23 September 2013

21/09/2013 Autumnal flavours for the equinox

The joy that comes with not everyone being free at the same time is that you get to do a lot more tastings. Fixou could not make this one, while idealrichard could not make last week's. Instead of postponing until we found a date that suited everyone, it felt a lot more sensible to have two tastings. Yay.
The suspects: idealrichard, JS, newcomer KB and yours, truly.
The menu:

Cragganmore Double Matured 1993/2007 (40%, OB, Port Cask Finish) (idealrichard): this must be one of the very few Distillers Edition bottlings I still have not had. About time, then! Nose: baked apples (which are in season), quince jelly and some very delicate nail polish. Mouth: mellow and soft, silky and balanced, though undeniably sweet (the Port influence, without a doubt). Finish: more baked apple and Port sweetness. Not very complex, but pleasurable. In fact, this one is one of my favourite DE. 7/10

The Entertainer (46%, Compass Box) (idealrichard): although I never owned a Compass Box product, it is always a delight to get to try one. Nose: different game! Some leather, cured meat, tame shoe polish. It is a much wider nose, altogether. KB finds it smells of new bicycle tyre tubes (new rubber, then), as well as burnt log (let us call that the autumnal flavour). Smoked bacon it is, for me. Mouth: liquorous, says KB, who is getting into the mood. Velvety with black pepper, giving it a bit of a sting. Finish: it lingers on the tongue with a slightly dry touch. Dram of the day for JS. 7/10

Dalmore 1973 30yo 1973/2003 (42%, OB, Gonzalez Byass Matusalem Sherry Cask) (JS): this one has changed quite a bit, since last time. It used to be known as the apple juice by the group (the autumnal flavour). There are still apples, but also lots of Turkish delights and orange water, now. Mouth: grapefruit juice, i.e. rather drying and acidic, while fruity. Finish: cantaloupe (KB) and passion fruit, sprinkled with Jamaica pepper (allspice). I remember being disappointed with this, last time, and finding it simple. It has become simply extraordinary. Not so much full of apples any longer, but tropical fruits. Dram of the day for me. 9/10

North British 25yo 1964/1990 (46%, Signatory Vintage, C#10451--10454) (me): nose: pine-tree plantation, damp woods (KB, thereby confirming it is in theme), coconut shells. Not much vanilla or varnish, but a distinctive, elegant grain nose all the same. Mouth: Haze Summer Blossom (KB & idealrichard, referencing some kind of air freshener), wood shavings, more coconut shells. Finish: never-ending, this one. Pine dust, toasted coconut shavings. Dram of the day for KB, at a draw with The Entertainer. 8/10

Time for some chocolate. KB brought a selection of Neuhaus drops which we enjoy a lot.

64.32 10yo 2001/2011 Nutty Delights (59.1%, SMWS Society Cask, ex-Bourbon Barrel, 245b) (JS): another one that we have not had in a while. Nose: nuts (autumnal), wood shavings, melted milk chocolate, perhaps bay leaves too. Orange comes out, after a while. Mouth: lots of pepper, now, with a hint of lemon, before it ends up with sawdust dryness. KB's first proper cask strength whisky and he notices ("It's strong!") Finish: chocolate, bay-leave infused hot water, sage. Again, this might not be the most complex dram, but so pleasant it is. Dram of the day for idealrichard, who cannot decide between this and the Dalmore. 8/10

Blair Athol 27yo 1975/2003 (54.7%, OB Rare Malts Selection, 6000b) RMS (me): nose: stewed pears, stewed apples (autumn fruits), wax, flowers (violets? Probably not, but I never find which flower), very bitter Seville-orange marmalade. A few drops of water open the way for leather. K reckons it boasts a whiff of Fairy Liquid. Mouth: spices aplenty (pepper, chilli) alongside the wax. It does sting quite a bit at cask strength. Finish: wax, wood, grass, herbs, daisies and some bitterness. A very beautiful Blair Athol if there ever was one (thanks pat gva for the sample). 8/10

By that time, the table was rocking a bit
Traditional Ben Nevis (46%, OB, b. ca 2012) (me): we had this one with Fixou not too long ago and found it quite alright indeed. For the record, it is a distillery-only bottling that attempts to recreate the Ben Nevis style from the early 20th century. At the time, Ben Nevis was a blend of Ben Nevis and Nevis malts (they owned both distilleries). Of course, Nevis has been shut for over a century, now, so they tried to recreate the style at Ben Nevis. Nose: smoked bacon, fruity bubblegum, strawberry shake or winter barbecue, salting. Mouth: feels a lot like cough syrup (really?) Corn syrup, cereals of all sorts. Finish: warming and comforting. I will have to try this one on its own to try and better understand what it offers. It is by no means a "great" dram and is probably too pricey for what it is, but it is interesting and agreeable all the same. 7/10

Time to eat the cake KB brought. Indulgent, of course, but hey.

Highland Park 21 (47.5%, OB, 3rd Edition) (idealrichard): the first edition at 47.5% was so popular HP decided to make a second at 40%, presumably so they could sell more of it. I have not yet tried the 1st, but liked the 2nd enough. This one? Nose: smoke, dry heather, Manuka honey (idealrichard and JS). Mouth: dryish like heather stems. Close your eyes, dear reader, and you will feel the howling wind on the moorland. Finish: very fruity, now! Maracuja, star fruit, both juicy. Yes, this is better than the 2nd edition, I reckon. Crikey! 8/10

Superb tasting, relaxed and easy going, augmented by lovely drams all round.

We heard the following:
Gin Devo - Surface
Speedy J - !ive
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Boatman's Call
Lustmord - Carbon/Core

16 September 2013

14/09/2013 Brown by September

September is now here, the weather is miserable and it felt right to give a subtle hint at Brown By August. Overrated album, by the way, though one track is very, very good.
Only Fixou and JS join me.
Right to left, for once
Glenmorangie Cellar 13 2nd Edition (43%, OB) (JS): Fixou has not had this one, so it seems a good opportunity. It fits the theme, since the label and box are brownish. Nose: orange flower water, rose water, peach stone, quince eau-de-vie. Still as enticing as usual. Mouth: honey, vanilla and coconut alongside porridge and fruit (quince again) with a sprinkle of ground pepper. Finish: there is a slight bitterness coming through with the lovely vanilla/fruit couple.

Old Orkney b.2011 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, AA/JAIB) (me): brown label. A rarely-seen blended malt: I found this one in Stromness last year and saw it in Elgin earlier this year. That and a couple of references online are the only signs I have seen of it. It is very reasonably priced and is presented in a packaging similar to that of the Man O'Hoy bottlings of old. Finding it in a store in the same street as the very same Man O'Hoy distillery was an omen I could not ignore. Nose: rather meaty indeed! A whiff of smoke too. This is not too dissimilar to the SMWS's recent Glen Scotias. Bramley apples straight out of the oven and even some oranges in the back. Mouth: marmalade, lemon marmalade, even. This one is not hugely complex, yet pleasant enough. Finish: now, this is unfortunately the low point of this otherwise fine drink -- shortish and bitter, green, youngish. By no means is it bad; simply not as pleasant as the nose and the mouth. An all-round agreeable dram and hard to beat, pricewise.

Orkney Bere in full effect
Also, Batman stole a bottle
Arran 2004/2012 Orkney Bere (46%, OB, 5800b)(Fixou): see the Orkney connection? Fixou bought this one in September. Nose: malted barley, malt shake (I only know those after seeing them in Crown Candy in Saint Louis), cola, cola-flavoured sweets and even bubble gum, or cotton candy. Peanut skin (JS). The whole moves towards cherry pulp, after a while. Mouth: sparkly, then bakery-like, to some extent. It eventually settles on honey and salted pepper (whatever that means). Finish: remains sparkly and vaguely salty, long and comforting as a grog. It comes with an ever-so-slight bitterness, then it becomes fruity, therefore gets an extra point from me. This one is certainly very pleasant and dangerously quaffable. It gets better as it opens up too.

The choleric Dragon's breath
Caol Ila 1969 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice, b.1980s) (me): in theme because of its brown label. Nose: balsamic vinegar (Fixou in dyslexic mode), smoke, soot, ash (not quite cold cigarettes: it is a full extinct bonfire that was lit to burn several witches), a fleeting farmyard impression, but mostly fire-related things. A hearth that burnt the whole evening and cooled down in an old stone cottage during a wet night (Fixou is getting poetic). It even gives spent matches and coal. There is a world of difference between this and more recent Caol Ilas: this one is a lot dirtier and more invading. It is the first pre-rebuild Caol Ila I try (remember the distillery was demolished in 1972 and rebuilt over the subsequent couple of years), so it is difficult and dangerous for me to generalise, but it would seem as though the production methods have changed since. Coal-fired stills vs. indirect heating? While taking my notes, the nose further evolves towards carbonised chocolate bread and even some fruit. This, my dear reader, is phenomenal. There are even ground kluwak nuts, mixed with ground black cardamom. Did I say it is phenomenal? Mouth: what elegance! What power! What balance! Lots of smoke and soot, of course, but it comes along with black cardamom again, black cumin seeds and nigella seeds -- yes, seriously! It is surprisingly mellow, while offering that light spiciness. A dormant strength. Finish: coal sticks to the palate, which prevents it from reaching a perfect score, in my eye. Smoke, peat, coal, soot, Nigella Lawso- no! seeds. A very, very impressive dram that gives one a taste of the Dragon's Breath. This is the best Caol Ila I have ever had, beating even the magnificent C#458, and proving once again that there is no school like the old school. I was childishly trying to impress Fixou and manage to floor myself in the same move. 9/10

Glenugie 31yo 1977/2009 (58.1, Signatory Vintage Cask Strength Collection, Oloroso Finish, C#7, 577b) (me): another brown label and an old favourite of mine. How will it fare, after the previous monster? Nose: the sherry influence is very clear: an avalanche of nuts, noble leather, polished wood, old, leather-bound books and distant coffee. A smoking pipe, seasoned with high-quality whisky. A broth of blood oranges and walnut. Mouth: this one is the first cask strength of the day and it feels that way! Pepper (white) alongside more polished wood, blood orange and even pot-pourri. Finish: orange, wood, juniper, green pepper -- this one is very lively: a whirlwind of flavours (Fixou). It also goes very well with the Côte d'Or Truffé Noir that we are nibbling on. 9/10

Highland Park 25yo 1988/2013 (55.7%, Cadenhead Small Batch, ex-Sherry Butts, 1086b) (Fixou): this one had the effect of an atomic bomb on a well-known, French-speaking, partly community-based site. I tried it a few weeks ago when Fixou opened his bottle, but was not too taken. Today? Nose: a tannery (including the urine pools to clean the skins), a leather workshop, cough syrup, even coffee in the back. Red fruits too, after a minute. Raspberries? No! Raspberry vinegar! Mouth: lots of leather again, very dark cherries, nuts and chocolate. It is a little acidic as well. The sherry speaks very loudly. Finish: cocoa beans, decaying cherries, very, very dark chocolate and fortified wine. Water does not change it much at all. Same comment as the first time around: this is a very well made dram, but not exactly my profile. Too much sherry, which makes it very brown and that is why it is in theme. 7/10

Another fine afternoon.

10 September 2013

07/09/2013 September outturn at the SMWS

Another month another outturn. The regulars are there and have been at it for a while, by the looks of the tables (covered in all sorts of snacks). As always, we go for the cheese and whisky formula (five drams and a plate of cheese that we share).

26.94 22yo 1990 Bubble Bath & Champagne (50.2%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill Bourbon Barrel, 147b): the staff recommends this one and, since we have had many good Clynelishes, lately, we go for it. Nose: WAX! Cigar boxes, old shoe-polish tins now containing toys, electric toy trains -- all noble and elegant. Candle wax and some smoke come out at second nosing. Mouth: white pepper and balsa-wood splinters. It moves on towards unripe peach. Finish: long and powerful, with lots of wax, tobacco, plant-stem juice. This is very popular, but not my kind of Clynelish.

72.35 28yo 1984 Pink Grapefruit Granita (50%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill Bourbon Hogshead, 250b): funny it took ages to have any Miltonduff, and now it is the third in a row. Nose: green hazelnut, honeysuckle, pink grapefruit. Mouth: soft and sweet, milky. Finish: slight bitterness -- that will be pink-grapefruit zest as well as the pulp. Very nice.

85.27 28yo 1985/2013 Refreshing Elderflower Fizz (48.6%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill Bourbon Hogshead, 237b): another one that comes recommended by the staff. Nose: leather, cow skin (yes, it is the same, but I mean skin ON the cow), perhaps a bit of distant, cold coffee. Mouth: a sprinkle of black pepper on clotted cream-topped scones. Finish: bitter, black tea, walnut skins and a peach stone soaked in milk chocolate. Not uninteresting, but not my thing, today.

36.63 15yo 1997 There is chilli in the fruit pie (58.7%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill Bourbon Hogshead, 195b): the notes read nicely, the number is a palindrome and Benrinnes is still shamefully absent from the Old Man of Huy's shelves. Nose: bakery aplenty -- chou dough, fruit stuffing, coconut, vanilla ice cream. Mouth: milk and balsa or pine wood. Simple and efficient. Finish: chilli and chocolate milk. Nice enough, just not sure it is worth buying.

7.91 20yo 1993/2013 Beguiling and bewitching (50.6%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill Bourbon Barrel, 164b): nose: superbly fruity -- apricot, peach, maracuja, almond milk and fior di latte too. Amaretto, even, blackcurrant without the bitterness -- is blueberry the closest? Mouth: milky, with walnut skins and almond. Finish: long, fruity, with still some bitterness. Although not a killer (yes, it is fruity, yet it is not a 1966 Bowmore), this is the dram of the day.

Laid back and pleasant afternoon. Thanks, Jeff, for the sun-melted chocolate.

9 September 2013

07/09/2013 Blitz at Berrys' #4

Another quick trip to buy what I wanted to get three days ago and try a few more.

Littlemill 24yo 1988/2013 (52.3%, BBr Selected by Berrys', Refill Hogshead, C#32): still as nice and interesting as the other day.

Tormore 20yo 1992/2012 (51.5%, BBr Selected by Berrys', C#100152): think I have had this one before, but it is so green in colour I want to try it again and let myself be convinced. It is fresh, minty and leafy, with some bitterness. Good, but not enough to find a spot on my shelves.

Littlemill 20yo 1992/2013 (54.9%, BBr Selected by Berrys', ex-Bourbon Cask, C#10): C#11 is out, I am told (though I do not believe it) and there are few bottles of C#10, but they still open one today. It is ok: pink grapefruit, hiking boots and leaves.

Arran 16yo 1997/2013 (46%, BBr Selected by Berrys', ex-Marsala Cask, C#3): this one comes recommended, as it is from the same island as the shopkeeper's parents -- is that a good reason? Really? Not unpleasant, but absolutely uninteresting. White wine, juicy grass, peach stones. Meh. Arran has produced better things, notably the Society bottlings.

When asking for Littlemill C#32, I am told it is the last bottle. Again, I am in disbelief: there were twenty-three three days ago. She tells me one is in the warehouse and can be ordered, and twenty have been bought and are currently kept for the buyer. That kind of sobers me up.
A lot less positive than the previous visit, but at least, C#32 is coming home with me.

5 September 2013

04/09/2013 Blitz at Berrys' #3

Berry Brothers have been doing some works in their St James' shop. The result is more bottles on display, but a colder feel akin to that of a Whisky Shop store. Gone is the impression you were entering an out-of-time shop of yesteryears. Oh! there are still derelict bottles on display above the windows, and the adobe wall is now visible (yeah!), but the barrel has gone, all the Cutty Sark references bar one too (of course, since they sold the brand), while the desk/counter/bar/whatever it was looks like it has been pulled out of an Ikea catalogue, with stain-prone leather coating and all. Pity. The welcome I get there is always worth the visit, though. And there are lots of new bottlings to boot -- woot!
Concise notes, as usual.

Auchroisk 14yo 1998/2013 (46%, BBr Selected by Berrys', C#13424): fresh, green, clean and light. A summer dram without pretension, perfect in this current weather.

Aultmore 15yo 1997/2013 (46%, BBr Selected by Berrys', C#970003582): apart from the ridiculous cask number, this one shows more richness on the nose -- wood, spices (mixed pepper) and some bitterness. It then has the softness of fresh fruit (grapes) and some bitterness (grape seeds). Hawthorne and Mediterranean vegetation is also present. I joke it is as soft and fruity as biting into an olive, then as bitter as chewing the pit. Long, peppery and powerful. It feels like a 54+% cask strength when it is actually 46%. And it is a bargain to top it all.

Glenturret 35yo b.2013 (46%, BBr Selected by Berrys', Cask ref 26): a sister cask to last year's Cref 2, this one is around 80£ more expensive and the most expensive thing BBr has ever bottled. It is brilliant as well -- just not as good as Cref 2, in my opinion, but then that one was phenomenal. Today, though, it is ahead of the game. Complex, elegant, noble, impressively balanced, slightly fruity with a discrete, but mildly disappointing green/bitter touch that prevents it from reaching the same heights as its ancestor. Do not expect to try it at the shop: the tasting sample is all gone.

Littlemill 24yo 1989/2013 (52.3%, BBr Selected by Berrys', C#32): this one is a strange 1988 vintage... distilled while the distillery was closed. Lovely drop it is, full of tiny flaws that keep it original and interesting. Ever-changing, quite woody, with the usual vanilla, coconut, polished wood, but also unexpected "young" touches. A bit of a (pedestrian) roller-coaster ride. Dram of the day.

Littlemill 22yo 1990/2013 (46%, BBr Selected by Berrys', C#16): wonderful balance with more wood influence (vanilla, coconut) that gives way to the well-known hiking-boot/clogged sink found in other Littlemill of that vintage (SMoS and The Whiskyman I tried last week).

Littlemill 20yo 1992/2013 (54.5%, BBr Selected by Berrys', C#11): this one is another good 'mill, though I find it too strong to be on par with the previous two. Lots of wood, all sorts of pepper and a high level of alcohol. You read correctly, by the way: there are four new Littlemills in total, on the shelf.

Imperial 17yo 1995/2013 (46%, BBr Selected by Berrys', C#50348): another sister cask, of the recent Imperial I liked so much. This is relatively similar to that (read: criminally easy to drink, full of vanilla and other seducing things), yet it is also greener than its ancestor and therefore less to my liking. On its own, it is beautiful, though.

Jamaican Rum 12yo: I am certainly not going to start giving notes for rum, but since it is so kindly poured, I sample it. It is nice, full of molasses, cane sugar (no kidding!) and sweetness of all sorts, as well as Jamaican pepper (allspice). I still think it is designed to spice up Glühwein -- though admittedly, one would make a bloody good Glühwein with this one in particular!