Hard to believe it was a year ago that we had the previous Diageo tasting in this very venue. MR and EG are not here, this year, neither are MS, DR or AH. All the same, there are even more familiar faces in the room tonight than there were last year.
I was really not sure whether to come or not: I had three of tonight's drams at the Show, in October, and I thought the supposed star (the Brora) was less impressive than the 2015 edition. It is nice to have a chance to sample the Port Ellen, though, so why not.
Colin Dunn leads the tasting, of course. We joke ahead of time, wondering if he will rehash some of his trademark jokes. He ends up rather more serious than usual, with a couple of recycles only, but then slays the audience with a few new ones. Selection below.
Naturally, we do not drink the drams in the order they are laid out in front of us -- not to mention the pourers mixed up #3 and #4!...
Let us start.
#4. Cragganmore b.2016 (55.7%, OB Limited Release, Refill, Rejuvenated and ex-Bodega Casks): nose: flowers, meadow flowers. This is delicate and gentle, yet it seems to lack the wonderful fragrance of the 12yo. Mouth: delicate toffee, diluted caramel, then balsa wood, ginger, green pepper. Green capsicum, in fact! It is rather hot too, green-chilli style. Finish: many woody tones, with just a little cocoa and sawdust, ginger powder. It is quite drying. Dunn finds it "Japanese." Most in the room agree. Cavalier, JS, DW and I prefer the 12yo. 7/10
#5. Lagavulin 12yo b.2016 (57.7%, OB Limited Edition, 200th Anniversary, 151 x Refill American Oak Barrels): nose: entering a tannery; this is meaty and peaty, a strange crossing between a panting dog after a run on a hot day and toilet-bowl cleaner. "Where did you hide the toilet-bowl cleaner, Dirty Peat?" giggles JS, who dislikes the dram. She later discovers that MP and DW find exactly the same note... and like it for that reason! Mouth: sweeter than expected, it has lots of kelp and algae, with a touch of honey. Finish: big and peaty, vaguely sweet, yet mostly a big seafood sandwich... eaten in the toilets. 5/10
#1. Auchroisk 25yo b.2016 (51.2%, OB Limited Edition, American & European Oak Casks, 3954b, b#340): always keen to try an aged Auchroisk. The name alone amuses me. Nose: tarragon and nail polish, then tulips, daffodils and custard at room temperature. Mouth: creamy and custard-y, though it is quickly augmented with gentle pepper. Finish: big, chocolate-y, custard-y, creamy and beautiful. This has pastry and croissant dough written all over it. 8/10
Colin reminds the audience that Auchroisk is primarily a distillery for blends.
"Johnnie Walker Black Label sold 19 million cases of 12 bottles, last year. It is anticipated to grow by 15%, this year, with China, Asia and Mexico coming on the market, and a big rise in Hounslow..."
#6. Linkwood 37yo 1978/2016 (50.3%, OB Limited Release, 6114b, b#4189): this, I had in October. Nose: dignified, polished dashboards, delicate Virginia tobacco, faded leather belts and some fruit in the back (pineapple, grapefruit). Mouth: gentle and mellow, with more pineapple and grapefruit, as well as chestnuts (JS). The texture is milky. Finish: grapefruit skins, slightly drying and acidic. Very nice, this, although my detailed impressions are very different to October's! 8/10
Talking about some auction:
"I wanted to buy that. And it went for £3,000. And I thought: ffff...... Dash!"
#3. Cambus 40yo b.2016 (52.7%, OB, 1812b, b#0685): I was mad about this one, a few months ago. Only the price prevented me from buying one. Nose: wood varnish, quite loud. Later on, tropical fruits come out, along with strong detergent. Even later, it is pastry galore. Mouth: soft and delicate, with fruity custard, fig compote, apricot jam. Finish: so fruity! Tropical madness, with lychee, pineapple and pomelo. Beautiful! Shame I cannot afford it. 10/10
Talking about the Trump-signed Glendronach bottle:
"Great whisky. Mr. Trump aside, because his favourite drink is a white Russian anyway."
#7. Port Ellen 37yo 1978/2016 (55.2%, OB Annual Release 16th, 2940b): nose: old tools in a mechanic's workshop, then a paper horn of seafood with a tartare topping -- whelks and cockles. It is vaguely sweet too. Fishing nets, dirty, oily rags. This is the point I realise I am nosing the Linkwood, by mistake. Embarrassing and a good indication of what the power of suggestion can do to one's mind. Mouth: dirty and sweet at the same time, oily, with drying fishing nets. Finish: long like a breadless day, dirty and rich, with greasy seafood. I like this, but I will need to re-taste it. The right conditions have passed. 8/10
"If you want to drink something close to aged Port Ellen, drink aged Caol Ila. And put it into a Port Ellen bottle!"
#2. Brora 38yo (48.6%, OB Limited Edition, 2984b, b#445): we finish with this, as we did last year. Last year's edition was terrific. This one, we tried at the Show: JS did not like it and if I did, I found it less complex. I know the conditions are not right, yet I will have a sip all the same. You know, just to be sure... Nose: waxy as hell, it has honeycomb, then farmyard scents. The latter grow, alongside balsamic vinegar, only to return to full-on manure. Mouth: honeycomb again, beeswax and royal jelly. There is a little drying note of tractor tyre. Finish: mud, rubber, candle wax and all sorts of goodness. As with the PE, it is not the right time, any longer. Will have to try it again. Still... 9/10
One of Colin's friends plays a song on the guitar, which is pretty amusing.
We spend a lot of time socialising afterwards and never make it back to the shop (which is frustrating, since CB kindly invited us). We do not even get to speak to Colin Dunn, so in demand he is, tonight.
Good times, with Mr. Dunn in great form. Roll on the next one, hopefully less hot.