Masterclass number three of the Saturday of Maltstock was a whistlestop tour through the latest whiskies from Glendronach and Benriach, presented by the ever bouncy Donald MacLellan. I met him earlier in the year when I tagged along to Benriach with Jon Beach of the the Fiddlers during a day of ‘doing Speyside‘. Donald was helping a chap I later found out to be Bert Bruyneel of indie bottler Asta Morris (a guy who really knows how to choose his casks, as Mr Robson will attest) choose some casks and let us tag along. I owe him many beers.
Along with being the last tasting of the day it was also the largest that Maltstock have ever put on, with 50 people (about a quarter of the attendees) squeezed around the tables. Donald went for the sensible option and went for a style of whisky tasting that may have to steal in the future – he introduced all 5 whiskies on our tasting mats very briefly and then let us get on with trying them while he circulated, chatted and occasionally dropped tidbits about the whisky and the distilleries.
The first whisky was Benriach 18 Barolo Cask finish, part of their range of spirit finished in random casks – something that is often frowned on by the whisky geek community but that Benriach mainly get a pass on. This one appeared a few years back and like the other 18 year olds is now sold out. On the nose it was sweet and spicy with pastry and sour apple. To taste it had a sour wine note and was quite tannic, but also had golden sugar, custard and apples, both floury and sharp, finishing with grape skin bitterness.
Number two was Benriach Septendecim, their peated 17 year old. I’ve tried their 10yo Curiositas (I’m a fan and use it in Martinis) and the 25yo Authenticus (not that much of a fan) but haven’t tried this mid-point before. On the nose there was sweet peat, loam, brine, pepper and a hint of chlorine. To taste it was very sweet with caramel, gravel, light smoke, leather and fruit. It finished with sweet leather and muddy peat.
Next was one of the current ‘fill-your-own’ casks from Glendronach – distilled in September 1993 and bottled a few days before Maltstock. I’ve heard tales from these from the folks on the Whisky Exchange Facebook group, as there’s a member who lives down the road from the distillery and has a bit of a Glendronach habit. This was the first of two sherried drams in the lineup and this was the more obviously sherried of the two – it was practically opaque due to its darkness. On the nose it had tannic fruit and fruit skins, pressed raisins, leather, sweet cedar wood and brown sugar. To taste it was hot (as its 59.2% would suggest) with vanilla, lots of spice, brown sugar again, sugary wood, cinnamon heat and liquorice. It finished hot and drying, with lingering sweetness and freshly sawn wood.
Fourth on the mat was the one I was most looking forward to – Benriach 1971, bottled in July 2011 at 40 years old. It was matured in a bourbon cask and Benriach of this age that has say in simple casks is famed for often being a bit of a tropical fruit bomb, the style of whisky that I absolutely love but can almost never afford. Serge over on WhiskyFun gave this 93 points and it went for £300-500 a bottle when it was available, which it definitely isn’t any more – it seems I owe Donald even more beers. On the nose it was packed with fruit: grapefruit, sweet orange, melon, apples, limes (more Chewitts than fresh), guava and lychee. To taste it had some softer fruit, with apricot and slightly squishy pineapple, as well as five spice and a tropical fruit squash (the seemingly not-forgotten Tropico of my youth). It finished, according to my notes, with ‘Fruit. Fruit. Fruit’. It was quite fruity and a whisky that I would dearly love to seek out and try again, although I doubt I’ll ever find it.
The last dram was a Glendronach 1972 Oloroso Sherry Cask #705, the second darkest dram of the day (of the two sherry matured whiskies on the mat), released originally for French whisky institution La Maison de Whisky and a winner of a Gold Medal in the Malt Maniacs awards in 2009. The MMAs often favour big sherried drams and Glendronach have done rather well over the last few years (with two whiskies in the top 5 last year, including the top scorer from 1972). From my experience of their sherried drams they’ve deserved the accolades. On the nose there was leather, tobacco, stewed gooseberry, tropical fruit, apple skin and sugary raisins. To taste it was sweet with balanced charred wood and sour fruit. There was also coal dust, red fruit, fresh and dried apricots, nectarines, rich oloroso sherry sweetness and a sharp fruit edge. It finished long with sour gummi chews, damp wood and freshly torn oak leaves. A huge sherried dram that I suspect would have been much more to my taste in a couple of months – the cycle of my palate continues and I can already feel myself slipping towards big sherry in time for Christmas.
The tasting was followed by some BBQ courtesy of BBQ Guru and Ardbeg (although I got more Ardbeggy flavour from the bottle of hot sauce that Jon Beach brought me, as created by the chef at The Fiddlers using a recipe that mainly consisted of blended scotch bonnets and Ardbeg) and then the traditional end of the weekend gathering around the campfire. Cigars were smoked, whisky was drunk and later on music was played, although this year due to complaints from nearby residents (despite the Maltstock venue being in the middle of nowhere) the jamming was moved inside. Art was committed both by pen (well done Joel Caskstrength) and stringed instrument (and a washboard) and I eventually went to bed. Another top year and all going to plan I’ll be going along again next year. Hopefully I might even be on time in 2013…