There are some fairly mad people in the world of whisky – and I use that term in a purely complimentary manner. This weekend has shown off a couple of groups showing the best that whisky and madness can accomplish: Balvenie are tasting whisky in a specially built in a hotel in Manchester this weekend and (the thing that I’m going to write about here) John Glaser of Compass Box and Dom Roskrow decided to do some driving.
Now, driving between whisky tastings isn’t a particularly new thing. Doing a bunch of tastings in a day is also not a particularly big thing. However, doing eight tastings in a day at eight different locations, starting in Inverness and finishing in Brighton, is slightly different. And slightly more on the mad side.
Dom, John and their driving team kicked off in The Whisky Shop in Inverness at just after midnight on Friday morning and then proceeded to Edinburgh (4:30am), Newcastle (8:30am), York (11:30am), Birmingham (3:30pm), Oxford (6:30pm), London (9pm) and Brighton for an 11:30pm finish. I kept an eye on the train of tweets during the day, hearing of the lack of food choices in Gateshead, the impact of kippers on a small car full of people and the problems of running out of petrol on the A1 all before they hit York. However, they managed to negotiate even the traffic of Birmingham and Oxford and run half hour tasting sessions in each city, each with a different theme – the Compass Box range, a blending school, food matching, the importance of oak and, in London, cocktails.
I was pinged an invite to the London stop and, despite working for ‘the opposition’, I popped along for the 9pm show at The Whisky Shop by St Paul’s. Despite my turning up early the travellers had beaten me to it and looked worryingly lively for having been mainly been sat in a car for the preceding 21 hours. The theme for the night was cocktails and after a quick run through The Great King Street Artist’s Blend (which John confirmed is still to be the first in a range – there should be a smokier addition to the GKS line-up arriving sometime next year and they want to put together some special editions), Spice Tree and Peat Monster (still with a Ledaig, Laphroaig and Ardmore make-up, and as tasty as ever) we moved on to a trio of cocktails cooked up by bartenders from around the world.
First up, presented to us when we arrived, was the Spice and Stormy – a twist on a Dark and Stormy using 1 part Spice Tree to 2 parts Fever Tree ginger beer, garnished with a lime wedge. The Fever Tree ginger beer has an impressive spicy punch, which I felt overwhelmed the whisky, but with a 1:1 mix I suspect it’d work rather well, with the heat of the Ginger Beer complimenting the spicy sweetness of the whisky.
Next was the Great King Roy, a pale take on the Rob Roy, made up of 45ml GKS:TAB (as I shall abbreviate the Great King Street Artist’s Blend from now on), 15ml Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth and 5ml Orangerie (the Compass Box ‘Orange Infusion’). This was an impressively dry cocktail, with the combination of GKS:TAB and Orangerie not being quite enough to balance the sweetness free zone of the Noilly Prat. The orange of the infusion popped up round the side of the vermouth, adding its spicy flavours to the vermouth’s botanical mix, and the whisky added some depth and richness. I think a spot of some sweetener would have helped this along its way, but as a lover of dry cocktails I rather liked it.
Last on the list was the John Glaser, named, to John’s embarassment, by Phil Casacelli of Daddy-O in New York City. It’s the most ingredient heavy of the cocktails on the list, with 45ml of Peat Monster, 25ml Aperol, 25ml honey syrup, 25ml lemon juice and a dash of Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters. The slug of Aperol gives it a nice pink hue, matching John’s ‘light red’ shirt on the night, and the syrup balances out the sourness of the juice and the bitterness of the Aperol and bitters. It does, however, have the strange fruit/smoke combination that makes it hard to produce an excellent smoky whisky cocktail – although it works pretty well here. My tasting note for it was ‘Fruit and gravel with a hint of brine’, with the minerality of the whisky coming through and working well with the fruit of the Aperol. The bitters brought it all together, adding a grapefruit tang and helping to round the occasionally clashing edges of the other ingredients. It was definitely the favourite in the room.
The clock struck 9:30pm, England equalised against Sweden (football fan Dom having been kept updated on the match via a laggy iPhone and the reactions of the crowd in the pub opposite the shop), and Dom and John were loaded back into the car for a trip down to the Brighton and their last session. Good work chaps.
Thanks to The Whisky Shop for not stopping me at the door (and for running the events), Chris at Compass Box for inviting me along (and beating me down to our shop at London Bridge the next day despite him continuing on to Brighton in the support car the night before), and to John and Dom for putting on a good show.
The #WorldRecordWhisky tag was due to it being allegedly an attempt to break the record for largest number of whisky tastings in different cities in a day. I saw no sign of Norris McWhirter (or his ghost) so I’m suspecting that bit of the plan didn’t happen. Update: After a quick email from Mr Maybin it seems that an application for a Guinness World Record is in the pipeline, although nothing has been heard for a while. We’ll see what happens…
Dom has a post up at The W Club, Dave from Whisky Discovery has one up about the Oxford leg of the journey, Living Room Whisky have some notes on the Birmingham session, and there’s an occasionally audible on-the-road interview with them in WhiskyCast #374.
Great King Street, The Artist’s Blend
Blended Scotch Whisky, 43%. ~£24 for a 50cl bottle.
Blended Scotch Malt Whisky, 46%. ~£35 for a 70cl bottle.
The Peat Monster
Blended Scotch Malt Whisky, 46%. ~£35 for a 70cl bottle.