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 50ยบ, 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.

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