12 August 2014

07/08/2014 Barge tasting

JollyToper advertised this one months ago. What the theme means? Five drams from distilleries facing a canal. All closed. On a canal barge. Departing from Linlithgow.
Needless saying I hesitated for about .000000000000000000000000000001ms. In fact, I did not even realise until a couple of weeks ago that it is bang in the middle of the Fringe, meaning accommodation could have been a stumbling block. Fortunately, having friends pays off, sometimes. :-)

The train to Linlithgow is quick and comfortable enough, if crowded during rush hour. We take the opportunity to socialise with the organiser's acolyte. We arrive to our destination almost an hour early; not enough time to do visit in-depth (plus everything is shut in the evening and we have already been there), so we and most of the other tasters on the same train go for a drink. Yes. Scapa 2001/2010 GMP it is -- light and flowery, perfect aperitive. We chat briefly with others.

The Holy Land
Time flies by and we soon need to get going. While the small group of our co-tasters turn right after the bridge, we turn left. They indicate to us that we are in the wrong. We know the way; it simply would be blasphemous to come here without paying a visit to St Magdalene distillery is all. They all seem to not notice it. Heretics.

We reach the barge a few minutes later, last, but on time. There, JollyToper is completing his preparatives. We bump into the Whisky Cyclist, a Londoner visiting for the Whisky Fringe and taking the opportunity.


Time passes, we are still on the quay, waiting to get in. Since we are on a rather tight schedule, JollyToper starts circulating the first glasses.

Yeah, baby! Yeah!

St Magdalene 26yo 1982/2008 (50%, DL Old Malt Cask 50°, Refill Butt DL REF 4712): JT had huge difficulties sourcing a St Magdalene for this tasting, he says. One of the tasters offered this one in extremis. I am very glad, as I have never had it before. Nose: austere! Flinty, mineral and also quite herbaceous with a touch of honey. Old-school and lovely. The nose becomes citrusy, after a while. Mouth: austere again, full of flint and cold embers. Finish: soothing and comforting, with ashes and dried herbs. I save some for last and it still holds up after all the others. Amazing. Dram of the day. 9/10


Outdoor nosing
I ask our new friends what they think about it: they are conquered. One of them, a Japanese guy who had never heard of Edinburgh before this trip, reckons it is the best whisky he has ever had. They ask me about the distillery; I tell them we are a few hundreds of metres from it: we were taking pictures of it when they tried to bring us back on the right track. Who's laughing now, eh?

Poor Alfred Barnard gets the JT treatment
Rosebank 12yo (43%, OB Flora & Fauna): this one, I am disappointed in. It is a great dram -- simply, with so many Rosebanks to choose from, I was hoping it would be one I do not already know. Nose: honeysuckle aplenty, with an additional touch of honey. It becomes more buttery towards the end, yet it remains light and flowery. Mouth: the word "smooth" was invented for this. Quaffable in the extreme, honeyed and silky. Finish: abundantly flowery, augmented with rose water and honey again. Very different to the first (the StM was more complex), yet this is pure pleasure in a glass. 8/10 (or is it 9?)

Here is a clue.
For each dram, JollyToper gives a brief overview.
JT -This is on the same canal as the previous one.
A -No! It's the other one!
B -Someone should build a big wheel to connect the two! Anyone has any ideas?


While we were all tasting, chatting, writing notes, taking pictures and nibbling, JT and his acolyte were trying to find out where our captain is. We are still on the quay, which means it is not really a barge tasting, so far.
Fortunately, at this time, a stand-in captain is found. We all board the vessel and off we go. 45 minutes late, though, which means our excursion will not be as long as planned.

Port Dundas 25yo 1988/2014 (46%, Cad Small Batch, 246b): first dram indoors, then. Nose: ginger bread, marzipan ('It's Prosper,' says JS -- 'Le Roi du Pain d'Epice,' for those who know). Bakery scents, a hint of dark fruit, muffins, toffee and finally, butter scones. Mouth: this seems quite thin (it is "only" 46% after all), but it delivers dark fruit, after a while, as well as a little maple syrup. Finish: yes, typical bakery nonsense, with ginger bread and blackcurrant muffins. Love it, though the mouth prevents me from scoring it more generously. 7/10


Believe it or not, those kayakers overtook us
Dusk is slowly coming, now, while the mood is more and more relaxed. Enthusiastic conversations start everywhere, between all tasters. JollyToper has a hard time making silence for each dram introduction, but it does not matter. We are a merry barge alright.

Littlemill 21yo 1992 (56.3%, Hannah Whisky Merchant Lady of the Glen, 320b): not sure JT gives an introduction at all, for this one, other than a pronunciation lesson. Lah'lmull it is, more or less, which amuses the crowd a lot. Nose: honestly, I have had better Littlemills. This one is full of leather and subtle, stale butter. It morphs into heavy citrus (lime, preserved lemons) and becomes a lot more appealing. Mouth: a lime deluge! Acidic in full. Akin to a cocktail of milk, honey and lime. Finish: wow, this is interesting. Lime and nectarine, now (JS). The pace is a bit too quick for proper notes, not to mention there is not enough water to keep my head cool. All the same, the finish is the strongest feature by far. So unusual is it that this dram deserves an extra point. 8/10
Easy rider

Hot stuff! Coming through!
The River Avon
Leaving us on the kerb
After trawling alongside the sluggish canal, the barge now reaches a dramatic point of its course (which also distracts us from the drams): the aquaduct over River Avon. There, we disembark, enjoy the last sunrays, chat and share impressions, while the barge turns around. We will not go to the Falkirk wheel -- a shame, but this was worth it as it is.

We hop back on and head for the Linlithgow Canal Centre. We need a dram for comfort -- luckily, someone has precisely what we need.

JT -The next one, Glen Vor... Glen Mor... but I think it's Glen Phwoar!

JT -The water came from Loch Ness, so you're actually drinking Monster Pish.

Glen Mhor 30yo 1982/2012 (54.1%, Cadenhead's, 198b): this one is probably the main reason I am here. Remember my fascination for the Invernessian tripplets? This one came out a couple of years ago, but is still available in some shops (at the time of tasting); the price tag is high for a punt and the comments online are not very good at all. Good that we get the chance before it is but a sour memory. Ha! Nose: ginger, wooden furniture (JS), something mineral -- moss on an old stone, I say. It settles for ginger beer. What a lovely nose, old school as I like them. Mouth: stone fruit in the back of the mouth, mostly peach, with the texture of almond milk. Finish: cola, barley, ginger beer. I love this one, as does everyone on the boat. I manage to grab a bottle the following day at the shop. There were only four left and a long waiting list as a result of this tasting. Yay. 9/10

If you catch a fish, carry it like this!

We still have a wee distance to go and nothing left to drink. A fellow taster produces a bottle and JollyToper pours it to everyone. Everyone but our table, that is. He sits down at another table and starts a long chatter session. I nag and he pours some to us as well. Perhaps I should have let it go...

Mortlach 25yo 1988/2014 (56.8%, Cadenhead's, Sherry cask, 576b): nose: funky (JS), salt and vinegar crisps (JS), fish and chips with malt vinegar, salt, and pine needles in the back. Mouth: buttery, with more malt vinegar. This is quite abrasive, full of brine and pickles, now. Finish: not very pleasant, really. The alcohol is not too well integrated and it is quite buttery. Not my style and, from some of the reactions, I doubt I am the only one to think that way. Regardless, thank you, anonymous co-taster, for offering this one. 5/10

We eventually reach the Canal Centre and proceed to the station, a short walk away. The train picks us up a minute later and off we go.
Chatting to other tasters on the train, some traveller who happens to be there sees how pleased we are and starts taking notes about those tastings, the shop the guys work at and so on. Unexpectedly funny.
Our new Japanese friend thinks we are the same age, which amuses me greatly (the cue is in my name: the Old Man of Huy).
Once in Waverley, we talk with yet another group, one member of which used to work at Bruichladdich and is about to leave to Tasmania to distill whisky. Interesting lot.

The following morning, my head is unfortunately not in a good shape. As said above, the shambolic pace in the beginning and the lack of water are something I was not prepared for. Other than that, great tasting!

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