28 January 2013

26/01/2013 Plein les Burns + after

Before going any further, it is probably useful to underline 'burnes' is French slang for 'balls'. Although no offence to Burns is meant, it is too good a bad pun to pass.
The name is Robert  (© Emmanuel Viguie)
Anyway, the year's most important tasting is here once more. It was a headache to find some of the ingredients for supper, this year, but everything is ready and anticipation is high.
The theme is anything that is related to 'burn' in any way. Given there are not that many active distilleries with that in the name, interpretation was free and criteria were loose.

The suspects: adc, JS, dom666, Psycho, kruuk2, ruckus, sonicvince, JD, myself and P, who joins the party at the sixth dram.

Psycho, sonicvince, ruckus, dom666, JS and I visit a store before the do. We buy a few things and are treated to a Dallas Dhu 1980/2001 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail) and a Hibiki 17. Nice aperitives, both of them.

Back to the venue, where we meet adc and JD and are quickly joined by kruuk2.
JD and dom666 are tasked with building the line-up.

This is their work:

Aultmore 29 (Vom Fass) (brought by dom666): dom666 found a new shop near his; they bottle their own products. This is one of them and, although it has no connection with the theme, he wants us to try it. Nose: oregano, rosemary, distant vanilla, Brazil nuts. The mouth has a skimmed-milk texture, nice as aperitive again. Finish: herbes de Provence (oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc.), unripe, green fruit and a little pencil-sharpener blade to balance it out. Agreeable.

105.19 28yo 1983 'O come all ye faithful' (55.1%, SMWS Society Single Cask, ex-Sherry Hogshead, 315b) (dom666): We open the bottle. I kind of know what to expect, having tried it prior, yet the fresh bottle might deliver something else. Nose: caramel! (adc) Apple compote (sonicvince), apple roll (Psycho), pepper, cinnamon. Hours later, it delivers more coffee, cherry-tree fire. Even later, finally dark cherries. Water helps it let the cherries out too. Mouth: ginger bread, nutmeg. It becomes fruitier with water. Finish: some herbs, dark cherries, after a bit. The cherries are not very obvious yet. I know to look out for them and vaguely get some, but others do not as easily. Oxidation will certainly help them emerge more. Proof is, we leave a dram sit there for the whole duration of the tasting (all night), come back to it later: it finally gives out more pronounced dark cherries and maraschino cherries. This is gorgeous.
The (far-fetched) connection with the theme is given by dom666 as follows:
Burns Night
Burns to be alive
quand tu burns alive tu tombes mort

I will not translate.

Starter is served. We have a spicy parsnip and carrot soup that nearly sees J faint. It is not that spicy, mind. He simply has very low tolerance.

The traditional and one of the veggie haggises explode in the oven. We joke they must have been muslim terrorists, aka jihaggists.
A blown-up jihaggist.
The main course is also served: haggis, veggie haggis, swede and potato bake, turnip and potato puree with honey and dill, all of which is very much to my taste.
A veggiehaggist nearly made a casualty

Rare Ayrshire 34yo 1975/2009 (45.2%, Signatory Vintage Cask Strength Collection, Bourbon Barrel, 166b) (me): this one was there last year (not documented on this blog), yet Ladyburn has 'burn' in the name and I like this a lot. Seems like a good opportunity. Nose: everyone agrees on banane flambée, but I cannot keep up with the pace and leave it there until the end of the tasting. At that point, it shoots berries. Mouth: honey, a slight bitterness, happiness. To think this is supposedly a terrible distillery! Finish: long and flowery with dried fruits -- dates and apricots. Oh, man! How good is this? 9/10

Speyburn 25yo Solera (46%, OB, b. ca 2012) (me): nose: herbs, metal, old banana (sonicvince and Psycho). Many reckon it smells of old and do not care for it. It is a bit cardboardy indeed, but not overly so. adc and ruckus compare it to those thin, laminate-wood, sliding doors of a KewLox cupboard. Old cupboard and some dust. Mouth: ruckus gets a taste of metal and aluminium foil. He must be on drugs, as I mostly detect oranges. Finish: orange marmalade, along with the bitterness of pencil shavings. Odd. Dried orange peel. Everyone politely tells me it is horrible. I beg to differ, although I disagree with Jim Murray's high score. I bet oxidation will improve it dramatically.
Enjoying the tasting

Belgian Owl 4yo (74.1%, OB, C#4275986) (sonicvince): the ballsy ABV is enough for it to suit the theme. However, sonicvince thought making whisky in Belgium was ballsy and therein lies the link. Nose: flan, wet chalk (sonicvince), vanilla, wet hay, βανίλια (that is Greek vanillia). Mouth: pear eau-de-vie. It is surprisingly tolerable, despite the insane ABV. Well, most in the attendance requested a note from their mums to add water -- pf. I do not think water adds much to it and stick with the undiluted stuff. Finish: sugary, with vanilla, caramel, crème brûlée. This is quite nice and well balanced, unexpectedly enough. dom666 calls it la vodka du Diable (the Devil's advodkate).

Waterboy v3.0
P joins us. ruckus and I indulge in supper MkII with him.

Hazelburn 8yo 2002/2011 Sauternes Wood (55.9%, OB, 9180b) (kruuk2): nose: burnt tyre, burnt wood, asphalt (Psycho), some smoke and smoked lardons. My experience of Hazelburn is extremely limited (only had the 12 before), but this reminds me more of Longrow than the idea I had of Hazelburn. Mouth: powerful, with a distinct sherry influence that eclipses any Sauternes note it might have. Finish: smoked kippers, coffee, distant charcoal, even. In any case, there is absolutely no trace of the Sauternes anywhere.

Armorik (JD): the bottle contains just enough for all of us, so it is more a case of finishing it than it is about it being in theme. Nose: hay, fields, wet barley and flowers. Mouth: light grape juice. Finish: short and floral, light. Perhaps not a very impressive dram, yet there is nothing wrong with it either. Quite nice, in fact.

Cragganmore 11yo 2000/2011 (56.8%, Berry Bros Selected by Berrys', C#3673) (P): the water source is Craggan Burn. There is your connection. Nose: burnt wood, hay again, faded field flowers. The nose is often Cragganmore's best feature. It is nice here, though the burnt wood note is quite unusual. Mouth: light, with flower stems, some ginger and white pepper. Finish: slightly bitter, more plant stems and meadow flowers.

Can't have your cake and eat it
Enter the desserts: an apple sponge cake and a galette, both of which are hugely popular. In fact, I do not even have a chance to taste the sponge cake.
A galette without a king

This feels like the right moment for a break in the enormous line-up (we are about half way), right before we ignite the peat onslaught. We collectively bought a couple of more desirable bottles, recently: if we are not opening one today, then when? Besides, we would need something special to follow it up and the only good contender is next in the line-up.

Breaking the seal
Banff 35yo 1975/2011 (42.4%, Douglas Laing Old & Rare A Platinum Selection, Refill Hogshead, 158b): B(a)N(f)F for Burns Night Fare. The cork is sealed in wax. J and adc team up and manage to get it to give in. Nose: lavender, marzipan (sonicvince), dried-fruit mix (dates, raisins, figs), laundry that was left out all night (sonicvince), incense (P), fresh apple (ruckus), Chloé (adc -- it is a perfume). It moves towards more medicinal notes after a while, but the first whiff is spectacular. Mouth: velvet, plain and simple. Some honey, lavender wood. That gives way to more medicinal notes again, though never invading. Finish: the balance is impressive to say the least.
Robbie Burns's well-known ancestor approves of Banff
Heather, pot-pourri, even. This is complex and amazing. Everyone loves it. There is a slight metallic bitterness, though. No Chaumes crust this time. Hopefully, breathing will unlock it. 9/10
sonicvince spends an awful lot of time buried in the wooden case, sniffing away -- it smells of new carpet. P jokes it is a piece of Swedish furniture called Sküllskå. sonicvince replies he will buy any piece of Ikea rubbish, if it comes with the name Single Cask.
The song Kiss the Carpet makes Psycho's hand all blurry

Back to the regular line-up. The recurrent reason why they are here is they are ballsy whiskies that reek of burnt something:

Ardbeg 25yo Lord of the Isles (46%, OB, L5 285 2138 4M1) (adc): nose: brine, kippers, tarmac, rrrrrrrhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaa! Sardines. Mouth: the dominant note is iodine and salt, while the texture is velvety. Some distant engine oil, very much under control. Finish: some malt, brine, noble vinegar, pickles, light and elegant smoke, far in the back. This appears a lot more coastal than peaty, this time. It remains wonderful. 9/10

Bowmore Tempest Batch 3 (55.6%, OB, b.2011, 16000b) (ruckus): nose: it will seem cliché, as that is what it is known for, but peat and lemon. They really shine through. Mouth: berries, citrus and lovely pineapple. Finish: some peat and pineapple. A very good dram, this. Looking forward to trying all four batches in one sitting, at some point.

Some of the tasting notes are quite far-fetched
Smokehead (40%, Ian McLeod) (JD): nose: barley, peat -- it seems gentle, but at this point, it is hard to judge. Mouth: barley and ashes. Finish: lots and lots of smoke (really?) This is overpowering and suffers from the comparison with its predecessors. It is basically a plate of ashes. Cannot say I am too taken by it. It is not bad, perhaps a bit simple. The 18 year-old is believed to be an Ardbeg. This one, I reckon is a Laphroaig -- it is not too different from 29.107.

We skip P's Caol Ila 18 OB and ruckus's Port Askaig 19. Another time.

Caol Ila 23yo 1978/2002 (61.7%, OB Rare Malts Selection, 6000b) (Psycho): nose: the hair in my nose is melting, so powerful is the alcohol. It is not extremely well integrated either. Mouth: ballsy, smokey, paint-stripping. Finish: long, complex, evolving around smoke and smoked meat. Hopefully, I will get to try this one on its own at some point to give it proper notes. 7/10

Auchentoshan 17yo 1987 (61.5%, OB Individual Cask for Belgium, C#1659, 552b) (Psycho): this usually smells of burnt rubber so much dom666 named it the Francorchamps grand-prix when we first had it, years ago (not recorded on this blog). Nose: yep, Francorchamps grand-prix -- lots of rubber, cured meat, decaying leather. Mouth: more animal skin, rubber, cola. Finish: long and invading, not the most pleasant, though it feels better than previous times. Petrol, rubber, flat cola.

Peat Bull 2002/2008 (46%, La Maison du Whisky Malt Pedigree) (P): Lagavulin in disguise. Nose: cured meat, cured ham, pastrami. Mouth: quite powerful! kruuk2 reckons it lacks water. Finish: long, with waves of cigar smoke. Easy and efficient -- approved.

That is the end of the tasting. No one fancies the Arran Fixin that Psycho brought (because still having it in his collection is like an aching testicle).

As a night cap, sonicvince and ruckus try the Port Dundas 34 from the other day that I brought them back (thanks PS), while kruuk2 and the same ruckus try G5.2 which I had recently (thanks again PS).
Earlier, J had an Ardmore 1978/1998.

We move a lot of air chatting until around 5:30 in the morning, then proceed to bed.

The following morning, survivors (ruckus, JD, JS, adc, Psycho and I) share a nice breakfast. ruckus and I try:
The after-party fuel

Bushmills 16yo (40%, OB, b. ca 2012) (adc): nose: superbly fruity (peach, mostly, with a bit of passion fruit), ice tea (ruckus). Mouth: velvety, fruity, with lots of peach again and watermelon. Finish: more lovely, juicy peach. Delightful. J does not care for it.

ruckus is back from Cannes:
-Une Heineken à Cannes, ca coute 7 EUR!
-Tu devais avoir la haine à Cannes... :-)

Thanks to adc for the hospitality and huge help in the kitchen (you basically did everything), to JS for the haggises, to dom666 for the lovely bread, to ruckus and JS for the music and to everyone for the good company, laughs and great drams.
No one was tempted to try the endive liqueur.

21 January 2013

17/01/2013 A few drams to shake off the cold

We could not find a suitable date for a tasting in January, therefore decided to go for a couple on a school night. In order to prepare ourselves for the journey through the cold streets, we thought a few drams would be ideal.

Tobermory 15yo (46.3%, OB) (me): no comment, apart from the observation it gives out more figs than usual.

F has a Balvenie 14yo Golden Cask which seems to get her approval, while Fixou tries the Port Dundas 34yo C#128321 again and finds it OK, but not blinding. Same verdict as in December, then.

GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 1 (54.3%, OB, b. ca 2012) (F, Fixou and myself): nose: white coffee, grain, frangipane, a little tobacco, perhaps, milk chocolate. Mouth: pepper and nut liqueur. Finish: varnish, cola, marzipan -- this is beautiful and unexpectedly complex. I cannot claim huge familiarity with the distillery, yet this one explains why it is popular a lot better than the 15 and 21 do, I think. It wears its underwear over its pyjamas to distribute slaps as if they were going out of fashion. 8/10

We then head off to the local, as that is the idea, today. F tells us which bears to look out for, how to avoid being attacked and how quickly exposed flesh freezes by -52ºC (35s). Funny what they teach in primary school in Canada!

The SMWS is busy, yet not overly so. We quickly grab a table and order our first round.

4.171 21yo 1991 Perfumed and Sultry (53.7%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 256b) (Fixou): nose: smoked kippers, leather. Mouth: light and smooth as velvet. Finish: it is definitely fruity, though we struggle to identify which fruit. I go with papaya.

71.36 27yo 1985/2012 Two seasons in a dram (58.1%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 206b) (F): nose: forsythia, wax, some colone. Mouth: flower stems. Finish: the flowers are identified -- dandelions. I find this one has the bitterness of dandelions' stem juice, partly balanced by an agreeable sweetness.

35.80 21yo 1991/2012 Steamed apple sponge pudding (59.7%, SMWS Society Single Cask, 2nd-fill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 190b) (JS): nose: bakery and fruit (cooked apple, gooseberry). The mouth is very light, with cooked pears' running juices. Finish: jammy, though thin jam. Pears and diluted oranges. Some sponge cake too Delightful -- dram of the day for me. Better without water.

A string of great Clynelishes
26.90 27yo 1984 Elegant, subtle, balanced - in total harmony (55.1%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Sherry Butt, 508b) (myself): I ask about 7.80 and am told the staff were disappointed. This comes recommended and I liked 26.89, so... Nose: fruity. We are being treated to a string of great Clynelishes, which I did not think I would ever say. Tiny bit of solvent, some white fruit (apple), honeysuckle, watermelon (Fixou). Mouth: ginger, wood and light fruit again. Finish: pepper, ginger, some cedar wood. It is not very well balanced at first. Oxidation makes it better.

We take a long time to decide on the second, between gut feel, obvious picks (two old grain bottlings stare at us behind their old-school labels, G2 and G4.1, but I have tried them previously) and staff recommendations. We end up going for:

G5.8 19yo 1993 Baked Goods (64.2%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 231b) (me): Invergordons are becoming really common, but hey! can I sleep on a new grain? Nose: violet, bakery, black currant. The more-than-typical 'gordon. Mouth: thin and feinty, with more violet bitterness. Finish: full of unripe black currant and violet again. There is not too much bakery action at this point. Boy, is the violet invading! Not too taken by this one. It is more of a curiosity or an introduction to Invergordon. 6/10

29.121 20yo 1991 Seafood party on the beach (55.1%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Sherry Butt, 526b) (me): the new bar tender recommends this one as a favourite. Nose: smoke and peat, lovely. Mouth: surprisingly easy and light, now. Even fruity (strawberry?) Finish: smoke comes back a little, though it is kept under good control, balanced by sweetness and more fruit.

127.1 8yo Harbourside barbecue (66.5%, SMWS Society Single Cask, 231b) (Fixou): a few old bottlings have emerged back onto the shelves, including the first Port Charlotte. Yay. Nose: peat and barley, meaty and big. We are firmly in young Islay territory, here. Mouth: rather neutral -- surely, my buds were annihilated by the grain. Finish: peat and barley again. What it does, it does simply and without fuss, but efficiently alright. Good stuff.
Manly enough to eclipse the staff
It is much later than planned and we leave as the place is closed.

7 January 2013

06/01/2013 Chris's birthday at the SMWS

It was only going to be a quick dram at the local, but given the group of merry people who were there to celebrate a birthday, it went on for a lot longer than foreseen.

Girvan 48yo 1964/2012 (49.5%, TWA + TWE, ex-Sherry Butt, 487b) (myself): Fixou raved about this one not too long ago. Good to get to try it, then. Nose: gingerbread aplenty, with some honeysuckle. Mouth: black grapes, black currant, a little liquorice -- this is amazing, in fact! Finish: wood varnish and liquorice at first, then a flash of dark fruit again. Fantastic! The dark fruit fades away after a couple of sips, but the first is miraculous (thanks PS). 9/10

50.50 22yo 1990/2012 Conifers, grasses and flowers (54.1%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 122b) (JS): nose: animal and leathery at first, then turns more velvety. Fermenting apples and other decaying fruit. Mouth: Peppery with a pear sweetness. Unusual combination. Finish: more white pepper.

2.40 25yo 1976 (58.1%, SMWS Society Cask) (me): nose: very heavily sherried, this. Rancio, Madeira, heavy, fortified wine, chemical, paint-related solvents. Mouth: more fortified wine, grape liqueur, elderberry, pepper -- this is quite hot! Finish: this is not whisky, it is sherry on steroids! Powerful, with notes of dark cherries and grapes. Interesting, but not an every-day dram (thanks Chris).

33.114 11yo 1999/2011 Sweet versus savoury (56.3%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Sherry Butt, 630b) (everyone, tasted blind): nose: a bit of elegant smoke. Mouth: ripe, dark cherries. Finish: lovely, balanced smoke and dark cherries. Not the best notes, I know, but we get the drams out of thin air, at this point. Am stunned that this young Ardbeg is not more aggressive (thanks Ian).

29.126 17yo 1995/2012 Protects against vampires (60%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 187b) (everyone, tasted blind): nose: a lot more flowers, this time, colone, honeysuckle, pears and apples (J). Mouth: rose water, honeysuckle and colone again. Finish: tulip, strangely enough. Someone else shouts Laphroaig. J agrees there is some smoke in it and it must be that -- she is also astonished that she likes it. I get none of that and think of a Speyside, but then I have just had a grain, a sherry monster and another peater griffin. My taste buds and nose are not to be trusted, then. :-/ (thanks Geoff)

G5.7 19yo 1993/2012 All Day American Breakfast (64.6%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 237b) (me): right before leaving, I realise I have not tasted this Invergordon, which is a shame, as that is the last bottle of it (edit: I actually had it when it came out). Nose: gingerbread, bakery. Mouth: toasted cereal, pepper -- this is spicy, in fact. Finish: bakery galore. I keep being interrupted, so cannot take insightful notes, but this is another great dram. It took me a while to try a good Invergordon, now I seem to like them all, yay (thanks SMcD).

Enough for one evening. The place is closing anyway and we are kicked out. Good times, unexpectedly animated.