6 January 2016

31/12/2015 NYE drams at Dornoch Castle Hotel

After hiking for most of the day (bear in mind daylight ends at 15:00, here) and before the monster six-course NYE dinner, JS and I have a few drams to warm ourselves up.

Lochside 1981/2015 (46%, GMP Rare Old, RO/15/07, 161b): nose: it feels pretty powerful, this. Not very much fruit, initially (1981 sets expectation, like it or not), rather polished, tropical wood (teak, mostly). A whiff of smoke (really), then fruit shows up (cherry)... Ah! Tropical fruit is here, now, shy but present: touches of passion-fruit body butter. Wait! Tartare sauce in the back, very clearly. Cold Virginia tobacco comes out after an hour or two -- this certainly deserves your time. Mouth: fresh and ample, it is clotted cream at first, then frosted fruit shavings. Creamy and silky in texture, marvellous. Finish: the right amount of bite for me (i.e., not much), it has white pepper, nutmeg and a wave of lovely tropical fruit. It ends on a bitter note, oddly enough: let us say mango stone. This is a complex winner. 9/10


Lochside 27yo 1963/1991 (60.5%, James MacArthur Fine Grain Selection): which other bar in the world has this anyway? Nose: paint thinner and fumes out of a bakery. It is much less of a bakery than more recent grains, however. Something slightly metallic, here, and herbs (lemon thyme). With water, it becomes more herbal, almost a chamomile infusion. Mouth: sweet as cotton candy, velvety and sticky, very, very, VERY good. I suspect this makes one blind in thirty minutes, though. It is pretty fierce. Warm and drying. Water makes it a lot fresher, with minty sweets. Finish: here, the bakery kicks in full-on, with dough, all sorts of fruit coulis (blackcurrant, blackberry) and still a tiny metallic note. Wonderful! Water brings out the minty sweets again. Gorgeous. 9/10

Glen Ord 40yo d.1965 (40.1%, Royal Mile Whiskies, 300b): nose: orange marmalade, cherries, and a bucket of soot. Many other sorts of lovely jams. A long breathing time makes it extremely fruity with tarragon and daffodils. Mouth: sugar-cane syrup, teeming with fruit. It feels a bit weakish at 40%, yet it is beautiful. Finish: short, until you realise it is neverending, with fruit, slightly bitter fruit stones and a drop of ashes. Superb. 9/10


Glen Ord 23yo 1973/1997 (59.8%, OB Rare Malts Selection): nose: what a beast! Leather, coal smoke (this smells of direct-fired stills), game. With water, fig relish and Virginia tobacco. Mouth: fiery and peppery marmalade. It dances on the tongue like a proper Rare Malt! Water brings out more jam and nice, sweet fruit (pâtes de fruit). The leather has all but gone. Finish: big, bold and beautiful, full of pepper, marmalade. With water: jam again, and a little soot or coal dust. Meow. 8/10

If you're gonna smoke, smoke.

Time for supper. Today's menu is a six-course, no-nonsense debauchery. During the apéritif, we are treated to canapés, all delicious (fish cake, chicken liver pâté, lamb meatballs, venison carpaccio, cheese fondue, salmon toasts, blue cheese crackers, cullen skink). Needless saying I am full by the time we reach the table. Regardless and although today's is my least favourite meal of the stay, I stuff myself like a goose.

Ham hough and smoked pancetta terrine
Pan-seared hallibut, langoustine and king scallop (no roe!!)
Lemon and Champagne sorbet
Scottish beef Wellington
Whisky-infused chocolate ganache
Selection of Scottish cheeses
Complete overdose. Why the cheeses come after dessert, I cannot understand.

Guests at our table explain in details how aurora borealis happens and say the conditions are perfect for one tonight. I am ecstatic with anticipation, though, of course, we will not see the Northern lights at all today.

Fortunately, it is cold outside, so all that extra fuel will keep me warm during the street party and the fireworks, which, incidentally, are very nice and last for a very long time. The atmosphere is friendly and cheerful, we swap lots of hugs and kisses with the ladies and manly handshakes with the men. Someone produces a bottle of Glenfiddich 12yo and plastic cups. The pours are generous indeed and it is poured with so much kindness we accept it with gratitude.

JS and I have business to resume, however. We make our way back to the hotel. The bar is shut during the fireworks, so the staff can enjoy the party a bit too. At the door, one of them hands me a Glencairn to celebrate the new year. My jaw drops when he tells me what is in it.

Macallan 33yo (43%, GMP for Donini Import): I am still outside, in no state to make notes. It is cold too, which means the nose is pretty much anaesthetised. The mouth and finish, however, are beautiful, with maraschino cherry and liquid chocolate. Without a doubt the best Macallan I have had. 8/10

Shortly thereafter, we are in, quickly ordering before the rest of the crowd pour in again. The next one prompts the bar lad to ask me whether the staff recommended it to me. I guess not many people order a higher-end Glenturret. :)

Glenturret 34yo 1977/2012 (46.7%, The Whisky Agency & The Nectar, Refill Hogshead, 256b): start the year as you intend to finish it, says JS. Nose: blueberries, dunnage warehouse, lichen on casks, yet also nuts and a hint of warm custard. White peaches and plums become more prominent after a minute. Mouth: milky, with a vague bitterness of almond. The strength seems to grow along with spices, though it never becomes disturbing -- good balance. Soy milk and a bit of fruit, still. Finish: black pepper, musty warehouses and fruit (blueberry again). This is well balanced, well integrated and all-round lovely. It does not quite reach the level of the BBR releases, all the same. 8/10


Mar Lodge 12yo (43%, Findlater Mackie Todd imported by Nogaro, b.1980s): this is indeed recommended by the manager, who reckons it might also be a Glenturret. Nose: blueberries, this time complemented by earth. A ploughed parterre. Mouth: dunnage warehouse, clay floors, freshly-ploughed earth, as well as a little fruit and pepper off the mill. Finish: round and soft, with squashed blueberries again, damp earth and winter flowers. Nice. The chances of it being the same distillery as the previous are high. The calibre is not the same, though. 7/10

Benriach 12yo d.1969 (40%, GMP Connoisseurs Choice): this too prompts comments from the barman. A favourite of his, apparently. We seem to like the same sort of profiles. Nose: slightly closed at first, it quickly opens up to reveal a cascade of exotic fruit: mango, maracuja, lychee, papaya, sharon, quince, yellow peach, pink grapefruit. Marvellous. A hint of green chilli and delicate custard complete the pict-... what!? Jasmine erupts, loudly and clearly, after 30--45 minutes! What the deuce? Mouth: amazingly, all the nose's notes are here too! Absolutely perfect. 'nuff said. Finish: moving. In a bowl of custard, here are pink grapefruits, mangoes, passion fruits, papayas, sharons and peaches. It still has a little chilli too, and jasmine tea in the back. Extraordinary. This is why we drink the W. 10/10

Time to call it a night, since we will not top this. What a way to start the year!


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