31 May 2017

28/05/2017 Two Benrinnes

Back from the Ardshiel, MS and I are up for a nightcap. Incidentally, I have some candidates with me.

Benrinnes 27yo (49.9%, HL Old & Rare A Platinum Selection, Refill Butt, 137b): nose: unripe green grapes, wax (MS). This smells like a young whisky, which is disconcerting. Feint-y, spirit-y. Even the colour hints at it not being a long-aged whisky from a sherry cask. Probably a very inactive cask, or an n-th refill. Mouth: spirit-y again, with a tiny bit of turpentine. It is slightly more syrupy than the nose suggested, but it remains difficult to discern any sherry influence. Finish: warm rice tart, wood splinters, marzipan and the acidity of green grapes. The finish redeems it a bit. Overall, though, it is a huge disappointment. 5/10 (thanks LM for the sample)

Benrinnes 18yo 1971/1990 (55.3%, Cadenhead, Sherry Cask): nose: allspice, black bun, Demerara sugar, sprinkled on dried fruit, then clove, cinnamon, ginger bread, precious wood and rancio -- sherry maturation at its best. Mouth: liquorice-y, fresh, yet also very hot -- watch the high strength! Pine wood, Suc des Vosges boiled sweet, perhaps even Fisherman's friends. The alcohol makes it feel almost mouthwash-y. It is that annihilating. Finish: wood, liquorice allsorts, black liquorice laces. This has bitterness too, with notes of old leather. Later on and with a drop of water, the Demerara sugar comes back. Very intense, this. Not too dissimilar to a Karuizawa, based on my little experience of that Japanese distillery. 7/10

That concludes our Campbeltown adventures. Tomorrow, the long and sad journey home.

28/05/2017 Supper at the Ardshiel Hotel

We tried coming here last night, but it was fully booked (and we ended up in a Bangladeshi restaurant, but that is another story). Tonight, however, is our night: JS, MS, Bishlouk and I have a table booked at 19:30. When we turn up at 19:10, the table is not ready. The bar, then.

To give some context, today was the Mull Of Kintyre Run (10km and half-marathon). JS ran the half. Mark Watt and his sister were running the 10km.

Choosing is the hard part
We have a look at the drinks menu. I spot a 35yo Caperdonich that I inquire about: it takes the waitress 15 minutes to find it... empty. I ask if I can have the remaining three drops (it is Caperdonich 35yo 1977/2013 (50.2%, Cadenhead Small Batch, ex-Sherry Butt, 384b)), but the head honcho makes it clear the answer is: 'no.' Strange. We choose something else.

Banff 36yo 1976/2013 (49.8%, Cadenhead Small Batch, Bourbon Hogshead, 192b): yup, sister cask to the one we had the other day. This was part of the first Small Batch release, back in 2013, Mark Watt's way of showing he had entered the building. Nose: noble furniture, slightly dusty and lichen-y, old copper coins, perhaps balsamic vinegar, then ground apricot stones and blue mandarins, as well as dunnage warehouse. Mouth: delicate tangerine, a hint of gentle pepper, tangerine pith. It has a thin-cream texture. Finish: a slight bitterness (citrus pith), then old metallic tools, mustard seeds, olive oil, dirty mayonnaise, Seville orange marmalade. The finish is acidic and, well, wonderful. An absolute winner. 10/10

Later on, when the (heavily-sun-burnt) Watt siblings sit down to celebrate their race, I give Mark a blind taste of the Banff and ask him whether he would bottle that, for a laugh. He says he would.

Our table is ready. It is 20:15. So much for our booked time slot.

Hazelburn 13yo 2003/2017 (47.1%, OB, Oloroso Sherry Casks, 12000b, 17/139): JS's newest favourite distillery. Nose: hot game sauce, wine, then it becomes mildly vinegar-y and even has a soft sea feel. Mouth: milky and comforting, not too thick. Finish: syrup, burnt caramel and a hint of smoke (!?) It is warming and comforting, with thick, syrupy wine. 8/10

Starters are served. I have battered haggis balls with a pepper sauce.

Battered haggis balls

Mango chicken salad

Tormore 27yo 1988/2016 (51.5%, North Star Spirits Cask Series, Bourbon Hogshead & Madeira Cask, B#001, 200b): nose: mellow, with vanilla, custard and squashed banana. It quickly becomes rather hot on the nostrils. Mouth: warm, with thick, peppery sauce. It is creamy, but also quite spicy. Finish: a note of syrupy wine and a lot of pepper sauce. Or did I mistake my pot of sauce for a Glencairn glass? 7/10

Port Ellen 1980/2015 (46%, GMP Rare Old, B#RO/15/12, 236b): MS justly observes that if he does not shell out for this here, then, where? Nose: drying fishing nets, an emptied (but not cleaned) ashtray, refined peat smoke, peat-smoked mussels. The scent is powerful, at a mere 46%! Mouth: tangerine marmalade, fig relish on kippers. Finish: big, with more tangerine marmalade, then a huge, smokey kick in the teeth. Wonderful dram. 9/10

Mains are here. I have baked, smoked haddock with cheese sauce (and feel bad, because haddock is almost depleted).

Baked haddock


Another couple of drams, in the lounge, after dinner.

More choosing

Springbank 10yo (50.5%, OB Private Bottling to Commemorate The Decommissioning of HMS Campbeltown, Port Casks, b.2011): nose: heavy leather, saddles and a prominent smokiness (camp fire, peat furnace), cigar smoke, smoky cheese (MS). Mouth: acrid as cigar smoke, whilst also displaying some thick marmalade (made with smoked oranges). Finish: big and pungent, with more hot cigar leaves, smoke and ash. This feels like an old gentlemen's club after a big night out, when the smoke is still lukewarm in the smoking room. 8/10

Imperial 1996/2015 (43, GMP): nose: watery orange juice, a whiff of cork, chalk (MS) and hawthorn. Not the most welcoming nose, I suppose. Mouth: it is a bit similar, to tell the truth: watery orange juice, a touch of cork, or rather a cask bung. Finish: nice and easy, with drying oranges, bung cloth and bits of cork again. 6/10

Glen Scotia 12yo 2002/2015 (56.1%, OB Distillery Edition for Open Day 2015, Edition 001, C#196): nose: grated galangal, sawdust, ground fruit stone. It smells very woody. Water tames down the wood for a moment, but it comes back soon. Mouth: dark chocolate, sawdust. Behind that, apricot juice -- actually, very hot apricot compote. Water makes it more balanced, jammy. Finish: big and hairy, with smoke, burning hay, cigar smoke. Again, water allows citrus-y notes to shine through (marmalade). 7/10

Very good drams, great food, but I am disappointed with the experience, overall. The service was mostly average, for a start: with one notable exception, it felt like the staff was bothered by our presence, and in a hurry to not provide a pleasant experience. The worst aspect, though is the whisky selection. The bar is decently stocked up (Campbeltown and Cadenhead both well represented), there are many glass cabinets around the rooms, including a couple with bottles and paraphernalia for sale, yet the most interesting bottles are for display only, unavailable to order or purchase. Why rub them in the faces of willing customers, then?
It is not the first time I see that in Scotland, and I simply cannot regard a bar that does that as world class.

Looky, but no touchy
You can look, but you can't touch

28/05/2017 Isle of Arran distillery tour and tasting

It was a short ferry crossing from Claonaig, then a short walk to reach here. Bishlouk and I have a bite (soup of the day, the selection of pâtés, washed down with a hot chocolate), then it is game on for the 13:00 tour.

The tour starts with a promotional video and a dram of Isle of Arran 14yo, which is very nice.
Unfortunately, I do not have a camera, so no pictures. The things I make a note of are:

-Arran uses Optic barley
-The barley is malted by Glen Esk Maltings, in Montrose -- same as Glen Scotia
-Arran Machrie Moor is made with peated barley at 20ppm
-The Lyne arm is flat, like Glen Scotia's

"The Irish distill three times. Here, we do it only twice; it's enough. They do it to be sure... to be sure... to be sure."

It is a funny feeling to visit a place one has been to years earlier. It is made even funnier by the guide being the same as in 2008, when I was first here. He does not recognise me, of course, but is pleased, when I point it out to him, that I came back.

After the tour, we have a drop of Arran Gold, the sweet, syrupy cream. We also signed up for the tasting, though, which starts ten minutes later.

Arran Amarone Cask Finish (50%, OB, Amarone Cask, L 24 03 17): nose: a light wine influence, with raisins, tannins and melted marzipan. Mouth: oily, then wine-y, thick as an Italian wine (nicely observed!), with a pinch of earth, grape pips and squashed strawberries. Finish: sweet, with squashed strawberries again and Mon Chéri pralines. This makes me think of Fragolino. 8/10

Arran Sauternes Cask Finish (50%, OB, Sauternes Cask, b. ca 2017): nose: a horse's stable, slightly salty. A beach run on a sunny day. Mouth: sugary and robust, it quickly becomes drying, and gives out a note of vanilla. Finish: typical Sauternes maturation, with a drying, white-wine note. Funny how Sauternes finishes are often dry, when the wine itself is mellow and sweet. 7/10

Arran Port Cask Finish (50%, OB, Port Cask, L 06 11 15): nose: syrup, Sirop de Liège (apple-and-pear syrupy jam), which prompts Bishlouk to tell me I have not had any in too long a while. Nail varnish comes up, in the end, alongside cured meat. Mouth: fresh, viscous, with more fruit syrup. The Port influence is very pronounced. Finish: coating, syrupy, with dark fruit, elderberry cordial and liqueur praline. 7/10

Arran Madeira Cask Finish (50%, OB, Madeira Cask, L 23 06 16): nose: more traditional, with toasted coconut, ginger and dry wood shavings. Mouth: thinner than expected, closer to warm, thin custard, milk and some infused hay. Finish: soft, with growing spices (ginger) and wine-y tannins. 7/10

Arran 18yo (46%, OB, Sherry Casks, b.20/09/2016): nose: polished dashboards, furniture wax, walnut armchairs. Banana appears in the back of the nose too. Mouth: soft, with squashed banana, distant, dark-wood furniture. The mouth is much less expressive than the nose. Finish: less interesting, it still has sawdust, banana, vanilla custard and, perhaps, dried apricots. Water smothers the nose, but makes the mouth and finish more expressive. 7/10

Arran 21st Anniversary (52.6%, OB Special Edition, ex-Oloroso Sherry Hogsheads, 5988b): this one is immediately another calibre. Nose: cork, dunnage warehouse, ground apricot stones and old sultanas. Mouth: mellow, with a twist of the pepper mill on a nice, fluffy muffin. Finish: milky pastry, soft cake, with squashed banana, custard and a touch of white pepper. 8/10

Good excursion, really. I think I preferred all of them to the one from Friday.

28/05/2017 Two Caperdonich

Today, I join Bishlouk on an excursion to the nearby Arran (more on that in the next post). Bishlouk, on his first visit to Scotland, is suitably impressed with the scenery and stops several times for pictures. Regardless, the long drive from Campbeltown to Claonaig is uneventful and we are almost 30 minutes early for the ferry. Since we are now pedestrians, why not have a couple of drams?

Caperdonich 14yo 1996/2011 (51.7%, Cadenhead, Bourbon Hogshead): nose: fruity jam at first sniff, then hay and malt appear. It smells of a day in the sun, a bit. Altogether, a little shy. Mouth: dry, malty, with hay and hot sesame oil. Perhaps also shoe polish. Dry-cured bacon, rather, yet it is not overly meaty. Flowers and preserved orchard fruit. Finish: a lovely note of honeyed porridge and coconut, as well as a faint bitterness (avocado stone). 8/10

Caperdonich 20yo 1992/2013 (55.5%, Edition Spirits The First Editions, Refill Bourbon Hogshead, 183b): nose: hay, dry grass, straw, perhaps, then a cereal-y note develops. Mouth: viscous, with cereals and porridge, augmented with a spoonful of honey and the bitterness or acidity of grape pips. Finish: apricots, sultanas, porridge, long and pleasant. 8/10 (thanks LM for the sample)

The ferry is now here.

27/05/2017 Campbeltown Festival 2017 (Day 4) Glen Scotia visit

We have breakfast at the Royal Hotel, today, for a change.

Bishlouk, whom we met the other day, has scheduled a distillery tour of Glen Scotia. Seeing as we arrived too late for that on Wednesday, this is a good catch-up session. JS and I join Bishlouk for the grand tour, then. MS had other plans for the day.

It appears the guide is not there, following a mix-up in times -- they expected us at 15:00, we expected they would be there at 13:00. Two other tourists are keen too, so they are willing to accommodate us all. And since the guide is not here, we will take the tour with Iain McAllister, the distillery manager.

The few things of interest I note out of the tour are:

-The barley is always Scottish; mostly Concerto, sometimes Optic
-It is malted by Glen Esk Maltings
-Glen Scotia produces non-peated spirit 11 months a year and peaty spirit one month per year
-The malt mill was made by Robert Boby Ltd. in the 1840s. The company suffered the same fate as Porteus and Vickers
-Cast-iron mash tun
-A wash consists of four waters -- 66°, 72°, 85°, 85°
-Distiller's yeast, M strain
-Fermentation lasts 7--8 hours
-Glen Scotia mashes 5d/week and distills 6d/week
-Six stainless steel washbacks, installed ca. 2011
-The computer is only used for the washback self-cleaning
-Flat Lyne arm
-Coal-fired stills were transformed into indirect-heated stills in the late-1950s, or early 1960s
-Average strength after second distillation is 69.4%

The mash tun is interesting in that I had never seem a cast-iron tun before, yet this is the second in Campbeltown.

The mash tun

The mill


The stills

Not sure one should trust a man who wears two watches

Palettised warehouse

The tour ends in a warehouse, where we will try samples straight from the cask.

Glen Scotia d.2001 (ca 58%, Cask Sample, 1st Fill ex-Bourbon Barrel, C#560): nose: warm toffee, vanilla, almost new leather soles. Mouth: slightly salty, with worm-eaten wood and cork. Finish: warm toffee, sticky toffee pudding -- or do I have bits of last night's dessert stuck between my teeth? ;-) 7/10

Glen Scotia d.1989 (ca 56%, Cask Sample, Refill Oloroso Sherry Hogshead, C#316): nose: leather, fox skin, a whiff of smoke and old furniture. Mouth: round and fruity, with soft prunes, dates, figs. It feels a lot less strong the previous one. Finish: long, warming, with game casserole in a wine sauce, with a smokiness to it, and precious wood. The nose has notes that do not quite work for me, but it is nice, overall. 7/10

Serious valinch action
during this trip
Glen Scotia Heavily Peated d.2013 (unknown ABV, Cask Sample, ex-Bourbon Barrel, C#96): this is made with malted barley, peated to 54ppm. For comparison, Ardbeg is 45--50ppm. Nose: decaying leather, fox skin, then butter and drying hay. Mouth: a little spirit-y, with cold custard, poured on hot sticky toffee pudding. It is mildly drying too. Finish: barbecued carrots, leather, hay and a rather animal touch. 7/10

At the end of it, I pull out my bottle of Glen Scotia 17yo (40%, OB, L4/332/97 402) out of my bag and share it with everyone. Iain is pleased: he has never seen that bottle before. I am excited to empty it in the very place it was made and matured. So much so, that I do not take notes.

Welcome home

Good little tour, well recommended.

26/05/2017 Campbeltown Festival 2017 (Day 3 -- Part 3) Cadenhead's 175th Anniversary Dinner

Proper stag do, I tell thee!

The official festival is coming to an end. The final event is not unlike a farewell dinner, during which the organisers send punters away for a year. It is meant to be a grand finale in the town hall's reception room, with MC Mark Watt presenting.

This guy is training on the valinch

Once again, we are sharing the table with MSo and EC's stag do -- although EC is not here any longer, too busy preparing for his big day.

The first dram is served. Here too, everything we are served is from cask samples. They are not bottled for the general public.

Arran 1995/2017 (48.5%, Cask Sample, C#12/64-4): this is from Arran's first year of distillation; I would not be surprised if it were from the very first distillation, even. Nose: slightly woody, with almond milk, apricot stones, custard and almond spread. Mouth: velvety, with warm, crushed banana. Water irons out the imperfections and makes it proper banana purée. Finish: almond shells, coconut shells and more bananas. An OK dram; I am not fully convinced. Better with water, in any case. 6/10

CB reprazent da S.E.A.A.
Seth Efrican Arsonist Arseociation

Food is served. No starter, today -- straight to the main.


Chicken Balmoral

MW: "Those of you who were at my tasting didn't have enough closed distilleries, so we'll have a Glen Mhor... just because we can."

Glen Mhor 1982/2017 (50.8%, Cask Sample, C#1352): nose: ashy, with orange peels and physalis. Mouth: warming, drying and austere. Hot gravel, hot pepper, heated sawdust. Finish: orange peels, spicy and fruity, dried and ground, with crushed mint added for fun. 8/10

Surprisingly few butt-plug jokes, or fires,
considering how much that bung was passed around


Sticky Toffee Pudding


MSo has a chin-stroking moment
as a consquence
MSo: "What was your favourite dram, so far?"
tOMoH: "Millburn 1974, Springbank 1965, 1967 and 1968, Macallan 1962, ..."
MSo: "What festival have I been to!?"

The third dram is Springbank 2003/2017 (57.7%, Cask Sample, C#980). It is uncomfortably hot and I have had enough to drink, however. This one, I sample and leave it at that. Time to hit the sack.

Finish the story here.