29 January 2016

26/01/2016 Diageo Special Releases Masterclass

Datz rite. Only two days after the Burns extravaganza, we are back at work.
Unbelievable that after all these years and custom, this is my very first TWE tasting. It is taking place on the first floor of Browns Covent Garden, a grand, old-fashioned restaurant.

JS and I make it to the venue only a few minutes before it starts. The room is packed and it is not easy to find two contiguous seats. We find some, eventually, right next to an SMWS regular. Lucky! We face away from the screen and MC, unfortunately, which means we end up rubbernecking a lot.


Colin Dunn is hosting this, of course. Some recycled jokes, a couple of new ones. He keeps saying this is not a sales pitch, yet brings up price and increase in value any chance he gets. Ah, well. Naturally, we do not try the drams in the order they were served. The below is how we really try them.

"The only reason I am here: I don't have to pay to get in."

Port Ellen 32yo 1983/2015 (53.9%, OB Annual Release, Bourbon Casks, 2964b): a blend of twelve barrels, put in cask at 67% in 1983. Nose: burnt rubber, shellac, then a farmland path, ploughed fields, even drying fishing nets. Mouth: a lot sweeter than expected, with cast sugar, cane sugar syrup and growing spices. The green chilli is quite assertive. Finish: burnt wood, ash, barbecued whelk in a farmyard. The sweetness then comes back. This is wonderful. 9/10

Staying on Islay, we have...

Lagavulin 12yo (56.8%, OB Natural Cask Strength, 15th Release, Bourbon Casks): a mix of around 100 barrels. Nose: super meaty (cured meat, melting lard), then black cumin and black cardamom. Mouth: nail varnish, lacquer, ground coriander, ground black cumin. It remains velvety in texture, which is interesting, with those spicy notes. Finish: bold, muscular, teeming with oily peat and toasted barley -- this warms one up! Pretty good. I like it much more than the 2013 release, possibly because of the sequence. 8/10

One more before we take a break.

The Cally 40yo 1974/2015 (53.3%, OB, 5060b): distilled from maize and wheat, as well as a small dose of malted barley, of course. Nose: a total bakery fest. This is full of coconut shavings and apricot turnover, grapefruit slices and paint thinner. Banane flambée, even. Mouth: oh! Yes, apricot turnover in taste and texture. This is velvety and sexy, very quaffable. Finish: the perfect mix of bakery and spices, juicy turnovers and chilli pickles. Superb. Shame about the extravagant price. 9/10

Quick catch-up with our friends in the audience (MR, EG, AR, DR), then we are back on track.

Not too much Brora, in that left-hand-side glass!
Dailuaine 34yo 1980/2015 (50.9%, OB Natural Cask Strength, 2952b): this is really the one that piqued our interest. Everything else is a great bonus, mind. This one is unusual in that it is the first Dailuaine to appear in the Special Releases, it is one of the oldest I have seen, the price, although high, is more affordable than others' and particularly, it sold out immediately. Great chance to try it, then. Nose: natural apple juice, elegant perfume, fresh peppermint, cut apples, then lime and hay -- unbelievable, this. Mouth: floral, with honeysuckle and honey, cotton candy before the alcohol becomes louder, with notes of green chilli flakes. Finish: long, big, yet delicate at the same time, if it makes sense. Feminine, fruity, yet neverending and assertive, it has a hint of green grass. 9/10

Pittyvaich 25yo 1989/2015 (49.9, OB, Refill Bourbon Hogsheads, 5922b): nose: very floral, with honeysuckle, honeycomb and forsythia. It quickly turns rather herbaceous, which is in keeping with the distillery profile (remember the grassy 1993 by GMP?) Mouth: silky, milky and pleasant. It develops to reveal pear juice and plum juice. Finish: wide, bold and fruity, with apricot and plum. This might be even better than the 20yo from 2010. 9/10

Clynelish (55.9%, OB Select Reserve, 2nd Edition, b.2015, 2946b): we are told there is a "large proportion of 37yo Clynelish" in this, but that it "wasn't good enough on its own." It is impossible to not notice the NAS and the price tag, despite all the efforts. Is the juice any good, though? Nose: musky, animal, skinned fox, then freshly-polished shoes and a bit of leather trousers. With water, fruit comes out -- apricots and plums. Mouth: jammy, with apricot compote, then caramelised apricot compote. Water enhances the fruity aspects. Finish: more compote and a hint of smoke. The musk has all but disappeared, now. With water, the finish becomes too thin. Pity, as the nose and palate were better with water. 8/10

We walk across the road to the old distillery:

Brora 37yo 1977/2015 (50.4%, OB Limited Editino, 14th Release, 2976b): nose: shy at first, then extremely farmy. A dairy farm, that is -- milk cows, butter, cream, soft cheese. Fruit emerges too. Later on, it is all about nail varnish, gouache and plasters. Mouth: this tingles, even six drams into the tasting. It is slightly drying, with black cumin, as well as wax seals (still warm). Finish: ash and wax seals. This becomes waxier and waxier at the same time as the ash grows bigger. Brilliant. 9/10

Starstruck Dunn was delighted to get close to the Old Man of Huy
Colin asks who is up for a mystery dram. The staff pours things around in clean glasses. I note that they pour out of bottles of Pittyvaich and Dailuaine. I consolidate the remaining Pittyvaich and these fresh pours into one glass, only to be told a minute later that, inside the bottles, was this year's "best whisky in the world," Crown Royal Rye. Presumably, I have just polluted a perfectly innocent dram of Pittyvaich 25yo with two drams of Crown Royal. Ah, well.

I take no notes. It seems unspectacular, though palatable. Colin tells the audience that no-one can tell anyone that such and such is the best whisky in the world, not even Jim Murray, because it is all based on personal taste.

The tasting comes to an end. We are told that TWE's new shop, two streets away, will be open for a short while after this, and some of the bottles are available.

We socialise a bit longer, JS suffers condescending remarks from a table guest ("You've chosen the perfect table mate: she's left all her whiskies") and from Dunn ("You've done pretty well on those," pointing at the half-full drams). If only they knew! We do not leave a drop behind, naturally.

We then head for the shop. First time in the new location, a visit was overdue.

Good tasting. Nice to see some friends I have not seen in a long time and great selection of whiskies. I thought the tone of the tasting was not very clear: it seemed too high-brow for the uneducated (a couple of people were attending their very first whisky tasting), yet too low-brow for the geeks, who do not need to be told that the prices will only go up and stocks are depleting. It left both sides unsatisfied to a point. Too much talk about auction highlights for me, and the rookies were checking their phones long before the end.
The room looked grand, though it did not seem appropriate for this sort of events: too high (terrible acoustic) and too hot. Besides, the round tables are very impractical and a pain for the neck.

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