5 January 2016

30/12/2015 Pre-NYE drams at Dornoch Castle Hotel

Dornoch Castle Hotel. Voted best whisky bar in Scotland, amidst many other awards. Time to verify if that ranking is justified. When better to do that than at Hogmanay? The hotel offers an all-in three-day pack that draws us in. Of course, drinks are not included.

Between check-in and supper, JS and I are invited to an apéritif. One of the lads is eager to serve us, brushing his boss off when the latter offers help. "I have been given carte blanche," he says. "Carte blanche, really?" I ask, to which the hotel owner answers it is not quite carte blanche. I guess the Macallan 50yo will have to wait, then.
I ask for something I would not select myself, and am given this:

Bell's Royal Reserve 20yo (40%, Arthur Bell & Sons imported by Italbel, b.1980s): nose: cork, both burnt and fresh, very dry earth, musty warehouses and a bit of fruit. Rose petals, peach skins, hazelnut liqueur. Mouth: it becomes weaker, unfortunately, watery, though it retains notes of toffee (particularly the flat, round Quality Street -- the one in the golden wrapping) and caramel butter. Finish: yep, lots of caramel butter with a hint of blackcurrant liqueur. Short, yet the great nose keeps it interesting. 7/10

JS explains the sort of profiles she likes and is given the following, which surprises me, since we had something similar not too long ago.

Longmorn 15yo (43%, OB, b. early 1990s): nose: sweet and fruity (strawberries, overripe plums). Mouth: velvety, mellow, pillowy, with watered-down honey and fruit coulis. The second sip seems rather watery. Finish: macadamia nuts! Brazil nuts too, with a delicious strawberry coulis on top and a lingering bitterness. Very good. 7/10

We shift gears.

Glenlochy 1979/2012 (46%, GMP Rare Old, RO/12/04): nose: lemon curd, freshly-cut peach, yet also dunnage warehouse. Citrus soon takes over, with delicate marzipan and candied lemon, lime pie, plantain, pâtes de fruit, perhaps even mint. Mouth: bitter orange and lemon marmalade (the sort that has huge chunks in it). The trademark minerality is there (stones, flint, gravel), yet it is subtle. The mouth is mostly citrus-y. Finish: fruit stone is the dominant, here, with chipped apricot stones soaked in fruit juice. 8/10

Next is a '64 whisky for adc (who, let me point out, is not here). Generous or what?

The observer will notice
the label mentions Sheriff
as the proprietor,
when Morrison Bowmore Ltd
took over a year before
this was distilled...
Bowmore 22yo 1964/1986 (86 U.S. Proof, Duthie for Corti Brothers): ha! ha! Need I say my heart skipped a beat when I spotted this in the cabinet, earlier? Nose: I die. Not a little. Although I have an idea what to expect, these old Bowmore get me every time. Tropical fruits aplenty. Star fruit first (fruity and acidic, super crisp), then persimmon, a touch of dry earth -- a touch? Everything is so loud it is hard to understand the individual smells behind the brouhaha. Crisp apples, pears, tinned pineapples -- tinned everything, actually: it has a distinctly metallic edge. Passion fruit does come out in the end, a bit too shy to my taste. Mouth: easier and more traditional, almost neutral. It has apple juice and a dash of star fruit and pear, yet it is nowhere near the insanity of the nose. It almost seems watery. Finish: some pepper, apples, then drying coal, soot, dry earth again. This remains magnificent, yet after the legendary nose, the palate and finish just do not live up to expectations. What luck to be able to try it, though! 9/10

Supper. Pigeon breast, goat's cheese salad, then venison steak for me, and salmon gravadlax, soup and mushroom tortellini for JS. The tortellini take forever, JS is disapointed and ends up finishing my venison instead. I am quite content with the tortellini myself. Everything else is tip-top.

Pigeon breast
Goat's cheese salad
Mushroom tortellini
Venison steak and vintage watch
Choc tart

Four drams do not seem like a good number to end on. I ask for something fruity, whether peaty or not. The next one is mentioned and I take the chance.

Ardmore 18yo 1993/2015 (49.9%, GMP Exclusive for Whisky-Online, C#5750, 176b): nose: earthy, with grilled meat and some fruit. The alcohol burns a bit, to be honest. Although the fruit is definitely there (barbecued pineapple), it is the barbecued meat that dominates. With water, the barbecue side dies out to allow strawberry and pineapple through. Mouth: charcoaled pineapple, ash; it is both acidic and drying -- mango juice in a smoking room. Water turns down the ash a notch, which makes it seem fruitier. The finish confirms the mix of barbecue and fruit. Although not as pronounced as in the ones from 1992, there is a brief explosion of tropical fruit: mango, pineapple, and also cherry. With water: peach stone, meaning fruity and bitter. This really benefits from the addition of water, in my opinion. 7/10

There are a million more things we want to try, yet we manage to stay reasonable tonight. We are crushed by the long journey (the hotel is not exactly close by) and we have three more days to explore the bar. No point spoiling the stay by overdoing it tonight.

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