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%, DL 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%, HH 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%, TWE, 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%, GMP): 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%, GMP): 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%, GMP, 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%, DL 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%, DL 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.)