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

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