's note). I recognise the guy from last year: he just arrived. He pretends he remembers me too, which is very kind.

Pittyvaich 1993/2012 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice, Refill Sherry Hogshead): nose: grass, hay, distant apricot. Mouth: fresh, with more cut grass and faint pepper. Finish: long, filled with peppermint, pepper, juniper berries and a note of pencil sharpener blade.

Benromach 42yo 1969/2011 (42.6%, OB, Refill Sherry Hogshead): as far as I can remember, this might be my first Benromach. Might as well make it a noteworthy one and this one is recommended (dream dram). Nose: leather bags etc. You know the score. More subtle than other sherry monsters I have tried recently, so all good. Mouth: sherry influence shines through and through. It is wide, with pronounced orange-rind notes. Finish: Dark chocolate and orange. Some marmalade. Pretty nice, though not my favourite thing, today. 7/10

Mr whiskyfun passes by again: I grab his attention to say hello and have a quick chat. Martine Nouet quickly joins us. She initiates her own conversation with Serge and I leave, forgetting to compliment her on the food. Martine, if you read this... Now corrected.
In the other hall, we head back to Angus Dundee Distillers, which is also where Mr Mackillop keeps his stash. He has some left. Yay.

Linlithgow 28yo 1982/2011 (57.3%, Iain Mackillop Mackillop's Choice, C#2206): YES! The Whisky Cyclist told me yesterday that it was there and there it is indeed. Nose: hay, grass, olive (?) oil. Mouth: The kick! Pungent, grassy, with lots of honey in the end. Finish: long, with grass and hay again. Lovely indeed. 8/10

We talk about the magic of the cask and the distillation process, 'well, it's my job, so I don't see it as magic... but I get your point.' Hehe.

Bruichladdich 19yo 1992/2012 (57.8%, Iain Mackillop Mackillop's Choice, Sherry Cask, C#1874): nose: hazelnuts. Mouth: almond liqueur, hazelnut -- Frangelico? Finish: some (white) coffee, milk chocolate. Quite good too, though he poured too much for each of us and I end up discarding some of it. Only dram I did not finish (not that it is an achievement).

BenRiach 35yo 1976/2012 (54.1%, OB, Pedro Ximenez Sherry Butt, C#5317, 204b): need to spend the last token and want to finish this festival in style. No notes, it is still a great dram! 9/10

The festival is over for today (tomorrow, the trade). I manage to secure a bottle of both the Carsebridge and the Littlemill with some help from SS and FL, yippee! Thank you!
Selecting a new everyday dram with a moustachioed novice.

A quick trip to the shop, where it seems even more hectic than yesterday. A brief chat with Serge whiskyfun again (+1 for his correct use of the subjonctif imparfait -- not every day do I come across someone who can and will do that! :-) ), before we are joined by Martine Nouet again (it is quickly becoming a habit).
It is soon time to go try and recover before next year's edition.

Well, that was an experience, was it not! I am very grateful that some of the ideas for improvement I mentioned last year were implemented (less waste, more time between special events, more space), but then that was complemented by even more special events: between the master classes, mini-master classes, food pairings, Meet the Maker sessions, book signings etc., there was little time to get bored (that did not prevent at least one person from falling asleep on the sofas upstairs on Saturday). Some were over the top for me, like having a cooper on site lead workshops: extraordinarily interesting, but there was simply too much to try and too little time to do it, as far as I am concerned.
Nevertheless, it felt perhaps more rewarding this year for different reasons and despite other things.

'You want a piece of me, boy?'
Pros: it seemed better organised, there were tables everywhere inside to put your glass down, take notes, what-have-you. It was spread over two days of the weekend, which means one day was less busy than the other (visitors working on Monday did not show up on Sunday) and there was more time to taste more things without heading to a certain ethyl coma (mind you, two days in a row can be quite hard-hitting). The dream drams were available most of the time. Only the most popular ones were out on Sunday, in the late afternoon (Diageo's, unsurprisingly).

Cons: there seemed to be fewer incredible things to try both on the stalls and in the dream-dram realm. More things were kept under the counter as well, which bargaining did not always give certain access to. The master classes were far less appealing to me (one bottling of one master class was tempting alright, though: Gold Bowmore) and, considering they were advertising last-minute tickets for some as late as ten minutes before they started, I tend to think I was not the only one to think so. The Meet the Maker sessions were a good feat. Might be worth having them outside the air conditioning stream (my eyes are all swollen on Monday) and the sound installation was not all that. The price went up and, if two days are probably the best option, the weekend ticket's price is quite steep, particularly if the higher-end bottlings are under the counter -- but then the W world is boiling, at the moment, so nothing comes cheap and I can understand that. Last but not least, marketing is creeping up badly. I was relieved to see more familiar faces on Sunday (i.e. men who have been involved in whisky making for years and years), yet it seems Ardbeg does not have the monopoly anymore, when it comes to sending good looking girls to do the talking or indeed, show the goods (+1 for the school-boy attire, by the way). Jameson also delegated attractive barmaids, as did Highland Park and others. Nothing wrong with them and surely, they do a good job. It is still interesting to see that older men are being replaced by young women across all brands, roughly simultaneously. Precisely when silly packaging takes more and more importance.

Nothing to do with the festival organisation, though. That was very, very good and I am looking forward to next year's edition. Well done Ollie, Alex, Chris, the whole TWE staff, and thank you to SS and RS for making it happen.

8 October 2012

06/10/2012 The Whisky Show 2012 (Day 1)

Possibly the most exciting festival of the year is upon us again. I leave late, wait forever for a bus, am stuck in diversions and traffic jams, but eventually, I make it there and join idealrichard who beat me. The queue is at least as long as last year, but it seems to move a lot faster. Ten minutes and we are in.

Glorious sunshine, this year again.
The venue is crowded already. It seems even bigger to me, though it is but a misperception. Not very happy with last year's experience (the one dream dram I wanted to try was sold out before we even got in), we quickly go buy a couple of extra tokens (dream drams cost one, two or three tokens; everyone gets one at the entrance and more can be bought from a desk) and make our way to the stall where they pour the top-end bottlings.

2200£ buy you this.
And she pours it.
Highland Park 1968/2008 (45.6%, OB Orcadian Vintage, 1550b): yep. Not having taken part in the Orcadian masterclass last year, I never tried this one. idealrichard is interested to say the least, and it seems too good an opportunity to sleep on. The staff brings the bottle and the case (for pictures, of course), which attracts a lot of attention from the customers. Anyway. Nose: immediately, mead comes up to mind. Honey and sweet wine, heather. Mouth: soft, generous, with more honey. Finish: a pronounced bitterness grabs me before it settles on warming central heating (warming, not burning, that is). It is very, very well balanced and a great 250-pound whisky. What? It costs 2200? Well, that is just a little overpriced, then. Gorgeous packaging, though. 8/10

Tomatin 40yo 1967/2007 (42.9%, OB, Bourbon Hogshead, 1614b): might as well get the dream drams out of the way, so we do not end up with unredeemable tokens like last year. I wanted to try this one, because Tomatin can be glorious, especially from those particular decades, and it is a bottle that is still possible to purchase -- sort of: at 400£ a pop, it is obviously steep, but we are not as firmly in fairyland as with the first one. Nose: creamy, refreshing, with notes of almond paste. Mouth: it is a bit neutral, this. Good, not blinding. Finish: same here. It is a good dram, refreshing, with some fleeting fruit in the back. Not enough to justify the dream-dram status, in my opinion. That is 400£ well not spent. 7/10

At this point, a guy walks by me and empties his glass into the bin right next to me. I tell him there are spittoons at each stall. He says he did not see them, but when I show him, he smiles away and gets the hint.
A few seconds later, some dressed-up choir boy (grey trousers, dark blue, double-breasted coat, brown Italian shoes -- yep, name and shame) spits his dram in the same bin. I tell him the same, that there are spittoons at every stall (implying in a not-so-subtle fashion: it is a bit disgusting and disrespectful, innit): he shakes his head, pretends not to see me and goes, only to come back and do the same again. I certainly tell him the same: same reaction. He then comes to me, 'I'd like to see you when you're 70!'
Thick French accent. I tell him about spittoons in his own language. Same reaction: the moron shakes his head, pretends he does not understand and leaves, high and mighty.
Torn between slapping him and calling security, I end up trying to avoid him as much as possible for the rest of the day. Each time I come across him, he is spitting in a bin. Nice touch to dress up as a yacht skipper to then do that. Lack of education knows no boundary.

We then try and resume our tasting activities.

Ardmore 25yo (51.4%, OB, b.2008): nose: lots of fruit, there! Apples cooking in sizzling butter. Mouth: creamy, with more baked apple. It is also slightly dry. Finish: long and a bit drying, with hints of smoke. Lovely expression, this. 9/10

Laphroaig 25 (50.9%, OB, 2008 Batch, Sherry Butt): it seems way too early to get an Islay, but it is right by us, the stall is not very busy yet and I am not sure how long that bottle will last. Nose: varnish and wood, some polish or furniture wax -- surprisingly, no peat. It is still a little medicinal, I suppose. Mouth: milky. Finish: some peat finally comes through, as well as barley. Not a fiery Laphroaig -- rather reminiscent of the 40yo. Not as good, obviously, but nice.
The busy, Victorian venue.

Our next random stop is the SMWS. I have tried the whole outturn on Monday, but they told me there would be a few special things for the festival.

116.17 25yo 1987/2012 (59.2%, SMWS Society Cask, Refill ex-Sherry Butt, 485b): first SMWS Japanese W, here. This one is highly anticipated by many, I am told. I take it with no expectations, even less so as it is only my second Yoichi. Nose: orange, marzipan, light syrup. Mouth: jam, marmalade, coating and sweet, yet not overpowering. Finish: more marmalade with hints of vanilla in the back and pepper. Nice, this. 7/10

G8.1 21yo 1989 (51.2%, SMWS Society Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 272b): now, that is something that I am excited to try. Nose: another one of those beautiful grains, full of vanilla, wood and almond. Mouth: peppered vanilla. Finish: pepper, dried fruits (sultanas, dried banana). Predictable, perhaps, but oh! so beautiful. We joke with the bartender that all grains have the same sort of characteristics (varnish, wood, vanilla).

A quick walk across the room to Berry Bros for idealrichard and No. 1 Drinks for the following:

Chichibu 2008/2011 The First (61.8%, OB, Bourbon Barrels, 7400b): obviously my first Chichibu. Nose: peach and walnut. Mouth: ach! this is a bit bitter indeed. Not totally unpleasant, but not seducing. Finish: the whole thing is not too well-integrated. It remains an OK dram, especially considering it is three years old, but I will not be buying a bottle.

Karuizawa 28yo 1983/2012 (57.2%, Number One Noh Whisky, Sherry Butt, C#7576, 571b): finally a chance to experience what the craze is about. Nose: meaty! Smoked meat, cured ham, a lot more sherried than I expected, even with that colour. Cough syrup, iron filings. Mouth: coffee (it is rather subtle), more cured meat, syrup again. Finish: the sherry makes room for some powerful, tranquil peat. An earthy dram. The balance between peat and sherry is really well maintained. I can certainly understand why Karuizawa is popular, even if I still think the enthusiasm reaches irrational levels. This would be a great 90--100£ whisky. It costs 350£ a bottle. 7/10

Another few steps take us to our next stop: Douglas Laing.

Littlemill 20yo 1991/2012 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask 50º, Refill Hogshead, C#DL8481, 121b): nose: humid grass, mostly. There is still some citrus (last year's 19 was packed with it), but a lot less (lime?) Mouth: more citrus with a sting, root ginger, well balanced, lovely. Finish: a mixture of old, moist cask, lime and even subtle passion fruit. This might be even better than last year's. 8/10

A quick discussion with Fred Laing (who is still as nice a man as is humanly possible) and I get to hear the sad news: the 35yo Banff last year was their last cask and they also have no more St Magdalene in stock. Edit: they later released a 36yo Banff and a couple of 30yo StM, which makes me think Mr Laing told me porkies.

Dram of the day.
Carsebridge 45yo 1965/2011 (44.7%, Hunter Hamilton The Clan Denny, Bourbon Barrel, C#HH7500): moving on to yet-another-grain, skipping all the other potentially great malt drams on offer. Nose: vanilla, butterscotch, varnish -- it is a grain whisky, innit. Mouth: fresh, milky, balanced, beautiful. Finish: almond cream, butterscotch, dessert rice. This is perhaps the best grain I have had the pleasure to try. I am a bit upset: I bought a Carsebridge recently, thinking it might be the last I would get a chance to lay my hands on, then comes this one and it is perhaps even better. 9/10

We need an aperitive before we venture to the canteen. TWE's exclusive festival bottlings stall is as good as any.

Rosebank 21yo (48%, The Whisky Exchange, b.2012): I get all shaky at the thought of trying a new Rosebank -- who wouldn't? Nose: sweaty foot (you read that right), then ripe apples and cooking margarine. Mouth: lively alright, though discrete -- it is a Lowlander after all. Lemonade? Flowery. Finish: more flowers (too tamed for me to satisfy botanists' thirst for a list), slightly herbal, long and comforting like an early summer evening. There is also a little bit of ginger. This is great (bar the sweaty foot), but then I am not impartial, here.

Time for food. It is a longer trip to the restaurant, since the mezzanine is taken by stalls and workshops, this year. We get to wander through halls unknown to me and I must say the venue is even more fantastic than I thought.
The food is better than last year, as is the organisation around it. One can try a little of everything (as opposed to one dish out of three, last year). A nice meal. I live through a very embarrassing moment too: idealrichard is talking to me when I cannot contain a laughter -- I have put something in my mouth that is bigger and harder than I expected; upon chewing, the thing cracks: I am thinking of star aniseed, but cannot recall seeing any. It then dawns on me: the seafood curry! I just obliterated a mussel shell by chewing it! Since it was covered with rice and other things, I did not see it in my plate. Ahem.

Back in the hall, we head for the Adelphi stall.

Longmorn 20yo 1992/2012 (55.1%, Adelphi, C#48432, 215b): nose: butter, pastry, dough, some honeysuckle. Mouth: gingery (a recurrent note, today!) Finish: coffee and marmalade, then extreme bitterness in the back. Not too taken to say the least. 6/10

I am disappointed with the selection too. I am sure the other bottlings are good, but given the choice elsewhere, "good" will not do for me. Time for a proper after lunch dram.

Close contender, but too £££.
BenRiach 35yo 1976/2012 (54.1%, OB, Pedro Ximenez Sherry Butt, C#5317, 204b): nose: lots of tobacco, coffee -- drat! It is a sherry butt and the sherry speaks loudly. It then opens up on grapefruit alright. :-) Mouth: grapefruit juice, with a barbecue impression. Barbecued grapefruit, maybe. It stings a little, it is acidic and quite numbing. Finish: a grapefruit kick in the arse. Loverly! 9/10

GlenDronach 21yo Parliament (48%, OB, b. ca 2012): nose: coffee, leather, meat stock. Mouth: more coffee and sherry shenanigans. Finish: caraway seed (really? I wanted to use that note somewhere is what it is ;) ), milk coffee, dark chocolate. It is good, perhaps not exactly my style today. 6/10

Tomintoul 14yo (40%, OB, b. ca 2012): nose: peach or apricot. There is a little peat in the beginning, then it vanishes. Mouth: light and pleasant. Finish: orange juice? Light and fruity. Pleasantly surprised by this one. 7/10

Setting tables up everywhere in the hall is a great idea. However, I am starting to think that spittoons on them would not go amiss, next year: it seems a lot of visitors have no idea what a bin is for and are too lazy to go to the stalls to empty their glasses.
Next stop: Gordon & MacPhail.

Inverleven 1991/2012 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail): well, they seem to all be from 1991. This one was bottled this year. Nose: almond, butterscotch. Mouth: custard, dessert cream, ginger (again!?) Finish: milk chocolate. Well balanced and wonderful. Possibly my favourite Inverleven. 8/10

Strathisla 1970/2012 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail): last year's 1963 left a strong impression. What will this one do? Nose: wood, old varnish. Mouth: cannot tell. Finish: too drying. Glue, wood lacquer, white spirit, turpentine. I do not care for this one at all. 5/10

Balblair 1979/2010 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Refill Bourbon Barrel): nose: grassy. Mouth: more grass, hay, a sprinkle of white pepper. Finish: grass and pepper, balanced in a nice way.

Time to hit the Islay ones, as describing subtlety becomes a challenge. Besides, time is running out.

Caol Ila 30yo 1980/2011 (59.4%, Douglas Laing Old & Rare A Platinum Selection, Refill Hogshead, 270b): nose: paint thinner, medicinal. Mouth: chilli and ginger-laden curry, wasabi? Finish: a noticeable kick, then long-lasting, comforting peat smoke. Not too invading, but clearly discernable. Also some green chilli after a bit. 7/10

Bowmore 25yo 1985/2012 (56.1%, Douglas Laing Old & Rare A Platinum Selection, Refil Butt, 124b): nose: cheese, bandages. Mouth: a hint of peat and a lot of character. Some balls on display, here! Finish: earthy, cheesy, long, lovely.

Between idealrichard and the Whisky Cyclist (drinking),
Mr whiskyfun and his impressive 'tache
I spot Serge "whiskyfun" Valentin a few metres away. I want to say hello, but a court surrounds him, so I never get a chance.
Time is up. Exhibitors promptly file everything back into their cabinets. We chat a little with the SMWS guys: idealrichard signs up and I offer the bartender a Caol Ila 30yo (see notes above) -- his favourite distillery. We then proceed to the shop. Where chaos rules.
Chats with the whole staff ensue, discussions with customers about such and such whisky at the festival, this or that collection, or simply an exchange of impressions. Lovely times. PS snaps up the whole stock of Littlemill 20yo, which is a pain in the neck, but that is what he does. As well as defy human reason with the biggest lenses known to mankind.
I postpone my purchases, since I am back tomorrow. idealrichard leaves me, then I follow his path, wait forever for a bus and end up deciding to walk home.

A couple of notes for the day: a lot less waste, it seems. Last year, we all got a plastic bag with flyers and brochures for the bin on top of the useful things. This year, a map, a glass, a token, a food coupon. That is it. A huge thank you for that. It makes this little customer happier.
The ticket check was much, much more efficient than last year. No technology let-down, this time around.
On the other hand, I understand the pressure to let people in as quickly as possible, but the guys who tie the wristband could focus a little more and do so without tearing half my fur off (aouch!) :-)

Click here for Day 2.

2 October 2012

01/10/2012 October outturn preview tasting at The Don

Another preview tasting, which is always something to look forward to. This time, at The Don, a French restaurant in the City, favourite place of a JJG ("Je The Don toutes mes differences / Tous mes defauts qui sont autant de chances"). I was there a little early and the street was windy, so I went in ahead of schedule. First in too, ha!
As a reminder, the concept is to get a little taste of the new bottlings over a limited period of time (a couple of hours). With that in mind, notes are sometimes thin.

7.78 20yo 1992/2012 French patisserie in a bluebell wood (53.6%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 293b): 7.76 was well to my taste. What will this give? Nose: pine tree forest, moist soil, faint, red wine (not knowing anything about that, I cannot comment too much). Mouth: wine-marinated chestnut. Finish: there are definitely nuts, here (macadamia?) as well as some vanilla. 7/10

Pouring liquid gold
64.39 23yo 1988 Fruits in a toolbox (50.2, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 148b): bottlings from that distillery are usually my bag, baby. This is by far the oldest I have seen, though. Nose: strawberry protein shake (the bar tender), a lot woodier than all other expressions I have had, varnish, wood workshop and a bit of hot candlewax. JS reckons Chinese-tea-room pineapple cake -- not yet sure what that is. Mouth: round and mellow, as usually. Finish: a very fruity flash (strawberry and passion fruit), then more protein shake. We joke about the bar guy's apparent expertise in the protein shake department. The finish saves this one, as the fruitiness is not pronounced enough or too chemical to make it an all-round winner. 7/10

48.35 8yo 2003 Let the summer arrive! (62.7%, SMWS Society Single Cask, First-Fill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 230b): nose: honeysuckle, bubblegum and a very distant dunnage warehouse smell. Sawdust, after a while. Mouth: peppery (white and pink, according to my pepper consultant). Finish: a hint of pepper again, some vanilla, and a touch of lichen, all well balanced.

30.72 11yo 2001/2012 Take a break and have a... (57.3%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Port Pipe, 752b): a whisky fully matured in a Port cask? That is usually not something I fall for. Nose: animal skin, liqueur, sweetened wine, vegetable broth (green beans in particular). Mouth: liqueur, syrup. Finish: some more sweetness, cough syrup, corn syrup. Not my thing, though I cannot say it is bad either.

76.92 26yo 1986/2012 Ticks all the boxes (60.1%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 196b): nose: medicine cabinet, pill mix, Lance Armstrong's urine sample, then humus, decaying forest floor, soil. Mouth: herbal tea, narrow on the tongue, but mellowish. Finish: surprisingly spicy, with ginger and cardamom. 6/10

35.72 23yo 1988 Vinyl Revival (63.5%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 257b): nose: some oil, oil lamp. After the first sip, boiled sweets show up, as well as some soap -- not in an overpowering way. Mouth: mocha. Finish: coffee, chewing tobacco. Tamed and under control, which is odd, considering the obscene ABV. Wanted to like this one more, with such a name as Vinyl Revival, but no.

71.36 27yo 1985/2012 Two seasons in a dram (58.1%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 206b): always intrigued to try a 'burgie. I cannot remember having had one I really liked, so far, but a few have been very interesting (71.34 anyone?) Nose: seems very neutral, then, all of a sudden, a little dunnage warehouse and lots of nuts. The former ends up taking over. Mouth: marmalade, old wood. Finish: more warehouse, cooperage, lichen, idle stacks of wood. Interesting again. Not a seducer at all, but rather good all the same.

73.51 23yo 1989/2012 Mead, sherry & butterscotch (57.9%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 206b): nose: coffee, leather (did you say 'sherry'?), some Seville orange in the back. After a sip, roasted chicken. Mouth: bitter-sweet, marmalade? Finish: orange-water spiked coffee. Quite nice, though the lack of water and food is starting to affect my perceptions. I get really excited that it moves to roast chicken until I put my glass down and can still smell roast chicken. A quick investigation reveals the table in the room next door had roast chicken served a minute ago. I feel a right plonker, but happily laugh it off with the bar tender.
The selection

66.36 10yo 2002/2012 Milano salami and a tropical fruit kebab (58.2%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Sherry Butt, 702b): another outturn, another 66. Many of them, lately, which is weird, considering how tough it was to find anything from that distillery, a few years ago. Nose: leather, leather gloves, leather handbag, leather trousers, leather hat, leather jacket, leather factory -- can you see where this is going? A bit of leather barbecue as well, burnt Apericubes. Mouth: no notes. Finish: smoked meat, laether belts, caramelised (burnt?) pineapple. This is a bit too much for me today. It has also very little to do with the 19 year-old SMoS I tried recently. Heavy sherry with reasonable peat -- maybe something Fixou will enjoy.

3.195 14yo 1997 Cigar smoking dragon (58.5%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Sherry Butt, 609b): time to hit the Islay ones, then. Nose: rubber, wellington boots, dead animal skin. Mouth: jammy, with a hint of metal. Who knows if that impression is right, at this point Finish: smoked meat, marinated in pineapple juice. That then makes room for ash and barbecue. This is my favourite of the day, I think.

53.171 21yo 1991/2012 Strangely fascinating (52.7%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 253b): nose: peat, smoke and some barley. Mouth: sweet and "light", while still lively. Finish: hay, some animal skin, lively again.

29.124 20yo 1991 Pregnancy Tea Mix (56.9%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Sherry Butt, 549b): and the last one is... the 29 of the month. Nose: delicate (for a Laphroaig). Mouth: smoke, alcohol, young and fiery. Finish: barley. A decent 29, nothing ground-breaking.

A little disappointed with the selection, this month. None of the whiskies was awful, yet none was a star either, in my opinion. Good times all the same and very glad to have been invited once more... but:

-There was not enough water and the few jugs were often left empty for too long. I think the staff of The Don was in charge of that, but did not do a stellar job.
-Not enough to eat. I fully appreciate this is a free tasting and I am grateful there is something to nibble on at all. However, two plates of cheese bites for 15 people is hugely insufficient. Too little cheese and no crackers with lots of W right at supper time could be dangerous. The catering at previous ones was better. Weird it was so different here as I hear the restaurant's owner is the same as that of the other venues it has taken place at.
-The venue, although nice (a vaulted cellar), was a bit stuffy after a while. Still better than air conditioning, of course. :-)
The mf Don
Socially very rich: those events encourage people talk to each other, exchanging impressions and advice. And naturally, it is always a pleasure to chat with staff and regulars.
PS: 'A teenage Caol Ila is like a teenager wearing his father's tuxedo: trying to look smart. And failing.'

And for those with a little knowledge of French pop culture:
"Partenaire particulier
Chercher partenaire particuliere
Debloquee, pas trop timide
Et une bonne dose de tourbe"

(Yeah, I also think that is enough alcohol for the day.)