27 October 2019

23/10/2019 Pip Hills -- Stories from our Founder at the SMWS

Tonight, the founder of the SMWS is in town to lead a tasting celebrating the publication of his book. Not a little excited.
detachedblue, PS, HT, ZC, CS and JS are also here, making it a proper social event.
My mood changes quite quickly, when PS tells me the same event in Edinburgh had five drams, a copy of the book and a full meal, whereas we will have a copy of the book and three drams. For the same price. Double standards are not something I disregard easily. This feeds my growing pile of discontent towards the Edinburgh venues -- you will remember that almost every experience there is tarnished by mishaps that can mostly be attributed to the staff in the venues.

Anyway. Replenished with a few sips of an excellent, recent 46 courtesy of PS, I follow everyone upstairs for the tasting, and prepare to cut the host some slack. After all, he is not responsible for the management of the venues of a company he left a long time ago.

Time for the first dram, which is not poured blind. JS and I fall off our chairs. The Founder came all the way from Edinburgh to present drams from the current outturn. Those are drams that have been available throughout the month and have been tasted by most in attendance, possibly including tonight, whilst waiting for this shindig to start. For £35 a head, I was not realistically expecting a 1.1, a 62.x or a 99.x. At the same time, I also do not pay to see a DJ play the flipping radio!

We do our best to hide our disappointment and focus on the stories. After all, the important part of the evening is the presence of Pip Hills. Speaking of which: he looks at the pipettes on the tables: "What is that?"
"It's for precision," replies someone from the audience. Hills ditches the pipettes and pours from the jug into his glass -- 1/3 whisky 2/3 water. Interesting.

46.82 26yo d.1992 A journey from light to dark (53.5%, SMWS Society Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 230b): nose: cured ham, crayon shavings, daffodil leaves, perhaps some ink and shy tobacco leaves. Nothing jumps at me. It is rather quiet, even if the alcohol turns more assertive. As time passes, caramel shows up. Mouth: soft and shy, it has a little pomelo zest, diluted vanilla custard and very little else, until ginger powder appears. This is remarkably shy on the palate, though. Lime zest, ginger powder, not much else. Finish: big finish, ample, zesty, with white peach slices and pomelo segments and a minuscule spoonful of caramel flan. Simple, but efficient. PS's 46 from earlier was more to my taste, though. Water seems to make this more talkative -- or slightly louder, rather. 7/10

PH: "It's like racing a car. If you do it every day, it starts to lack the exciting factor. Apart from the possibility of being killed, which improves that perception no end."

1.215 15yo 2004/2019 Formidable chocolate (58.7%, SMWS Society Cask, 1st Fill ex-Oloroso Sherry Hogshead, 278b): a sherry cask, no doubt. This has liqueur-filled pralines, smoked bacon, but also polished furniture, polished leather belts and earthy cola. Rhubarb leaves in the back. Burnt paper and burnt wood also appear -- after a while, burnt paper is all that is left, unfortunately. Mouth: mellow and lush, velvety, with polished dashboards and soft leather, then hazelnut liqueur and almond purée, including the skins. It is nutty and gently bitter, though also quite powerful. Finish: nutty, it has caramelised chestnuts, almost charred, crushed nuts, nutty purée (chestnut, hazelnut, almond) and a lick of wood varnish. I cannot decide whether I like this. It is ok, I guess. 6/10

PH: "[My friends] were prehistoric palaeontologists. And they couldn't bear with the pressures of being prehistoric palaeontologists."

PH: "What surprised me is: I wasn't ill the next morning... or at least not as ill as I usually was."

PH: "We used to live in New Town Edinburgh. It was new in the 1860s. It's not exactly Milton-Keynes."

66.151 10yo d.2008 Tiffin in a blackhouse (59.5%, SMWS Society Cask, Refill ex-Bourbon Barrel, 214b): nose: earth and old ink on parchment, old cardboard, calligraphy, pencil shavings, burnt clay and burnt Sienna earth. Mouth: milky, ashy and earthy at first, it turns quite fruity, after a while, with chocolate-coated strawberry, maraschino cherry and squashed raspberry, chocolate-flavoured almond milk. Finish: hot caramel flan and chocolate coulis, pistachio shells, mud, a pinch of ash and chocolate-coated hazelnut. This is nice. 8/10

PH: "He was a hell of an organisation. And by that, I mean he had a secretary."

PH: "I have never found a distiller who was keener on the Sabbath as [sic] they were on the money."

PS comes to the rescue. I do not try his 46 again, but I do have a rerun of this:

128.7 5yo 2013/2018 Down the old fruit mines (61.1%, SMWS Society Cask, 1st Fill ex-Sauternes Barrique, 288b): nose: initially, it is mud and dusty leaves. Then it is tropical-fruit galore: mango, guava, papaya and dragon fruit. Mouth: soft, velvety, with a distant touch of acidity and lots of fruits -- exotic ones again, mango, guava and dragon fruit. Finish: long, it leaves one with the same feeling as a good hike and a mouth coated in lots of tropical fruit -- once more, it is mango, guava and dragon fruit, perhaps a cube of papaya, too. The proverbial hiking boots are there, but the prominent note is that of gorgeous tropical fruit. Amazeballs. And at that age! 9/10

PH: "Perhaps you should read the book..."
His sister: "Perhaps we should go to the restaurant, soon."

PS has clearly been here a while, heckling and interrupting, insisting on stories that are not always very relevant. Hope the head is ok, this morning, PS. ;-)

PS: "Excise said, 'There's a law against this!'
PH: 'I know, but it's an old law...'
Excise: 'Yes, but it's still the law.'
That sounded rather uncompromising."

It was nice to hear the stories PH had to tell us, even though it is difficult to shake off the conclusion that the whole Society venture was a combination of chance, luck and good timing. PH explained how he spent £2500 on the first cask of Glenfarclas. I could not not think that:
  1. It was a lot of dough for the late 1970s or early 1980s;
  2. Grant would not have sold the cask, had Hills not been a friend of a friend; and
  3. Glenfarclas would probably not have sold a cask at all, had the economical climate of the early 1980s been different (Whisky Loch, anyone?)
Fortunately, Hills did acknowledge some of that:
  1. Some of his mates were minted;
  2. He had connections;
  3. No, he did not talk about this in depth.
But yeah, in essence: posh Edinburgher buys whisky for his posher mates; his mates tell their mates; things grow out of control; SMWS is born.

Nice time, but disappointing, altogether. Drams from the current outturn? That is not very inventive. Borderline insulting, in fact. And then, there is the double standard mentioned above, which is hard to swallow.

24 October 2019

20/10/2019 One blind dram at home

Nose: estery from the off, it smells of pear drops and pineapple cubes, candied kiwi and crystallised tangerines. A soft, herbaceous touch emerges, a minute in: vine leaves and mandarin foliage, soon joined by baked butternut squash -- or is that dinner? In the distance, cereal struggles to make itself heard: bran, draff, cooked swede and faint iron tonic. Mouth: fresh and rather sharp, the palate showcases jasmine tea, manuka, but also oregano and a tiny pinch of chilli powder. The second sip brings fortified wine, which I find it to be closer to Port than Sherry or Madeira. A little astringent, it challenges the taste buds with its mild acidity that never becomes unpleasant. Finish: not at all in line with the nose and mouth, the finish delivers lovely chocolate pralines, perhaps with a cherry-liqueur filling, Brazil-nut butter, a lick of water-based paint, chewy marshmallow, discreet lime zest, poached figs and Bourbon-infused marmalade. Very nice and works a treat as an apéritif. Actually, it is something to drink all night. :-) Bladnoch 1990/2018 Exotic Fruit Sorbet (46%, Wemyss Malts, Hogshead, 186b) 7/10 (Thanks for the sample, Gaija)

I am told we have time for one more.

Speyside-Glenlivet 27yo 1991/2018 (48.8%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection, Bourbon Hogshead, 318b, 18/418): I liked this, last time I had it. Nose: delicately woody, the nose has Scottish tablet, toffee and dark chocolate chips, cocoa beans, even, though it never announces bitterness. Resin and cigar boxes are there too, barely concealing chestnut and berry purée. Yes! Squashed chestnut, crushed strawberry, pressed gooseberry, apricot skins, baked-apple skins and a whiff of dry earth. Mouth: here, it is fruit galore, with the squashed strawberries from the nose, overly-baked apples, slices of juicy Chinese gooseberry, rhubarb jam and peach pulp. The texture is velvety and quite coating, and there is a whisper of sweet cereals in the back, via retro-nasal olfaction. Finish: lemonade, peach slices, a pinch of sawdust, a drop of ink (oh! it is not 1965 Ardbeg, mind) and crushed berries -- raspberry and blackberry, this time. The second sip brings slightly-burnt-cake crust, pink-grapefruit zest, dates and blackcurrant liqueur. An lovely drop. Ignore it at your own peril. 8/10 (Thanks for the sample, SW)

17/10/2019 Whisky Squad -- The High-End

Everything is poured blind, as usual. JS and I arrive late "the one time we are ready on time," says BA. I can live with the shame. PP and ZC are there too, as well as nine others.
BA tells the audience he saw JS last night and her reaction made him decide against including a "very nice" tequila in tonight's line-up. Phew.

Dram #1
Nose: pastry, vanilla and a faint metallic whiff. It opens up to reveal peach turnover and a touch of glue. Mouth: pastry and notes of glue alright -- a grain, I am sure. It has a slightly green edge, though I do not find it prominent. Others say it is very herbaceous -- go figure. Finish: lemon juice, sprinkled on sugared pastry and peach turnover, as well as a discreet note of wood spices. Relatively simple, but perfectly drinkable. I reckon a North British. Incorrectly -- it is a rye. Canadian Club 41yo Issue N°1 (45%, OB Chronicles, 7000b, L18239IW09:49) 7/10

The hosts talk about the way that was marketed: "we came across the last hidden cask in the warehouse," then announced a 42yo the year after. Also "limited" to 11000 bottles. How can you misplace that many bottles and how big are the warehouses are the questions on everyone's mind.

BA: "[unknown] has never been through a warehouse. She might have seen one on a picture."
E: "She's never seen one. Unless it's on the way to the salon."

Dram #2
Nose: pastry again, then rubber boots, before turning pretty herbaceous -- dry hawthorn and bunches of dried flowers. Mouth: soft, sweet, gently aromatic, it has maple or corn syrup and tinned peach. This is really very soft and sweet. Finish: very soft, very sweet, very easy to drink, and very much lacking in character, despite some rosemary on baking croissant. I suspect a North American. Indeed, another Canadian made of 97% corn. That explains the maple and corn syrups, then! It is from the Gimli distillery, home of Crown Royal. Entrapment 25yo 1992/2017 (41%, Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling, L7283K1001) 7/10

E [talking about Canadians]: "You tell them to work around the clock and they work."
tOMoH: "It's called slavery."
BA: "They're Canadian. They're happy about it."

Dram #3
Nose: melted chocolate, sticky toffee pudding, mocha chocolate, chocolate thins. Roasted malt surfaces, shy, then polished walnut. Mouth roasted malt alright, it has Kellogg's Smacks and melted mocha chocolate. The coffee flavours are assertive, alongside dark toffee and tree bark. Finish: soft, sweet; it tastes like a grain again, creamy and toffee-led. Perhaps another North American? Hedonism Quindecimus (46%, Compass Box 15th Anniversary Limited Edition, 5689b, b.2015) composed of North British, two kinds of Port Dundas, Dumbarton and a mystery blend. 7/10

Seeing the label, I wonder if I have had this before. Sure enough.

Dram #4
Nose: ah! A single malt. Juicy apricot and quince, bergamot infusion, lemon-and-ginger Greek tea -- this is very fruity! I end up spending a lot of time with the nose. Roasted fennel seeds, apple peel, orange peel and cassiah bark. It is spicy without overwhelming the senses. Mouth: mellow and velvety, creamy, even, it has similar fruits (orange, apple, yet also baked satsuma, this time) and soft herbs. I love this. Finish: lovely fruitiness (more apple and orange), a teaspoon of nigella seeds and melted white chocolate. This goes down a treat. I guess a 1992 Longmorn, half-expecting a 1996. Humiliatingly for all, it is The Macallan Whisky Maker's Selection (42.8%, OB Fine Oak, Bourbon and Sherry Oak Casks, L0931H L10) 8/10

tOMoH: "I feel violated."
BA: "When you said you liked it, I felt: YES!"

BA is in stitches. He knows how much I dislike Macallan and is excited that I was proven wrong (for which I am sort of grateful, I suppose).

We operate a last-minute change in the sequence.

Dram #6
Nose: mudflats, cockles and all sorts of farm shenanigans. Crusted mud, timid fruit behind tractor-tyre action -- peach, I suspect. Much later on, it is toothpaste that joins the party. Mouth: spicy, earthy, it has yellow fruit and apple-chip smoke. Refined smoke, mind. Very juicy and a little smokey. Finish: medicinal peat and lots of farm action again. It is earthy with a mild coastal influence -- drying fishing nets and apple-tree fire. Much later on, squashed raspberries appear on top of the peach. That should be a dead give-away, but I am slow to connect the dots, tonight. It is excellent. I am ready to guess an ancient bottling of Lagavulin when BA inadvertently says it is still available for RRP. I am lost. The Ardmore 30yo d.1987 (47.2%, OB, Refill Bourbon + 1st Fill Bourbon Casks, L8 299 2319 08 20) 9/10

Dram #5
The colour alone announces a boisterous Sherry cask, here. Nose: dark chocolate, augmented with a pinch of coffee grounds. Later on, it will turn into concentrated prune syrup. Mouth: super chocolate-y and quite big on the palate. I can see why we end with this, as I think the Ardmore would have struggled a bit. It is rather tannic, with liquorice, cinnamon sticks and cassiah bark. Finish: bitter coffee, thin chocolate, cough syrup, cinnamon and wood tannins. It is not really my thing, this. Not bad, but a sip is enough for me. I guess a Kavalan. Daftmill 2006/2019 (57.4%, OB bottled exclusively for Berry Brothers & Rudd, Sherry Cask, C#039/2006, 621b, b#576) 6/10

Good, lighthearted times.

8 October 2019

07/10/2019 Six whiskies with Charles Maclean

Tonight is the official launch of Cask Trade, a company that intends to provide casks of whisky to a varied clientele. The audience is made of investors, collectors, enthusiasts and everything in between. Little press that I can recognise and few bloggers, if any. The founder of the company (SA) and tOMoH happen to be on friendly terms, hence my being graciously invited. I do not believe said founder is aware of the existence of this blog, so it hardly seems an commercially-motivated move.

Now the disclaimers are out of the way, the evening starts out with SA presenting the company, its ethos and its mission, then switches to a tasting of six cask samples -- casks owned by the company and, presumably, up for grabs. Charles Maclean is the celebrity who has been invited to present this, joined by Colin Hampden-White.

I make a mental note that this is the first tasting I attend that is (co-)hosted by Maclean, despite having seen him countless times at festivals.
SW is here with me. JS was invited, but she has a clashing meeting. With Gwyneth Paltrow. You could not make it up.

The whiskies, then.

The label has a mistake, yes.
It is from 1978.
Glenlivet 40yo 1978/2019 (41.7%, Cask Trade cask sample, Bourbon Hogshead, C#13523, gauged at 115b): the presenters underline that most tastings would culminate with the oldest, most expensive and most desirable whisky, something that often falls flat for two reasons: 1) old whiskies tend to be low in alcohol and more subtle in taste; saving them for last sees them compete with much more powerful and youthful predecessors; 2) when bumped into dram number six, an old whisky finds tired taste buds in one's mouth. So we have this dram first, tonight. Nose: soft and delicate, it has the subtle grapes of an old brandy, perhaps sawdust, sandalwood (Maclean) and dried bramble. It is really shy. Mouth: amazingly soft, it soon starts fizzing on the tongue with some gentle spices (crushed cloves). Rehydrated, dried cranberries appear, custard powder and droplets of Alka Seltzer, maybe. The wood is in check, if present. Finish: blackberry cough drops and very little wood: crushed bay leaves and a minute quantity of liquorice. This one is elegant and complex. I like it. Later, I will try one big gulp, chew on it for a long time and swallow it whole. That way, it becomes much more assertive, without the fierceness of a higher ABV -- interesting experience. 8/10

Aberlour 26yo d.1989 (51.1%, Cask Trade cask sample, Bourbon Hogshead, C#11040, gauged at 274b): not sure when the sample was drawn; clearly several years ago. Nose: putty, toothpaste, crushed-mint paste, meadow-flower stems (just the stems), then quite a kick of alcohol. Wax (neither candle nor furniture, though), pencil lead and crayons. Mouth: oooh! This is lively. It has some ginger shavings and hot apple pie. Later on, it turns waxy as hell. Finish: a bit green, here, strangely enough The alcohol is less well-integrated, with cut plants and dandelion stems. The second sip brings out sticky toffee pudding. Much later on, it turns out better, though it remains a bit bitter, behind the wax. 6/10

Charles Maclean puts on a monocle to read a label. I had never seen a monocle in the wild!

Glen Moray 9yo 2008/2017 (57.1%, Cask Trade cask sample, Bourbon Barrel, C#5796, gauged at 149b): nose: a pastry shoppe, with overripe pear, flan, vanilla pudding, then hard plastic. Mouth: similar notes of pastry; it has hot, sugar-sprinkled  apple turnover fused with warm croissant crust, lemon zest, and heat. Water helps integrate it more; the alcohol bite cools off. Finish: a touch more pepper, now, but the pastry is still glowing, augmented with a pinch of herbs (hawthorn and oregano). Water seems to mess up with the balance and turn the finish into alcohol-soaked chocolate. 7/10

Fettercairn 10yo 2008/2019 (56.6%, Cask Trade cask sample, Bourbon Barrel, C#5755, gauged at 227b): nose: lemon peel and white chocolate (SW, who loves white chocolate), lemon sage. It becomes very fruity, after a short while. Mouth: full-on white chocolate, now, with lashes of melted Mon Chéri praline thrown into it. It has a rather noticeable spiciness (galangal and crushed bay leaves) that is not overpowering in any way. Finish: huge, fruity at first, then becomes a little less impressive, with unripe-peach flesh. Much later on, it turns mellow and waxy, with plasticine and Blue Tack. 7/10

North British 12yo 2006/2019 (52.1%, Cask Trade cask sample, Sherry Hogshead, C#818392, gauged at 271b): nose: pastry ahoy, of course, with custard and unbaked croissant dough, as well as nougat. Mouth: big, it is reminiscent of the nose, with more croissant dough and crushed strawberry with some white pepper. Typical grain, not much altered by the sherry maturation -- a n-th refill, perhaps? Finish: paper paste, thick custard, flan. Very good. I like it. 7/10

Bunnahabhain 10yo 2009/2019 (56.2%, Cask Trade cask sample, Oloroso Sherry Butt, C#900034, gauged at 705b): nose: well, it is a huge sherry cask, with lots of wood varnish and a frankly meaty side as well. It does not dodge the sulphury note, yet it is tame. None of those notes are shouting too loudly, but they are all there. Mouth: big and chocolate-y, it has Mon Chéri and shovelfuls of earth. In fact, it is earthy, this! Finish: super-long, earthy and lightly meaty. Again, it does not try to hide its Oloroso maturation. This is not my personal favourite, but I can see people going mad for it. 6/10

An interesting selection and a very pleasant evening. Best wishes to Cask Trade!