Cadenhead's is hosting a chocolate-and-whisky-pairing evening at their shop. It was a bit of a headache, I understand, since the tasting room is in the shop's basement and said basement was flooded three times over the last few weeks -- the last two times taking place in the same week. The culprit? The infamous non-flushable, "flushable" wet wipe, of course. I am told fifteen metres of pipes were clogged with the bugger. Cannot understand how this environmental disaster (the wet wipe does not dissolve) is still legal.
Anyway, ignoring the shitbomb we all avoided (literally), the plan is to try old whiskies and pair them with artisan chocolate. Being from Huy, the Old Man has generally high expectations, when it comes to chocolate. However, this is not a chocolate blog, nor will it become one. Consequently, the only notes you will find below are about the whiskies -- and then they are sometimes thin, seeing the pace. The chocolates were good, particularly the salted caramel and the 62% dark ones.
The twelve-strong attendance is made of regular customers and hardcore whisky geeks. I finally meet BC from Ben's Whisky Blog. This will not be a discovery tasting, that is certain! We determine the order more or less at random, since we do not know in advance what we are tasting.
Tomintoul-Glenlivet 28yo 1995/2014 (48.9%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection, Bourbon Barrel, 198b): nose: pineapple, citrus peel, undergrowth flowers, very fresh and lively. Mouth: crisp, fresh and citrus-y, with lashes of crushed mint leaves. It feels rather drying, with chocolate notes -- probably the wood influence. Other than that, the alcohol is perfectly integrated. Finish: a weird note of grassy chocolate and daisies. Water does not change it much. Glad to try this, as it has been looking at me from the shelves for a while. I was probably hoping for better, though. 7/10
Tormore 30yo 1984/2015 (55.8%, Cadenhead Small Batch, Bourbon Barrels, 432b): this one I have had before and liked. Excited to try it in better conditions. Nose: much deeper nose than the Tomintoul, with a distinct blood-orange sweetness and an odd note of oilcloth fabric. It brings me back to a particular smell at my grandmother's, one of her sewing boxes, if I remember correctly. Why it smelt of oilcloth fabric, I do not know. Back to the topic: mango skins. This nose is a very unusual blend of fruit and plastic. Mouth: velvety and orange-y with a hint of green pepper. Lovely, this! Water makes it sparkly, not unlike cider (BC). Finish: woah! A generous sprinkle of green pepper on a bowl of milk-chocolate mousse (I know, that is wrong, isn't it?) Wonderful dram. 8/10
Glentauchers-Glenlivet 38yo 1976/2015 (50.8%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection, Bourbon Hogshead, 210b): another one I previously tried in a tiny plastic cup. Nose: lots of metal and herbs -- gunmetal, thyme, rosemary, oregano, tarragon. Lovely and complex with even a note of bacon in the back. And everyone knows bacon is the magic ingredient that makes anything better. Mouth: a different game, now, with unripe pears. Have to rush it down, as I am behind, unfortunately. Finish: milk chocolate and more herbs, tarragon dominating the lot. Best Glentauchers I have had, which, of course, does not say much. 8/10
Glenburgie-Glenlivet 29yo 1985/2014 (55.3%, Cadenhead Single Cask, Bourbon Hogshead, 222b): nose: hints of dust, cocoa powder and lots of varnish alongside dried orange peels. Mouth: very concentrated fruit juice (orange and pineapple), white pepper. My co-tasters spell it out for me: it is mandarin, not orange. Finish: more mandarin and the bitterness associated with its white pith. It is not too ripe a mandarin, you see. Beautiful. This is everyone's favourite, so far. 8/10
Clynelish 24yo 1990/2014 (44.7%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection, Bourbon Barrel, 156b): nose: wax. Remember we do not know what we are served; that says something about the nose, surely. We all guess Clynelish in unison, so pronounced are the distillery markers. Honey, waxy fruit, such as plum. It is a bit shy, after the previous ones. Mouth: watery and indistinct, though it does come alive, after a moment, with notes of lemon juice. Still tame, though. Finish: waxy fruit again, freshly-cut grass. I find it average, though I have to admit it probably suffers from the sequence. 6/10
Springbank 21yo b.2015 (46%, OB, 15/52): this is the only one we were told everything about prior and several recognise it easily. Nose: chemical and herbaceous -- lots of rosemary and grilled bacon, cured meat and herbs. Others find it coastal, but I do not. Mouth: very metallic, now, though the word 'very' is likely undeserved, seeing how tame the thing is. It seems mostly silent, probably overpowered by the previous drams. I have no time to let it open up, unfortunately. Finish: cured meat, with lots of beach action, at last. A barbecue on the seashore, clams, mussels and pinches of herbs. A decent dram with a weak mouth. Others love it, I think it is overrated and certainly not a patch on the 21yo from 1999, which remains the benchmark all the others are judged against. 6/10
Undisclosed Distillery 49yo 1966/2015 (52.9%, Private bottling, Bourbon Cask, re-racked into Sherry Cask, re-racked into Rum Cask, 1b): you read that correctly. This is a cask that is privately owned and is not legally Scotch any longer (it spent most of its maturation time away from Scotland. Our host, who is not the owner, wants to know what we think of it, which means it is pretty much the sole pretext behind this whole party. Needless saying we are delighted to be given this opportunity, considering this has otherwise never been bottled and never will be. We are never told which distillery it is from (a promise made to the owner of the cask), but we are told the sort of prices it would command, should it be made available for retail. Nose: silt, algae, stagnating water and old books in a damp basement. Wet, lichen-covered rocks, moss, dunnage warehouse. Merbromin too, which is a bit strange. There is peat in it, but it is never overpowering, rather a thin veil of smoke in a room next door. Once all that scum dissipates, cherries show up with a wheelbarrowful of soil. Complex and intriguing, this nose. Mouth: perfect balance, little wood to speak of, which is always staggering, at this age (is it because of the cask swaps?) Instead come lots of wild, black cherries and a sprinkle of spices -- turmeric and cinnamon, mostly. Marzipan also rears its head. Finish: cinnamon sticks? No! Cassia bark! Boy, that takes me back to my curry-cooking days. Prunes, plum liqueur, old cherries (whatever that means) and dusty books. Phew! Is it a romantic reaction to the pedigree? I doubt it: it is a killer dram, even though it is not for everyone. Is it worth the RRP of twelve-to-twenty-five thousand pounds? Perhaps not, but I would easily fork out quite a bit for this. I love it. Pity it will never be bottled. We first think it might be an old Ardbeg, but we are told it is not an Islay. Other guesses are Glen Scotia and Oban. It is unlikely a Glen Scotia would reach those prices any time soon, in my opinion. What it really is, we will never know. 9/10 (Thanks to the anonymous donor)
Caol Ila 31yo 1984/2015 (ABV TBC, Cadenhead Cask Ends, Fresh Bourbon Wood, London Exclusive, 1b): the full retail version of this will come out in the next few weeks to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Cadenhead's London shop. Our host has been pimping it up for months, so it is not really a surprise. In the meantime, we get this pre-release only for ourselves. Nose: farmyard, with a note of barbecued mussel (again!?) It is pretty mouldy to me, while one of my co-tasters finds it heathery. Nail varnish is the final note I get. Fire-engine-red nail varnish, to be accurate. Mouth: powerful, yet balanced, with red fruit thrown into the mix. Cranberries, I reckon. Finish: cranberries, lingonberries and lots of peat. This is on the verge of too much for me today (not in a peat mood), yet it remains on the right side of things (just about). Enjoyable. A good Caol Ila, probably a bestseller in the making, but it is not my favourite profile. 7/10
Eight whiskies in just under two hours is not for the squeamish. Others try the Spirit of Freedom 45+ and a recently-bottled Tomatin too. I have had both and do not bother.
The pace started out perfectly, then increased to reach a gallop by dram #3. Understandable, seeing the ambitious lineup, yet a pity from this taster's perspective. It reminds me of the GMP masterclass last year, where the most time was spent on the most insignificant dram, then the regal ones had to be rushed down.
Other than that, a fine tasting in fine company.