20 October 2014

19/10/2014 A lazy Sunday afternoon

Ben Wyvis 31yo 1968/2000 (51%, Signatory Vintage, C#685, 191b): long time since I have had that one. Time to finish the mini. Nose: starts with butter and olive oil. It then unveils pine wood before moving towards cheesecake and primrose. Mouth: oily and soft, with a good balance of honey, buttery pastry and a hint of oak. Finish: wood takes control, though it never becomes invading. Notes of freshly cut birch, ripe hazelnut, perhaps slightly roasted, even. It dies out with creamy milk chocolate. An excellent dram, yet I still prefer C#687. 8/10

The Inverarity 10yo (40%, Loch Fyne Whiskies, b. ca 2011): according to speculations this might be an Aultmore. Nose: freshly-cut, juicy spring flowers (daffodils), butter and melting in the sun. Mouth: there is a great softness in this one too; a puffy pillow of flavours, starting with vanilla and toasted coconut, alongside flowers. Finish: something green now, as well as perfume. Green hazelnut shells made into a fragrance? No bitterness, however. This is soft and easy, with more than a drop of warm chocolate milk. 7/10 (thanks www.lfw.co.uk for the sample)

Glendullan 12yo (47%, OB, b. late 1980s): nose: salt, pine planks, pine branches, glue, slightly over toasted bread and, finally, a certain sherry influence (roasted coffee beans, ground coffee). The sherry is subtle, yet becomes more and more obvious with time. Mouth: Americano coffee (warm milk with a touch of coffee). The wood becomes quieter. Finish: spicy and woody; I compare it to green chilli on an uncoated Ivar shelf, with someone having coffee elsewhere in the room, which the nose cannot help picking up. 7/10

Convalmore 16yo 1984/2001 (43%, Ian McLeod Dun Bheagan): nose: a baking tray with crusty pastry and plenty of malted barley. Mouth: soft and silky, with a touch of acacia honey, almond milk and just a background note of almond skins. That will be a faint bitterness, then. Finish: the almond milk carries on, now supported by woodier tones. Not too complex, well pleasant all the same. 7/10 (thanks mars for the sample)

9 October 2014

05/10/2014 The Whisky Show 2014 (Day 2 -- Part 3) I did it my way: the history of the independent bottler

The story started here.

Here we go again. The first year (2011), we came only one day and attended two masterclasses. I thought it was overkill (we hardly spent any time on the floor), but worth it -- the report is not on this blog; you will have to trust me on that. The two years thereafter, we did not attend a single masterclass and made the best out of the main rooms.
This year, three masterclasses. Back to square one, I suppose, but it seems definitely worth it. For example, we will not have a chance to try the new official Craigellachies nor the new official Mortlachs (for a laugh). But those will still be there at other festivals. Where else would we have tried a Mortlach 1951 or a Brora cask sample? Absolutely nowhere, that is where.

Only a handful of weeks before the show, this final masterclass was announced. I really wondered whether it would be a good idea -- it pretty much meant day 2 would be lost to masterclasses. It was expensive too, more so than the other two we already had tickets for.
And then they said Dave Broom would be presenting it. My decision was made. And then, I read the line-up. My jaw hit the floor. It was going to be the climax to end the madness.

A chin-stroking line-up, you will agree

As earlier, we are brought to the dedicated room in an orderly group (of drunken gits) and on time (give or take a minute or two). The Whisky Sponge boys are here too; we exchange a few words before taking our seats. MB (remember him? We met him at the GMP masterclass, yesterday) sits with us. The six drams are placed before us; I cannot help but immediately lift the lid off the nosing glasses and dip my olfactory organ into each. I die six times.

Lethal Weapon VI

Dave Broom quickly starts his presentation. He soon stops when SS, TWE's boss, the mastermind behind all this and the owner of all the bottles below, enters. 'The boss is here. Now we can start.'

A word on the theme. This masterclass's purpose is to understand the role and importance of independent bottlers through the ages. How they came about, what they do and how they changed the industry and the public's perception and expectations of whisky.

Without further ado, let us crack on.

Dram #1 We start with William Cadenhead, the oldest indie bottler in Scotland. Dave tells us William was a tradesman and a poet, though the poetry... has not aged all that well. Of course, Cadenhead's main legacy is to have provided and continue to provide an alternative to official bottlings, showcasing different aspects of a distillery's output, whereas the official bottler usually goes for consistency.

Glenlossie 21yo 1957/1978 (45.7%, Cadenhead, Sherry Cask): I believe this is the one I am looking forward to the most. Check the bottling date, check it again, then climb back onto your chair and carry on reading. Oh! of course, the Malt Maniacs seem to be drinking this kind of things for breakfast on a regular basis, but for us mere mortals, it is special indeed. Nose: immediately, Mixa Bébé shampoo. Dave finds it mineral, but he is obviously wrong. Behind that shampoo, yellow melon, yellow flowers (do not ask which), some exotic pastry, filled with yellow fruit. The audience detects smoke, but it is so subtle it is hardly worth mentioning. It eventually dies out with apricot skins and a tiny whiff of soot. That might be the smoke they were talking about. Mouth: marvellous yellow-fruit eau-de-vie. Mirabelle plums, yellow Japanese plums, greengages, even yellow peppers. Finally, after having left it roll on the tongue, milk chocolate slowly takes over. Finish: custard cream-fueled cocoa, in which all sorts of yellow fruit have soaked. This will remain my favourite of the lot and deserves 10/10

Dram #2 is from the SMWS. We are reminded how perverse the society was considered when it was established, as far back as... 1983. Why? Because it was bottling single casks straight from the cask. Untameable, uncompromising beasts that went against what whisky represented at the time -- an elegant and delicate drink for the upper echelons of society. The Society was the mischievous Taz to the industry's polished Mickey Mouse.

27.11 23yo 1967/1990 (50.4%. SMWS Society Cask): dear reader, if you have paid attention, you will know that we tried a 1969 Springbank this morning. If you read this blog often, you will also know that another 1967 expression I tried a few months ago left me lukewarm. What will this one do? Nose: hazelbur- no! Hazelnut, as well as tons of ripe, juicy fruit. What is it? The seat of a tawed dirndl! Caramel. Broom reckons it has an ozone freshness to it. Mouth: this is a symphony! Peach stones, mild, fresh tobacco leaves, melon skins, tangerines. Finish: again, a mix of tobacco and fruit, including juicy oranges and tangerines, before all that morphs into marzipan. Even better than this morning's. The sherry's influence is a lot more subtle than in the Prestonfield I had a while ago. I much prefer this. 10/10

Dram #3 was bottled by Signatory Vintage around the turn of last century. Although they joined the funfair later than others in this line-up, Signatory's importance cannot be underestimated. Their stocks hold some of the most rarely-seen whiskies around and they keep releasing unbelievable expressions.

Bowmore 31yo 1968/1999 (43%, Signatory Vintage Millenium Edition, C#3817, 238b): need I say more? I am a sucker for this profile and was delighted to see it was going to be offered today. Nose: lychee, mango, guava, melon, watermelon, asphalt (MB, on crack), Sauternes sugar. Some gravel too, but mostly fruit, fruit, fruit. Maltoporn. Madness. Mouth: this would improve with more horsepower, but it is still grand, grand, grand. Fruit juice peppered with custard and a few grains of coal dust. Finish: the typical roundhouse kick of passion fruit in the teeth. Definitely the most watery 1960s Bowmore I have had and it feels that way at 43% (CS all the same), but it is magnificent stuff all the same. MB gives JS his glass: he does not like tropical fruit. I say, we need more people like him. 10/10

Touched by the grace of God
Dave comments on how quiet the room is. The first year, for the second masterclass, the (well-inebriated) audience was almost singing, so I tend to agree with him. I reckon a) many are non-native English speakers and are intimidated, b) those who do talk obviously know a lot more than most in the room, which dissuades others from taking part ('I have tried this one three times now, and am struck by this note of blah blah blah') and c) everyone is simply in awe.

The Old Man of Huy is awestruck
Someone asks about the character of these Bowmores, why they are so consistent and how they created that profile. Dave replies, 'Well, you should have come to the exotic fruit tasting for that. The answer was inconclusive.'

Dram #4 Gordon & MacPhail need no introduction. Intertrade, on the other hand, is more obscure. The Italian importer was one of the first (if not the first -- discussion as to whether they or Samaroli can claim that trophy remains inconclusive) to bottle at cask strength. By the way, Italy was seen as an oddity, with importers doing odd things with whisky that no-one really took seriously. GMP bottled on their behalf.

Highland Park 30yo 1955 (53.2%, Gordon & MacPhail for Intertrade, 216b): nose: coal, lots of heather, drying heather, even, honey, and then fruit, predominantly nectarines. The nose further delivers boiling potatoes, moss, and drifts towards a more mineral character. That is temporary, though: it changes again to smell of horse blankets 'I don't go around smelling horses!' You should, Dave, you should. With water, more coal comes out. Mouth: herbs thrown on a campfire, pickled with heather. Citrus, black pepper and candied sugar too. MB finds condensed milk in this. A weird combination, but it works. With water, I identify the herb: verbena. Finish: exploding black-pepper firecrackers with a metallic note and toothpaste (as in: this whisky makes your teeth fresh). Amazing. 9/10

Scribble, scribble
You will notice I do not add water to most of my whiskies. That is not me being a purist; it reflects a lack of time, pipette and quantity to do it. Mess up the dosage and you have ruined a dram that you will never try again.
Someone in the audience observes, 'I don't add water. I added some drops to the Glenlossie, not to the others.' Broom, all smiles, 'Good. Be that way.'

Dram #5 We talked about them a minute ago, now their dram: Samaroli. Another Italian importer, whose bottlings were carried out by Cadenhead -- well, this one was, at least; Duthie is a Cadenhead brand. The one thing that sticks out in the presentation for this one is the intervention of SS, who explains Sylvano Samaroli invented the Connoisseurs Choice range. GMP liked the name, so he sold it to them. In conclusion, without the Italians, whisky would not be the same as it is today.

Longrow 1973/1988 (50%, R.W. Duthie for Samaroli Fragments of Scotland, 648b): this one might be one of the first Longrow distillations at Springbank. Historical trivia for the few who are not au-fait: Longrow was a full-fledged Campbeltown distillery that operated from 1824 to 1896. Tasting an original Longrow today is as likely as seeing Princess Camilla enter a Miss wet t-shirt contest, it goes without saying. J&A Mitchell, owner of Springbank (and Cadenhead, and Duthie, and... and... and...), bought most of the old Campbeltown whisky brands, however. They now make two whiskies under those names according to a different recipe and production technique. Those whiskies are called Hazelburn (triple distilled) and Longrow (peaty). Down to business. Nose: ooooooooooooomph! Earth, mud -- a mud bath, in fact. The wheels of a Land Rover (Defender, of course; not a Chelsea tractor) at 6pm, after a grand day out. During that grand day out, the Land Rover stopped at a fruit & vegetable market -- apples, sweet olives (MB, unable to even explain what sweet olives are, so you figure it out) and balsamic vinegar. Mouth: balsamic vinegar again, lemon. It is slightly drying, now. Finish: coating, oily, tarry. I find a dose of tarry ropes, as well as dark olives. MB finds cloves. This is immense. A bit drying, but immense nonetheless. 9/10

Funnily enough, people find it is a peaty Springbank, rather than a Longrow -- well, it is, is it not? Of course, they mean it is closer in character to today's Springbank, if it had more peat in it, than it is to today's Longrow.
Look! My notes say it here! Horseradish!
Broom boldly starts name-dropping (verjus, vetiver; look them up -- they are verjuice and chrysopogon zizanioides), then he tells how someone at the show used horseradish as a note for one of the drams they had tasted. MB is all excited and hurt at the time: he came up with the note for one of the GMP offerings yesterday and wants his royalties. I notice Dave has a cheat-sheet on his desk; he took notes prior to the masterclass. I feel betrayed.
Broom, 'Anybody not like it? In which case, give me some more!'
I swear I can smell horseradish, though

Dram #6 Ram-pam-bum! Does Douglas Laing need any introduction? Probably not. Suffice to say Douglas, the father of brothers Fred and Stuart (at the time of bottling, they were still in business together), was in the trade just after the Second World War, already. He famously had an opportunity to swap Fred for the Bruichladdich distillery (you read that correctly), but did not. The brothers now head separate companies, Douglas Laing and Hunter Laing, but some of the stuff they released together is now legendary. Of course, that is not to say what they do today is bad -- far from it.
SS intervenes again to explain the ABV. DL claimed they bottled at "their preferred strength of 50%", but why is that their preferred strength? John Milroy, of the Soho shop of the same name, a pioneer in this trade, said 50% was the best strength. Since all those bottlers from the second half of the twentieth century revered Milroy as a guru, they followed his opinion.

Ardbeg 27yo 1975/2002 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask 50º, Sherry Cask, 342b): this is more well-known territory for dom666 and myself: we have had the chance to try many 1970s Ardbeg. Nose: balsamic vinegar, of course, unlit firewood (MB, warming up), black olives, old, dried fruit (dusty raisins, if you will), resin. 'Schnuff,' shouts someone. They mean snus -- tobacco powder to inhale, popular in Sweden. Mouth: tapenade (MB), anchovy paste with garlic. 'Peat is the vehicle, rather than the goal, as opposed to modern peaters,' says a guy. That is right, mate. And that is why we like it. Finish: drying, with more black olives, engine oil and no coastal flavour I can find. Even the peat is very, very tame. This dram is the highlight of the session for many. I find it a good dram, of course, but probably the least interesting of the lot. Besides, I preferred other 1970s Ardbegs. Still deserves 9/10

I want me more Speyburn 10, yo!
As soon as it is over, the Whisky Sponge lads rush to the front desk to offer Dave a dram of Speyburn 10yo OB. After all the glories, I find it very amusing.
I exchange a few words with SS and thank him for putting this up. We have the same favourite: 'lossie. Funny, when you realise it is the only non-premium distillery of the lot, these days.
I catch Dave Broom and tell him the session was not very interactive because everyone was so awestruck by the whiskies. He is happy with the way it went, all the same. I must say it is not the most entertaining presentation I have seen him do -- mind you, he was doing lots this weekend and is entitled to being tired. Moreover, the audience was not contributing much and, as I said earlier, a handful of guys were suppressing others' will to contribute by talking too much themselves -- not intentionally, but still.

As a side note, three guys near us disappear, one of them leaving all his full glasses on the table. After a moment, they are nowhere to be seen, so others start eyeing the glasses. I steal the Glenlossie. They come back, upset to see an empty table. I give back the 'lossie (the least interesting to him), but it was certainly a tad risky to leave those unattended. I apologise and call the misunderstanding, he manages to get one more pour of everything he wants and that is it.

In conclusion, this was too quick and awesome (in the original sense of the word) for Dave Broom to shine. Unlike in 2011, I think I preferred Colin Dunn's presentation, this year. The selection of whiskies in this masterclass, however, did all the talking one could have dreamt of.

The story ends here.

8 October 2014

05/10/2014 The Whisky Show 2014 (Day 2 -- Part 2) Aurora Brorealis

The day started here.

Meet thy neighbours (again)
We are on time, today. Our new Swiss friends are here too and take the same seats as yesterday. One of their mates flew in just for this masterclass -- no, wait! We discover later on he flew in only for the last dram of his masterclass, since all the others are in his collection. Dedication, or what?

Family portrait
There was a Brora masterclass at Whisky Live! Paris last week. That one was presented by Serge Valentin of whiskyfun.com and Charles MacLean, who everyone should know (if you do not, watch The Angel's Share, at least). Four drams were presented there:

Clynelish 5yo (43%, OB, b.1970s)
Clynelish 33yo 1973/2006 (54.3%, Signatory Vintage for Prestonfield, C#8912, 405b)
Brora 30yo 1972/2002 (52.4%, OB, 3000b, 1st Release)
Brora 1978 cask sample

Impressive line-up, yet it might pale in comparison with this one. We hope so, at least. :-)

A Br-aura of legend

We start no more than one minute late, which is a welcome change. Six drams to go through, today, all laid out in a triangle in front of us. Colin Dunn, Global Pusherman for Diageo, rock star extraordinaire and our master of ceremony today, does not do things like everyone else, so we will make our progression at random. And very quickly, which means not much time for tasting notes.

Expensive bowling pins

Dram #1

Brora 25yo (56.3%, OB, b.2008, 3000b, 7th Release): nose: earthy and muddy at first nosing, it then evolves towards waxier notes (of course). After a while, and even more so coming back to it after having tried the others, it becomes a candle haven. Mouth: tamed wax and mud. It is drying and fiery like a dying campfire -- embers and ashes, not flames. Finish: lots of wax, hot candles, pepper and even a hint of liquorice (says Colin). dom666, a self-professed Brora sceptic, likes this one a lot. It will remain his favourite of the lot. JS is surprised to like it -- she had preconceived ideas, based on the reputation of the distillery. Me? Well, I thought it was too expensive when it came out at 180£. I would not mind having a bottle, now. 8/10

Colin Dunn, 'Earlier, I had a whisky called Karuizawa. Have you heard of it?'

Dram #5

Brora 22yo 1972/1995 (58.7%, OB Rare Malts Selection): Colin cleverly (sort of) cuts the crap and the hype by slapping the legend in the face immediately. Instead of building up to dram #5, we try it now. Nose: a Broraz-de-marée, this (tough luck if you do not read French). The farmyard assaults reach a ridiculous level. Manure, freshly-ploughed fields, cow dung. Being a countryside boy, this is music to my nose, fragrance to my eyes and silk to my ears -- no, wait! Well, it smells bloody good is what it is. Mouth: imagine Wagner -- it starts softly and builds up to impressive intensities. Ashy, muddy, drying. This one has notes of candle wick and tractor tyres. No wonder JS is not a fan. Finish: muddy and earthy again, before it dies down with wax. This is an ode to the peasants of all countries who used to cultivate the land by hand and come back to a candlelit home in the evening. Beautiful. Is it 3500£ beautiful? Not a chance. For that price (what it goes for at the time of writing) and that reputation, I expected even better. I am hard to please that way. 9/10

Colin Dunn, 'I think there are many Scandinavians in the room; am I right? Raise your hand if you are Scandinavian.'
And it feels like the Viking invasions again (around 60% of the audience).

Dram #2

Brora 30yo (54.3%, OB, b.2010, 3000b, 9th Release): nose: this plays in a different register. Lots of fruit and lavender soap, alongside the more traditional wax. I detect a faint note of tractor wheels, yet nowhere near what the RMS is displaying. Mouth: perfect balance of wax, peat, earth, mud and cooling ashes. Finish: gone is the earthy character, in come waxy fruits (peach, apricot, greengages).  Lovely. 9/10

We talk about the prices of these bottlings, auctions and speculation. Johnny McCormick (see yesterday's masterclass), who is in the audience today, gives too many tips on what to look for at auctions. I reckon the competition is fierce enough as it is, Johnny!

Dram #3

Brora 32yo (54.7%. OB, b.2011, 1500b, 10th Release): I attempted to try this one a couple of years ago, but could not: it was empty. Nose: ash, embers, a healthy dose of fruit, wax seals, dunnage warehouse. This is noble and elegant. Mouth: round, milky and fruity; fruity gummy bears it is. Finish: I am surprised to find this so extremely warming, even now. It gives me the same sensation as my first ever dram: liquid going down, fire coming back up. Interesting. 8/10

Colin starts a debate about mixers and explains how he hooked an audience on Islay to Lagavulin-and-Coke, adding that, 'most would prefer Lagavulin acoustic.' He dances the Hokey Cokey while doing so, which cracks us up immensely.

Dram #6

Brora 1978/2014 (49.3%, OB, 2b, Sample only): not sure if this is the same cask sample as the one in Paris. The bottling date, the 30th September, suggests it is not. Nose: smoke and kumquat. I do not take any more notes for the nose -- is it the fever of the moment, or the lack of things to note? We will never know. Mouth: milky fire (fiery milk?), coconut milk sprinkled with lemon juice. Although hot, this is silky and very pleasant. Finish: hot and fiery again, with notes of burning wool and roasting sheep (the Karuizawa speculators burning in the Fires of Orc, surely). This is very good, yet, as with Ardbeg, I firmly believe the master blender sublimates those old casks by marrying them together. This, as a single cask, is less complex and rewarding than the "lowly" vatting of several casks such as the other five expressions. 8/10

PS about to shoot three people in the neck for a sip
Colin -If this is released as a single cask, it will sell for 10000£.
PS -What does it say on the label?
Colin -It says,'no commercial value.'
House. Down. Brought.

Dram #4

Brora 35yo (48.1%, OB, b.2012, 1566b, 11th Release): this one I did try last year. Nose: farmyard galore, manure that promptly disappears behind wax, candles and fruity soap or shower gel. Mouth: round, waxy, bursting with encaustic and furniture polish. Finish: Why am I wasting my time taking notes, here? This is great. 9/10

This is the blood of Christ
For a laugh, Colin suggests we blend dram #4, #5 and #6. Everyone laughs (the fools), but obviously, I do it.

Dram #7

Brora 35yo 11th Release + Brora 22yo 1972/1995 + Brora 1978/2014: nose: manure is the loudest, but wax and fruit are to be found underneath. Mouth: it seems a bit bland, to be honest. Finish: now, we are talking! Fruit and wax, mostly. It is good enough. I have probably wasted three better whiskies, though. 8/10

Back to dram #5 (see above) to finish in a bang after all.

As many have and will over the course of this mad weekend, Colin urges people to not take whisky so seriously and drink it with friends, rather than "invest" in it.
Colin -I once met a guy who had 25 Black Bowmore. I said, 'have you tried it?' He said, 'no.' I said, 'I haven't got one, but I tried it 25 times.'

Colin insists on touching the Old Man of Huy's notebook
Despite the fact I read that somewhere else by someone else and reckon Colin nicked the story to make it his own, he is dead right. Hoarding is preventing others access to a source of great enjoyment. It pushes the prices up and goes against what whisky is about: make merry (to quote Dave Broom last year).

Excellent masterclass. Everyone was in a jolly mood, Colin Dunn was in top form and the drams were all enjoyable. The whole thing was too short to take proper notes, of course, and one could argue the interest in taking notes for six drams with such similarities anyway. Great fun, though. Friendly atmosphere and all.

Resume day 2 here.

7 October 2014

05/10/2014 The Whisky Show 2014 (Day 2 -- Part 1)

The story starts here.

We are better prepared, today. So much so that we arrive early. Sunday is always more relaxed, in my opinion, because it is less busy. The queue today, however, is absolutely huge. Mind you, there are still twenty minutes to go before doors open. PS is third or so in the queue. He probably pitched his tent there. We are 127th.

Annoyingly enough, the shop does not open any sooner, this year. Argh! Well, at least, the weather is good. Cold, but sunny.
The doors open bang on time. We are in the lobby in no time at all. Today's staff is much less convincing, however: the girl confuses tickets and masterclass tickets, despite our handing her exactly the right ones in the first place. She also wraps the wristbands too tight and takes forever. Students are cheaper staff, I assume. Anyway.

With years of experience (haha!) we know to rush to the store and pay now, not after the show, when the hordes invade the space and keep the staff busy.
Would you know it? There is a line there too. A long one, to boot. We make a bet as to what that line is: I win. A staff member asks us whether we are there for the Karuizawa. We are not. No line for us, then. Yay.
We get in and pick the bottles we want: one is missing. While DR (from TWE) looks for it, I spot Ian Buxton. I tell him I liked his latest book, but was intrigued to read Linlithgow is located in Ireland -- he knows, is upset that it slipped through the proofreading and tells me it is being reprinted already.
We pay: another painful experience with a student; none of the bottles are in the system, she only adds up half of them and is completely lost when we tell her we do not need a bag. My patience is challenged to its core, but we make it outside alive and proceed back to the halls. Meanwhile, the sheep* who want the Karuizawa are still queueing.
For those who have not followed closely, TWE is releasing two Karuizawa this weekend (with a third to follow). In an attempt to tackle speculation (as if), only festival-goers may purchase one. Not both of them, not one per day, one per ticket. That means one going to the festival on their own cannot purchase more than one bottle of one expression out of the three. If TWE still has bottles after the festival (as if), they will go on the Web site for sale. There are 48 bottles of each, each day, and at least 70 people waiting, as we walk out.

We have very limited time, today. We have two masterclasses to attend, you see. And many dream-dram tokens to spend, so let us get some work done! First stop: Signatory Vintage.

Springbank 40yo 1969/2009 (54.4%, Signatory Vintage Cask Strength Collection, Refill Sherry Butt, C#263, 356b): nose: Bramley apples, Cox apples, cut grass -- my, is this lovely, or what! I wish we were in a different environment: I would spend an hour on this nose and do it justice. As it stands, the above will have to do. Mouth: soft and smooth, ripe with olive oil, brine, anchovies, green olives and sweet custard. Finish: drying wool (yes, that can be a line-drying, woolly sweater), green olives, olive oil, peppered custard. Wonderful, elegant balance. Despite a slight dryness, I reckon this is the best Springbank I have had. 9/10

Quick trip to Berrys'.

North British 50yo 1962/2012 (58.9%, Berry Bros Exceptional Casks, C#90592/3, 472b): JS is upset with the dose she gets. Indeed half a measure: the bottle is almost empty and, out of the 1.5cl that remain, they try and make two drams, which means she gets 0.75cl. Disappointing. Nose: a musty warehouse, undergrowth, humid cellar. Mouth: salty, fiery, though not really roaring. Finish: briny, leathery. dom666 does not like it at all. It is ok to me, about three times too expensive, and not as good as the 45yo that Signatory bottled a while ago. Disappointing. 7/10

The Doors - Glenlivet or Talisker Storm
Time to take a hike to Diageo's, where MC Colin Dunn greets us like old friends. He does that to all the boys, mind. We confirm we will see him at the masterclass in twenty minutes, tease him about his Johnnie Walker badge and order drams.

The Singleton of Glendullan 38yo (59.8%, OB Prerelease, 3756b): nose: very mild coffee, lemon rinds, a whiff of smoke, burning herbs (thyme, bergamot, maybe gentian). Mouth: green tea (makes your tongue and teeth grind). Finish: bitter green tea again, as well as lots of white pepper. JS likes it more than I do, yet I am happy to try the most interesting offering in this year's special releases. Of course, it is vastly overpriced, in my opinion (RRP 750£). 7/10

dom666 tries a Talisker Storm and does not like it. Me? I do not attend the Whisky Show to drink supermarket whiskies. ;-)

JS fetches a Balblair 2000 OB for TWE that happens to be just on the wrong side of sherry maturation.

It is almost 13:00. The Brasserie is about to open and we need to make our way to our first masterclass of the day, which is detailed here.

Once the masterclass is over, we have a (very) limited amount ot time to get food. On the way, I offer a sip of Dram #5 from the masterclass to RW at Berrys', Ian Buxton, who happens to be talking to our new friend MB (he also gets a sip before joining us for lunch) and AH from TWE. Except for Buxton, none had had it. They seem pleased to have tried it.

Will I
Will I
Be Faaaamouuuuuuus?
The food (lamb for JS and me, veggie lasagna for dom666) is good and warmer. We get
potatoes, but no greens (I do steal a brocolo from someone who left their plate). On the other hand, some eat two bites, then leave a mountain of food on their plate. Waste.
The whole experience is better (shorter wait), not perfect (the wait is still long and the supply is short). They split the queue into two, which means they are shorter queues, but double the probability to run out of anything. Someone needs a project manager, there! Oh! and the veggie lasagna is in fact fusilli. Ah, well, we are replenished.

En route to our second masterclass of the day, we stop for more drams. First is Speciality Drinks.

Bowmore 25yo (50.1%, Speciality Drinks): nose: delicate peat, butter, lemon, roasted chicken. Mouth: tarragon chicken, a slightly metallic note. Finish: warm and comforting, with a touch of candied apple. 8/10

Ben Nevis 43yo 1970/2014 (44.5%, Speciality Drinks): yes, again. TWE's own AH finds it unusual. He is happy enough, since he tried it yesterday and found it unusual. Consistent.

Downstairs, JS gets:

Glenglassaugh 40yo (42.5%, OB, b.2013): nose: quince, melon, shoe polish. Mouth: melon juice, cedar wood, cigar leaves. The melon dominates, still. Finish: tobacco leaves, Hermès leather belts, then tropical fruit kicks in. Terrific dram! 9/10

The second masterclass is about to start -- off we go.

Back from that nonsense, I make sure dom666 catches his tube, then rush back into the hall for the last thirty minutes of the show. We still have one dream-dram token to spend.

Glenglassaugh 41yo 1972/2014 (50.6%, OB, Sherry Butt, C#4114, 582b): nose: quite sherried, this; quince, blood oranges, leather, shoe polish. Mouth: blood oranges, slightly drying and acidic, with a touch of varnish. Finish: more of the same with added floor wax. 8/10

anCnoc 22yo (46%, OB): I remember liking this, last year. Everyone is gathered around the Adelphi stall and anCnoc is next to it, so I go for it. Nose: grape juice, greengages, cut grass. Lovely. Mouth: milky, with some white-grape-pip bitterness. Finish: white wine, white grapes -- sod it! This is good, end of the story.

JS manages to get the Adelphi Bladnoch she liked yesterday (which I did not try). Antonia Bruce from Adelphi and we are amused that, for two years in a row, the one bottle JS wants is not available in the store and has to be secured at the stall, depleting the stock for the Monday. It turns out to be available after all -- DR simply did not look well enough, this morning.

A thoroughly absorbing conversation
The show is over, we are gently kicked out. I join JS in the shop, where a happy chaos prevails. We collect our earlier purchases and the Bladnoch.
The Swiss from the masterclasses are there; we spend an hour chatting with them. A Scando is with them too: he was at the first masterclass today and did not enjoy any dram, apart from #5. The peat was not prominent enough in the others. He was also at today's second masterclass. He did not enjoy that either -- he was looking forward to dram #3 after reading so much about the 1960s Bowmore, and was disappointed with the lack of peat. What exactly did he read about the 1960s Bowmore is unclear to me, since it is well known the peat, if present at all, is very much in the back seat.
Although he is a nice enough bloke, I am shocked. Many people did not manage to get tickets for those masterclasses, so it is disappointing to hear some of the ones who did make it in are upset because they were expecting monolithic drams and got subtlety instead. Rookie's mistake.

Good show, altogether and a whirlwind of an experience. It has become way too big and ambitious. However you approach it, there is absolutely not a chance to see it all, let alone try it all. The consequence (in our case) is that it becomes more about the social interactions than the whisky -- the same way the later Maschinenfest we went to were more about meeting friends than hearing music. The air conditioning is a little too omnipresent for my taste, though it is perhaps easier to circumvent than a thousand drunkards' smelly armpits.
The farce with the Karuizawa was laughable. Not the concept of a limited, exclusive edition and controlling who gets it, but the fact that it sucked at least an hour out of the schedule of the sheep* who wanted to procure a bottle. Is it good, at least? They were available as dream drams -- one token for both. Everyone we met who bought one bought it blind before trying them. Everyone we met who tried them thought they were both dreary (too woody) and considered selling the bottle. So much for tackling speculation, then.

* No disrespect is meant to genuine Karuizawa lovers (each to their own). All disrespect is meant to speculators who only buy Karuizawa to resell with a profit.

04/10/2014 The Whisky Show 2014 (Day 1 -- Part 3)

After the masterclass, we all agree it is time for solid intake. But first, we need to get back where we started from. Not a mean feat, here: the Vinopolis venue is a maze. And it is also home to Vinopolis, the wine experience. On a Saturday, that is packed with wine enthusiasts. We never find the way back and have to ask a member of Vinopolis staff... who has no idea how to get us there. No-one from the Whisky Show is to be seen. The Vinopolis guy calls for help in his walkie-talkie, to no avail. He ends up taking us through a door that reads, 'do not enter.' We get out through the cloakroom. Massive cock-up, here. There are at least twelve security guards in the halls, none to escort us back to the venue or give indications. The attendance left the masterclass in small, inebriated groups. There was not a chance in hell everyone would make it back alright.

The Brasserie is tucked away. Add to that that we are merry as fuck, the result is that we cannot find it and have no intention to try hard. I grab AH from TWE, ask for directions and bribe him with a sip of Dram #2 from the masterclass. His indications leave to be desired, but he seems happy with the whisky. :)
We sort of manage to find the Brasserie and spot even more stands (Diageo and Bowmore are well hidden, this year!)

The Brasserie is a complete mess. One of the previous years, I wrote that it took a measured eight seconds on average for the staff to collect empty plates. Each table is full of them, today and there is no staff about. It does not matter, though. The really annoying point is that the queue for food is 45 minutes long, close to 17:00. No lamb left. Then the potatoes run out. When they finally bring more lamb, they have no veggies left. The staff is visibly embarrassed. They remain stoic, as do most in the queue, but let us be honest: it is a disaster. We end up getting (replacement) food: pumpkin lasagna for JS, smoked-haddock kedgeree for dom666 and myself. By the time we sit at our table with vegetables (no potatoes: we lose patience), everything is cold. A shame, since it is otherwise pretty tasty.
Same scenario for dessert: long queue of people, enough food, no plates. The crumble is a collection of apple slices with a few drops of flour, while the custard is the object of a very long tirade by one of the guests. He even says he will bring his own tomorrow to compare and show what it should be like. It is in fact rather good too, but has the consistency of warm milk. Not much of a custard, then.
Ultimately, we are only annoyed because of the waste of time. But at least, we get to eat. Many others have left the queue, never to come back.
At lunch, we meet MB, who was at the Gordon & MacPhail masterclass. Chats, laughs and tips are shared.

Adelphi is really popular, this year
Only an hour to go before the doors close. We quickly decide how best to spend it and run to Douglas Laing's. En route, we bump into MJ and Mrs. J again, exchange impressions. I have been texting MJ recommendations and am outraged he has not followed any. I steal his wife: off to Teeling's we are, the 21yo she tries... and she succumbs (of course).
They have to go, unfortunately. Back to Laing's.

Invergordon 26yo 1988/2014 (50.6%, Douglas Hamilton Clan Denny, C#DH10250): how quaint that the now split-up Laing brothers both have similar Invergordons simultaneously? There was supposed to be a second 'gordon here (according to the list), but it is now announced as a typo or otherwise mistake. Sob. Nose: toasted wood, overbaked ginger bread, varnish and smoke (yes). Mouth: spices, wood, splinters, bakery and alcohol, not very well integrated. Finish: marmalade cake, lemon rinds, sticky pudding. How quaint that the now split-up Laing brothers both have similarly mediocre Invergordons simultaneously? That should read: mediocre (to my taste), I suppose. Still nice to get to try them. 6/10

Deanston 20yo 1994/2014 (51.5%, DL Old Particular, Refill Hogshead, C#DL10426, 188b): always a treat to get to taste that obscure distillery. Nose: lemon curd, pine cones. Mouth: lemon tea, parsley. Finish: more lemon, oak (kept in check), parsley. Good dram, though nothing too spectacular. 7/10

We make our final move to Adelphi's.

Miltonduff 32yo 1981/2014 (54.2%, Adelphi Selection, C#5087, 226b): nose: jasmine tea. Mouth: manuka honey, hawthorn. Finish: long, with vanilla, custard, coconut. This is lovely indeed! 8/10

Glen Grant 18yo 1996/2014 (54.4%, Adelphi Selection, C#67817, 203b): nose: delicate custard, soft apricots. Mouth: silky and fruity, akin to apricot flesh. Finish: some punchy yellow fruit with a tiny whiff of coffee. 7/10

At Whyte & MacKay, GR is waving at me. I pay him a visit and tell him dom666 is upset last year's Jura girl is not pouring, this time around. She was much more to his taste than GR is (however handsome a fellow he is). I am treated to:

Isle of Jura 30yo Camas An Staca (44%, OB, b.2013): yes, we had it last year, but what the hell, eh? Nose: butter, leather, smoke, cow butt (you read that correctly), coffee. Mouth:  buttery, sticky, peppery, with coffee and toffee. Finish: long, warming, milky coffee. I cannot say it is my favourite style, but it is well made. 7/10 (Thanks, GR)

Every stall shuts down and we are kindly pushed towards the exit. A roller-coaster of a day, yet this is only the beginning. Tomorrow, the survivors will be pushed to the limit, as you can read here.

04/10/2014 The Whisky Show 2014 (Day 1 -- Part 2) Gordon & MacPhail: A New Generation

The story started here.

It is full of anticipation that we are lead to the room in which our first masterclass of the weekend takes place. The line-up has not been disclosed, but the one piece of information that was disclosed was so huge that the tickets sold out in one minute. One minute. The organisers did release a second batch of five tickets or so last week, presumably no-shows, but at 13:00:00 on the very day, both JS and myself were waiting and only she managed to get in. My browser read, 'sold out' as soon as the clock indicated 13:01.
The piece of information in question? There were going to be four drams from Gordon & MacPhail's vast collection of casks, all bottled in 2014 and distilled... in the 1950s.

Full of anticipation we are, then, and also quite annoyed that we can only enter the room ten minutes after the scheduled start of this session. We end up starting twenty minutes late, which is worrying, as I am sure each dram could easily command two hours of attention. Ah, well.
While waiting, we meet some of our co-tasters for the session. I will realise tomorrow that they are Whisky Sponge and his gang. We will see them again.

The whole Urquhart dynasty is there (well, the living members, at least), and each has a piece to introduce their respective bottle. The whole thing is but an excuse to celebrate retiring managing director, Michael Urquhart, who does the introduction with the first, warm-up dram. Johnny McCormick, who wrote the book that comes with each of the recent old-age bottlings, takes part too.

Meet thy neighbours
(we will meet them again too)
JS notices as it starts that her Dram #3 is in a broken glass and leaking. It is swiftly replaced, fortunately, but what a waste! :(

Not big pours by any means, but the colour!
Dram #1

MacPhail's 15yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail): nose: dunnage warehouse, toffee, lemon. Mouth: lemony goodness, light toffee. This is easy and, dare I say, a bit bland. Finish: great finish, with milk chocolate, toffee and ginger bread. It works as an introduction, and to remind everyone that GMP makes whiskies for everyone, not only the elite. 6/10

We shift gears in a dramatic turn of events.

Dram #2

Linkwood 61yo 1953/2014 (49.4%, Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection, First-fill Sherry Hogshead, C#279, 55b): that is correct: 55 bottles. This is the oldest Linkwood GMP had in their warehouse and also the oldest Linkwood ever bottled. Nose: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Such a depth I die a little! Dusty bookshelves in a museum, age-old, leather-bound books, raisins, prunes, dried figs, dried dates, wood (well under control) -- this is moving to the highest point. Mouth: saddles, leather boots, but make no mistake: the balance is absolutely harmonious. Never does it become too sherried or too oaky. Raisins, Chesterfield sofas, peppered oil. Here too, the elegance is majestic. Finish: nuts, husk, walnut stain, a slight dryness, roasted pine nuts. This is coating and everlasting, giving out more raisins, prunes and dates. I have to admit becoming really emotional with this one. But then the whole room is lost in contemplation. So much so that I cannot remember much of Stephen Rankin's presentation and the loving anecdotes about his mother. 11/10 (it is not a typo, this is my favourite)

The Old Man of Huy attempts to weep into his glass to wet the whisky
Dram #3

Glenlivet 62yo 1952/2014 (43.4%, Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection, First-fill Sherry Butt transferred into Sherry Hogshead in 1969, C#69133, 69b): the second oldest Glenlivet ever bottled, only topped by the seventy-year-old that was released a few years ago, also by GMP. Nose: raisin-infused floor wax, furniture polish, not just any furniture polish: the encaustic they use to polish the dashboard of a 1952 Jaguar XK-120 (British Racing Green, obviously). Some fresher notes then emerge: baked apples, cut pears, and even a whiff of tropical fruit -- unexpected, at this age. This is ridiculous again. Mouth: über-fresh, with a hint of milky coffee in the background (it is a sherry maturation, after all). This one dances on the tongue, giving notes of dark grapes and apricot juice. Finish: ever-evolving, going from wood to fruit and back again. It lasts forever as well, keeping one on their toes for the next flavour to appear. This is JS's favourite of the lot -- finally a good Glenlivet! 10/10

Dram #4

Mortlach 63yo 1951/2014 (42.5%, Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection, Sherry Hogshead, C#704, 61b): nose: bonkers, once more. Wax, brine, pickles are constantly evolving in a great gig. Mouth: what to say without repeating the same again? The harmony is humbling, to be honest. Brine and shoe polish, never overboard either way. Milky nuts are thrown into the mix at a late stage. Finish: short, or so it seems. It comes back in a cavalcade of smoke, dried, dark fruit, brine and huge gherkins (NYC style). This is the weakest, so far, but still easily deserves 9/10 (being harsh).

Dram #5

Strathisla 57yo 1957/2014 (51.6%, Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection, Sherry Hogshead, C#1730, 61b): nose: ginger bread, dunnage warehouse, cola, stewed prunes that have been left to cool off, tropical wood (teak, mahogany, hevea brasiliensis, ebony, even). There are many more scents in there, but unfortunately, time is running out (as it tends to do when one starts late...) Mouth: tons of stewed prunes again, dark grape juice, glühwein, plum syrup from a tin of plums -- that would be tinned-plum syrup, probably. Finish: ash, burnt wood, burnt rubber, burnt sienna (for the model-aircraft builders who read this), smoke. To tell the truth, this is too much. Great dram, spoilt by the overly woody finish. Still a decent score, mind. 9/10

I had bet it would be those distilleries or Glen Grant, seeing as GMP seem to have unfathomable stocks of those five, and have had for centuries. Small victory for the Old Man of Huy, then.

Regarding the drams, this is the end of whisky. We have just had 258 years worth of whisky in five drams, the first of which being fifteen years old. I cannot think of anything to follow this without seeming out of place. Good thing, though, as it gives us the break we need to grab a bite.

About the masterclass as a whole, what a disappointment to start late and spend almost twenty minutes on the fifteen-year-old to then have to rush through the four kingly ones. It was so tight I had to stop paying attention to the presentations to focus on enjoying the drams and trying to understand what I was sipping -- not an easy task, since none of them was an easy dram.

Meane weil speak weil and doe weil
The presentation was perhaps a bit formal and ex cathedra, rather than the more interactive approach we are getting used to. I suppose the occasion was solemn enough to justify it.

Still, it was an honour to have the chance to take part in the experience. However, if I understand the limitations of this sort of celebrations (it has to abide by a timetable), some Teutonic rigour around said timetable would have been a benefit to all.

Carry on reading here.