31 October 2015

31/10/2015 London MkI

For the last day of October, we will start what I am hoping becomes a small tradition: a tasting on the theme of London. Any street, borough, park, station will do. The city is so big and so rich in potential bad puns it would be a shame not to exploit it in depth!

The suspects: JS, JH, EG, OB and yours, truly.

OB is first. We have a drop of Deanston 17yo (43%, OB) as aperitive.

JH, shows up as usual: hungover and with an empty stomach. He toys with the idea of ordering a pizza, yet does not.

Littlemill Hill East

Littlemill 17yo (43%, OB, b. ca 1999) (brought by me): I expect OB not to like this, as he is not a fan of herbaceous profiles. I serve it anyway -- for the pun and because it is not something one drinks every day. EG, who has seen his share of bottles thinks it is an 8yo before he sees the bottle. He has never seen this. Nose: plum-like (JH), greengages (JH), gooseberry (OB), even notes of damson plum (JH), sparkling wine (JH, in verbose mode). It reminds me of bubbly indeed, with cut grass too. Mouth: yes, this is plummy alright, today; a mix of plums and greengages. There seems to be little touches of smoke as well, which is less expected. Finish: dry finish (JH), dark cocoa powder, ground coffee beans and the associated bitterness. It keeps its roundness all the same; it has mandarins and butter. 7/10

Although, it is the 31st October, we make our way to the terrace -- in t-shirts, believe it or not. Gives us a chance to witness a forceful arrest across the street. It is the final game of the rugby World Cup and, if everyone drinks, not everyone can take their alcohol.

Hazelburn Rd

Hazelburn Rundlets and Kilderkins 2003/2014 (50.1%, OB) (EG): nose: red berries and a thin veil of smoke, unexpected, since Hazelburn is supposed to not have any. JH does not like this one at all. Everyone else seems to enjoy the note of papaya. Mouth: it has an interesting bitterness (green plant), good strength, with green plants and butternut (topical, is it not?) Finish: coating, with fruit and... coal? Slightly drying in a walnut-flesh type of way. 7/10

JS makes an entrance. Bang on time: it is her time to pour.

Macdufferin St

Macduff 24yo 1984/2008 (46%, Direct Wines First Cask, C#877, L08/498) (JS): interestingly, this was bottled by Signatory Vintage, if the duty sticker can be believed (usually, it can). It is also our first First Cask bottling, as well as a reference to an obscure street, ha! Nose: bubblegum, Chardonnay (JH), sweet wine. Pineapple and croissant dough -- this is amazing! Mouth: nuts at first; it seems a lot more powerful than 46% too. The palate still gives a bit of fruit (plums) and wet clay. Finish: more fruit, wet earth, milk chocolate, crisp, ripe pears also come out (JH). Lovely! 8/10

EG tries to find out how much the Macduff cost

Longmorn Ln

Longmorn 15yo (43%, OB imported by WaxOr Milano, 240K562/240K818, b. late 1980s) (EG): this is not one I have ever seen before. Exciting. Nose: body odour, says JH -- below the waistline, apparently. "So, you don't smell the arse-crack?", he asks. We don't mate. Stewed prunes, shitake mushrooms (JH), boiled eggs (that is probably sulphur, which never becomes unpleasant). Nuts appear, after a bit. Mouth: feels a bit weak, initially, then prunes, plums and liqueur all come out. EG says he "bought two shits," which amuses us a lot. Beautiful, this. Finish: wood? Walnut flesh? Dried dates? Figs? The finish is beautiful too! 8/10

My fingers smell of arse-crack too!

Friern Speyburnet

Speyburn 25yo Solera (46%, OB, P0 12982 11:08 7206 25) (me): OB reckons I am doing a Northern Line tasting, but then he mistook this for High Barnet. No, sir! Nose: nutty and gently meaty, before it becomes a lot fruitier -- that stewed fruit again, likely prunes. Mouth: great quality sherry casks, this, which gives notes of manuka honey and maple syrup. Finish: walnut shells, peach stones, almond skins -- yes, this is a little bitter. Everyone likes it, which is a relief for me, as it was not exactly a hit when I opened it, a couple years ago. 8/10

Nibbles are served: oat cakes and belotta ham from Lomar's. We move back inside. The weather is nice, but the sun sets early.

Slicin' for a livin'

Glen Gordon St

Glen Gordon 15yo (40%, GMP, IB/AHF, b.1992) (EG): this was the first bottle EG ever bought at auction. Nose: molasses, tropical wood (teak), macerated plums, berry liqueur. Mouth: wet, burnt wood, caramel (it is full of it, despite EG's protests). It feels a bit tame at 40%, yet the burnt wood sort of balances that out. Finish: this is the weak point, with burnt wood and caramel. 6/10

Miltonduff St

Adelphi Theatre

Miltonduff 32yo 1981/2014 (54.2%, Adelphi Selection, C#5067, 226b) (JS): whisky counts double, with this one. I remember liking it a lot at the Whisky Show last year. Nose: bonded warehouse, clay floors, moss on casks and angels' share. "This is good arse-crack," says JH. You tell me, mate. Butter, wood dust -- yes, still dunnage warehouse and buttery walnut shells. Mouth: flowery and peachy. Peach and flower body butter. Finish: an explosion of citrus fruit (quince, preserved lemons). Great, great Miltonduff that is unanimously appreciated. 9/10

Royal Bracklademy

Royal Brackla 30yo 1984/2015 (54.1%, Cadenhead Single Cask, Bourbon Hogshead, 192b) (OB): nose: deep and bold, with dunnage-warehouse whiffs and pencil lead. Mouth: oooh! The kick! Prune juice, raisin juice and a hefty dose of white pepper. This is big. Finish: almond milk. This is old-school whisky, almost austere. EG finds a Japanese influence and reckons it is a sexy whisky. I do not think it is sexy at all (not tout: no vanilla or custard), but then I like this old style anyway. JS likes it too, which surprises her. Probably the best Brackla I have had, which does not say much, maybe. 8/10

OB unfortunately has to leave at this point and misses the last two drams.

Theobaldnoch Rd

50.69 25yo 1990/2015 A celebration of life! (56.5%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 91b) (JH): JH brought this with no clue how to make it fit the theme, other than it is a celebration of life in London. I almost changed my own selection, then thought it would be a good idea to drink two expressions of the same distillery side by side. Nose: poppy-seed cake, saffron (JH). "It's really boom in your mouth" (JH). After Eight -- that is mint-stuffed chocolate thins, for the few who do not know. Mille foglie (EG) -- mille-feuille, in French; "Eh? Milf?" (EG) Apricot stone, dandelion petals in sizzling butter. Mouth: hot dough, apricot turnover. Finish: this is warming as fook, with apricot and bakery notes. That will be an apricot turnover, then, eh? 8/10

Posing or pouring
One must choose


Bladnoch 23yo 1977/2001 (53.6%, OB Rare Malts Selection, 6000b, b#00565) (me): this is an old friend and always a pleasure to share, though it is the first time I pour it as the last dram in a tasting. Nose: sage, thyme, chocolate, nuts, cork -- this is awfully complex, is it not? White chocolate, Kellogg's Smacks (puffed wheat sweetened with caramel) and coconut (JH). Mouth: initially salty, then sweet (says JH). It remains salty for me, with roasted barley. Finish: explosive, it leaves a long-lasting, warm presence in the mouth, with white chocolate and apple-stuffed bakery. Lovely. 9/10

Boom! We have a theme.

As a night cap, we have G4.1. I take no notes and, although we could easily make it fit the theme, we will keep that for another time.

Excellent tasting, once again. All drams were good to great, with only one that was more on the interesting tip.

Whatever is happening, here

Totally Speyburnt out

All maps courtesy of Google Maps. Tube map courtesy of TfL. Any copyright question, please ask.

14 October 2015

12/10/2015 Meaty, big and bouncy at the SMWS

A tasting at the Society on a school night? There is a risk for it to be messy. At the same time, with MC Colin Dunn, it could be a good night out. It also turns out to be the first tasting MR organises; that calls for support. JS and I are willing to give that support. We are magnanimous like that.

Before the session starts, we try something at the bar. Remember that the October outturn came out at the same time as the Whisky Show, which means tOMoH has had none yet. And there is a rare sight.

54.33 12yo d.2002 Holidays and honeymoon (60.1%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 163b): datz rite! The first 54 in at least five years and only the second 54 I try (the first was at the Vaults, earlier this year, in an unrecorded session). Nose: acetone, says JMcC, who I join at the bar. Virginia tobacco and -- wait for it! -- pink berries. Not even sure what pink berries are, or if they even exist, yet that is exactly what this evokes for me. Mouth: it rolls on the tongue nicely, with berries again, as well as a kick of mustard... mustard? No! Horseradish. Finish: yep, berries and horseradish. This is wonderful! 8/10

The room is filling up, JS makes her entrance as Colin Dunn is making his way to the venue (separate room); we are called there shortly afterwards.

The line-up is on glorious display: five 76es. Not being a huge fan of that distillery (Mortlach), I am not ecstatic. The programme was unknown to us, you see. At the same time, good company (the Whisky Cyclist is there too), a good presenter, tapas... how could it not be enjoyable? Plus, there is a gap between bottles 3 and 5, which means Mr D. brought something mysterious. Aha!

Dunn is in full comedian mode, giggitying at every chance, cracking jokes (some recycled, some new) and encouraging the audience to participate. It is much more interactive than last week's session, in fact, and if it is perhaps a little too soon to see a second performance by the same artist, it is clearly a good time. A few selected bits below.

Naturally, we do not try things sequentially. Colin asks someone in the audience to choose the next dram each time.

Dram #6

76.117 25yo d.1988 A grand old lady in the piano shop (48.4%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 248b): nose: "sherry trifle; sounds like the name of a porn star!" Candy floss, strawberry-flavoured toothpaste. It later becomes drier, after the very sweet start. This is a dessert nose -- no wonder it was last, and paired with the cheesecake. Mouth: initially soft, it turns very sweet. Finish: wonderfully balanced, with candy floss, Lucozade (at least I imagine so: never tried the stuff) and a sprinkle of green pepper. 8/10

Colin explains how he calls his employer Diego (Diageo, Diego, geddit?) I tell him later on he needs to complement the phrase with, 'sweaty.'

Dram #2 (chosen by JS, yay)

76.114 26yo d.1987 Grand gardens in Goa (58%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 218b): paired with salmorejo with green apple and basil granite and sun blushed tomatoes. Nose: dry and fruity, with flour and flowers, marzipan, even. Hot wax (for the vinyl collectors), subtle smoke and dried orange peel. Cold incense, saffron, says CD. With water, more meat comes out, then pine wood. Mouth: it bites much more than the previous. Full of dried orange peel and black pepper. Finish: long and drying. Water makes it more mellow, with soft, pillow-y figs. 8/10

"At Diego, we have targets, as Robin Hood once had."

Dram #4

Mortlach 16yo (43%, OB Flora & Fauna): alongside milhojas de escalivada of smoked & roasted aubergine and red peppers. Of course, we have had this mystery dram before. Dunn brought it from his personal collection ("...of 24 bottles") instead of the more recent (and more expensive) 18yo, because he thought not everyone would have had a chance to ever try it otherwise. A delicate attention, I thought. Nose: cured meat, as well as lots of sugar. It is a sweet marinade, full of brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses. Mouth: sherried (Diego keep the best sherry casks for themselves, we are told), with burnt caramel and syrup. Finish: watery; it is not cask strength and it feels. Strongly. Burnt wood and burnt caramel. This has never been my favourite F&F, today does not change my view. 6/10

Dram #5

76.116 26yo d.1987 Tangier market (48.3%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 193b): with mini tosta de asparagus with Manchego and onion confit. Nose: toffee, butter, lard, even. It soon becomes what is known in the industry under the name: woody-as-fook. A dash of red fruit completes the picture. JS finds it earthy. Mouth: mellow and gentle, with soft fruit (apricot). Finish: bold, with apricot compote (stones included). It is warm and comforting. 7/10

Irrelevant rugby talks drag on for a bit.

Dram #3

76.123 27yo d.1987 Warm, joyous and gratifying (52.2%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 214b): matches a selection of Iberico Jamon. Nose: raspberry coulis on shortbread. Pie dough covered in peaches. Mouth: hot, with black pepper and hot peaches. Finish: big, assertive and not displaying much character. This is a bit boring, to be honest. I enjoy it, because the alcohol is starting to take its toll. It is merely 7/10

Dram #1

76.110 27yo d.1986 Summer fruit salad with cream (58.8%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 242b): complemented by cream of melon shot with crispy jamon. Nose: warm bakery, with plums and fresh oranges, quite simply. Mouth: spicy and fruity, with lots of oranges again. No meat, which is interesting, considering that is supposedly the main distillery marker. Finish: slight bitterness, as well as the acidity of orange. 7/10

"As Kafka said: this has metamorphosised."

Colin rummages through his bag to produce another bottle -- we have hardly had enough.

Dram #7

Shake shake shake
Shake shake shake
Shake your bouteille
Mortlach Rare Old (43.4%, OB, b. ca 2015): the recent, standard-range, official Mortlach, accompanied by the mandatory sales pitch. It is kept to a very tame level; Dunn is not ramming product down our throats, thankfully. This is merely an opportunity to compare official bottlings, old and new, to independent. Nose: cardboard and smoked ham. Mouth: I find it watery, with bits of cardboard and ham. Finish: peach stone, lime. It is alright, if formatted. Nothing groundbreaking. JS reckons it is good for the Chinese market. 6/10

The bottle reads, '2.81 distilled.'

"Some people think it was distilled in February 1981."

Any tips on cycling and pink shirts?
The reality is more amusing, still (pun intended). The distillation regime at Mortlach is such that the spirit is distilled 2.81 times on average. To keep it simple, there are three pairs of stills:

The wash stills are filled for distillation. The output (low wines) are fed to the respective matching spirit stills for the second distillation:

The spirit that comes out of SS2 and SS3 is casked. What comes out of SS1 is split for further distillation: 80% go into SS2, whilst the remaining 20% go into WS2:

In other words, some spirit is distilled twice, some thrice and some four times. Everything is then blended together into casks for ageing.
A pity, in my opinion. It would be interesting to try double-, triple- and quadruple-distilled Mortlach for comparison, would it not?

Good tasting. I was glad that the SMWS bottlings were of the fruity, rather than the meaty kind. Even if the whiskies were not necessarily what I would usually go for, the way they were presented kept them interesting, the host was up to his usual standards, the food was good (I do not think I will ever fully buy into the food-pairing thing, though) and the atmosphere was pleasant. Well done MR for organising a very successful first tasting.

In any bar, that would spell W-I-N.
Here, it might spell H-E-A-D-A-C-H-E
To be improved: the tapas, although tasty, were not very substantial. Also, we ran out of bread in seconds: there were fewer pieces per table than guests. Six drams (seven) on an empty stomach (18:30 to 20:30, precisely at dinner time) make for a hazy finish (and a difficult morning). The same thing happened a few years ago for that grain tasting. Since the food is expensive and cannot be made into a three-course supper, I will dare point out that 2.5cl pours are much too much for a tasting. 1.5cl is more than sufficient to enjoy a dram as part of a tasting (even 1cl should be enough). Not to mention it costs a lot less for the organisers. 2.5cl x 20 people = 50cl, while 1.5cl x 20 people = 30cl. Seeing how many glasses were not emptied, I like to think others share my opinion.

I hope the SMWS reconsider the size of their pours for future tastings.

Stars of the evening

11 October 2015

04/10/2015 The Whisky Show 2015 (Day 2 -- Part 3)

The previous episode is here.

From the canteen, I spot the Loch Lomond stand at last. I rush to it to try...

Loch Lomond Single Grain (46%, OB): nose: lemon zest, light custard. Mouth: zesty and fresh, with custard. It turns velvety after a bit. Finish: soft, sweet and custard-y. This is pleasant. 7/10

JS fetches...

Springbank 25yo (46%, OB, b.2014, 1200b): the drams list promised an early-1990s bottling, we get last year's instead. Talk about a disappointment: I have already had it (no notes). Nose: kumquats, a sprinkle of dust, citrus tart. Mouth: light and gentle, pineapple juice, crisp, lively too. Finish: lots of fruit abound -- tinned pineapple, clementines, mandarins. It was worth it after all: I like it much more than the first time. 8/10

Glenglassaugh 45yo 1968/2014 (44.3%, OB, Sherry Hogshead, C#1601, 349b): nose: p√Ęte de fruits kept in a leather bag. Mouth: rich and marmalade-y. Finish: explosion of spices, then fruit. Lovely. 9/10

This is not London Bridge

After a trip to the terrace and much deliberation, we go for...

Littlemill 25yo (50.4%, OB Private Cellar Edition, Oloroso Sherry Finish, b.2015, 1500b): nose: fruit at first, slightly tropical, then leather notes. Mouth: the leather comes out much more, now, with chocolate and mocha. Finish: dry leather, initially, belts and so on. Tropical fruit comes out shortly thereafter. Fresh and good, though it is in the shadow of other bottlings we have had... that cost 1/20th of this one's price. 8/10

MR likes the Littlemill
EG joins us and insists we try the new Inchmurrin, to compare it to the Littlemill.

Inchmurrin 12yo (46%, OB Island Collection, b.2015): nose: herbs and fruit. Lots of fruit. Mouth: a pleasant stroll under the foliage, with cut fruit on top. Finish: waves of tropical fruit now kick me in the face. Amazing dram. The price of one bottle of Littlemill will buy ca 70 bottles of this one. Shocking. 8/10

Time to finish ourselves off.

Laphroaig 1997/2015 (53.8%, BBR, C#46): nose: peat smoke. Mouth: big and powerful. Finish: a discharge of peat, barley, smoke and fruit. Nice! MS hates it. 8/10

Laphroaig (unknown pedigree, Signatory Vintage): nose: barley and peat smoke. Mouth: TCP, peated barley. Finish: yeah, medicinal and peaty. Well made for someone into that style. It feels a bit young to me. I prefer the BBR. 7/10 (if anyone reading this knows the details, I am all ears)

We meet our Swiss friends back from the Three Legends masterclass. They warn us that OB is bringing stuff for us to try.

anCnoc 22yo (46%, OB, b. ca 2015): every year, I seem to end with this one. Nose: gentle and mild. Bland? Well, it is not assertive, but it is pleasant. Considering this is the end of day 2, it is an achievement it manages to hold itself. Mouth: milky, creamy even, with subtle spices and honey. Finish: bitter chocolate, orange PiM's. 8/10

I grab some chocolate at the food-pairing stall. I am given a Dalwhinnie Winter's Gold to match it. Nothing bad, yet I will not be buying it.

OB comes back from his masterclass with three drams indeed:

Balvenie Classic (43°, OB, b.1980s): nose: nutty and bold, with hazelnut liqueur, orange liqueur, Cointreau. Mouth: generous mouth, with notes of polished dashboards. Finish: mild bitterness, with ginger chocolate and toffee. 7/10

Balvenie 25yo 1974/2000 (46.9%, OB Single Barrel, C#15204, 250b): nose: a great mix of varnish and fruit. Mouth: orange PiM's again (that is Jaffa Cakes, but better, for those who have not had the far-superior, Continental version), diluted Cointreau, fruit. Finish: zesty, sugary, orange-y. Good, very good. 9/10

The last dram, OB insists we try blind.

Nose: lichen, old staves, mossy warehouses -- this is so deep and complex I am a bit intimidated. Mouth: orange sponge cake, grand liqueurs in old crystal decanters, the smoking room in a gentlemen's club. This is noble alright. Finish: a richness I have never encountered in anything before. It has tentalising coal smoke (direct-fired stills, no doubt). The whole is integrated to perfection, extremely complex and works on every level of the flavour palette. I will not even try to understand this, it is beyond me. When we all have had it, OB explains this is R-Patz's blend at 45%, made specially for today, limited to one bottle. It contains Invergordon 1961, Glen Scotia 1972, Scapa 1957, Fettercairn 1957 and, naturally, Dalmore. Dalmore from 1964, 1926, 1870 and... 1868. Although the quantities of the latter are probably infinitesimal, I would be lying if I said my jaw did not drop. Goodness. 11/10

There is no point trying to top this. We all run out of steam -- to the point MS leaves the show almost an hour before closing time. I try to compose myself and go grab a drink (twice): Lost Distilleries Blend from Boutique-y.
I spend a lot of time talking to a jetlagged Australian blogger who flew in this morning. My tolerance level is getting lower and lower, however: the hectic weekend is catching up with me. Before I lose it over the Twatter and blogging arguments, I duck out of it and join the gang when the whole thing slowly comes crashing down.

It felt less impressive this year, really. Until I stopped to look at it from a distance, that is. Impressive selection, impressive and/or interesting drams, mostly, often from unexpected sources -- who would have thought a Caol Ila would impress me so much? New exhibitors showed up (whisky.auction, Loch Lomond), while others disappeared (e.g. Adelphi, Hunter Laing). Some of them felt a bit out of place (the cocktails stands were often not busy for a reason: the whisky show).
The biggest change, of course, is the venue. I had a soft spot for Vinopolis, it is not a secret. The convoluted layout, the many rooms, the maze, the exposed yellow brick of the Victorian construction. Old Billingsgate is as grand as it gets; at the same time, the way it has been set up is less breathtaking: carpet tiles, white partitioning, blinding lighting in places. In fact, it looks very much like a big, corporate event. Clean, slick and sterile. Of course, it is more spacious, which allows for everything and everyone to be in the same room. Of course, it makes the Saturday feel more leisurely, removing the feeling of having to compete at any stall to get anything. I might not like it as much, yet it was a necessary move, as the attendance was growing too big for the smaller venue.

The good bit, to me, is that they turned the ambition down a notch to focus on whisky. No more cooperage on site, no more distilling at the festival. As said in previous editions, those were interesting, yet they were taking time away from the stalls and, ultimately, seemed like a waste of the craftsmen's time.

Douglas Laing sent their most convincing experts

I cannot fail to notice, that the interesting stuff is increasingly to be found amongst the dream drams. Including things that were previously readily available (cue Teeling 21).
That being said, I trust Gordon & MacPhail will still come up with off-the-scale stuff at the Whisky Show that is unaffordable for home consumption. Signatory keeps impressing in the rarely-seen department too.

Let us see what next year brings.

Oh! Dram of the show (outside masterclasses and dream drams) was the Caol Ila SV for dom666, OB and myself. Aultmore BBR for JS.

Old Billingsgate from the riverbank