The World’s Most Collectible Whiskies at Whisky Live

As I don’t think I’ve written about whisky enough recently (sarchasm) I thought I’d put something down on paper/the screen/the interwebnets about Whisky Live London 2011. I’ve been almost entirely fail-y when it has come to writing about whisky shows in the past, mainly as a day of walking around pouring whisky down my neck does lead to incoherence (as my nice performance at the nice Connosr‘s nice WhiskyPod this year demonstrated nicely), but this time I also booked up a ticket to a tasting of The World’s Most Collectible Whiskies with Whisky Magazine’s auction king Jonny McCormick and sitting down helped my pen write slightly more legibly.

Whisky Live London - World's Most Collectible Whiskies
Yes, the Signet glass is empty. I only noticed after taking the picture and pinched a glass of it from one of the empty spots on my table. There were a surprising number of empty spots.

Jonny writes for Whisky Magazine mainly about whisky collecting and auctions, looking after their whisky auction price tracking ‘WM Index’, and brought that expertise to selecting five whiskies that either are already rising in price or could be the auction stars of the future. First on the mat was Highland Park St Magnus, the second entry in their Earl Magnus series of limited bottlings, named for distillery founder Magnus Eunson’s namesake, Earl Magnus of Orkney. The first in the series, the eponymous Earl Magnus, was limited to 6000 bottles, this one to 12000 and the final one, Earl Haakon (named for Magnus’s cousin), to 3000, showing some tricksiness from a company who know that investors like them. The St Magnus comes in at 55% ABV and on the nose had punchy sherry fruit, mulchy peat, almonds and marzipan, and a hint of farmyard mixed in with a meatiness that spread from the nose down to the back of the mouth. To taste there was sweet overripe fruit, sour citrus, sour wood, quite a bit of boozy heat and a lighter flavour than I expected from the quite forthright nose, although mainly the heat of the booze overpowered everything. It could take quite a bit of water, as you’d expect, bringing out spiky wood, sour Fruit Salad chews, spicy lemons and still more boozy heat. I kept dropping in bits of water from time to time as the tasting went on, which eventually tamed it into a flavoursome dram with a buttery mouth feel. The Earl Magnus has already done rather well value-wise, with its release price of £85 leading to a fast sellout and a rapid rise in value to £250-£300 in shops today. The larger release of the St Magnus suggests that it won’t reach the heady heights of the first bottle, but will be a key part of sets of all three bottles in the future, so grabbing one now if you have the Earl Magnus is a no-brainer. You might have to fight for a bottle of the Earl Haakon, but that’s all part of the fun of collecting whisky…I hear.

Next we turned to the Dalmore 1981 Matusalem. Matured for 22 years in american oak before being recasked for 6 months to finish in 30 year old Gonzalez Byass Matusalem Oloroso sherry butts, this is part of Dalmore’s increasingly silly range of premium whiskies, although very much at the lower end. It currently seems to be selling at about £400 a bottle in travel retail, a further exclusivity that should help it in the future at auction. On the nose it had oxidised tawny port, dry wood, red grapes and candied lemons. To taste it was quite sweet with sappy wood and twigs – “like licking the inside of a sugar tree” my notes helpfully add – and stone-in stewed fruit (hints of almonds and cherry stone along with the big fruitiness). Water brought out some more sweetness and the wood softened into creamy vanilla, although leaving a bit behind for a long sweetly woody finish. Dalmore seem to be building their range around collectors, with the world’s most expensive whisky (sold in a normal bottle rather than one of a kind Lalique decanter, that is), Trinitas, leading the way with it’s silly £100,000 price tag. Dalmore is currently sitting just outside of the top 10 of the Whisky Magazine index’s auction movers and shakers, but that may well change over the years thanks to their special releases.

Third was the Glenmorangie Signet, an interesting dram produced using some chocolate malt (dark roasted rather than actually involving chocolate) based spirit as well as some older whisky from the original Glenmorangie maltings. On the nose it was soft with sweet orange, lime leaves, rich sweet malt and golden syrup. Behind the richness there was a distinctly leafy vegetal note. To taste it had sweet dark chocolate, some gravelly minerality and a leafy nettle finish – “Mossy chocolate paving stones” says my notebook. Water added more sweetness, turning the dark chocolate towards milk chocolate, and added some sweet chocolate malt (hints of milk stout) to the leafy finish. A very interesting flavour which I’m still not sure I’m a massive fan of, but one I will be trying again to make sure. Maybe several times. Along with the interesting liquid in the bottle Glenmorangie, recently a distillery who have been upgrading packaging all over the place, have created a rather fancy bottle, with the glass darkening from bottom to top and having a large silvered cap on top – something that will help the value in future, especially as many people seem to have opened their bottles due to the reports of how good it is. A whisky to buy two bottles of – one to drink and one to hide for a rainy day.

Next was the Bowmore 21 year old Port Cask, one of a number of peated port casks that were on show at Whisky Live (despite being recommended it by a number of people I missed out on trying the impressive sounding Benriach Solstice – one for the follow-up list). Another travel retail exclusive, this one is made up of whisky distilled on March 10th 1988 and kept for all of its 21 years in port casks. On the nose it was lightly peaty with big dry red wine, plum jam and glacé cherries. To taste it started with flowery air freshener, moved through a meatily spiced middle with lipsticky wax to a stony peat end. The overpowering air freshener flavour that I got up front pretty much ruined it for me and water didn’t improve it, adding in more waxiness and spicy sweetness but leaving the cloying start. Not one for me, although appreciated around the room. Bowmores are currently riding high in the WM Index, both by sales volume and price per bottle, with old bottlings, such as the Black Bowmores, being spoken of in hushed tones and going for thousands of pounds at auction – their continuing range of premium bottlings will hopefully help them to keep up this momentum.

The final whisky of the tasting was Macallan Oscuro, part of their 1824 range of travel retail exclusive whiskies and made up of spirit distilled between 1987 and 1997. On the nose it had raisins, milk chocolate, a touch of struck match, buttered toast, marzipan and shortbread. To taste it was thick and sweet with cinnamon custard and a caramel wood finish. Water brought out more sugar, raisin cordial (not that I’ve tried raisin cordial, but it’s what I imagine non-alcoholic PX to taste like) and butter. My favourite of the night, with my current whisky sweet tooth being firmly satisfied. It’s currently rather pricy, at about £500 a bottle, but Macallans have a lot of success at auction and it might be a nice place to invest, if you don’t drink it. Macallan sits at the top of both Whisky Magazines’s price and volume indices, in part due to the large number of bottlings that their long history has produced, with vintages back to the beginning of the 20th century sitting behind the counter in the distillery shop ready for sale. With an almost constant barrage of interesting bottlings across the price spectrum it looks like they’ll be pretty much permanent fixtures of the auction market.

I’m not really a whisky investor, buying to drink as I do, but vaguely inspired by the tasting I did take advantage of the Friends of Laphroaig “It’s your birthday!” discount offer (another reason to sign up to the FoL) to pick up a couple of bottles of their 12 year old cask strength batch 2, one to drink and one to keep, as it was a nice low-cost way of having a punt at the whisky collecting game. The sold out batch 1 has already increased in price by 50% (to about £40 a bottle) so we shall see…

The thing that most surprised me when discussing collecting with Phil Huckle of Pernod Ricard after the The Glenlivet tasting I went to last year was the emphasis on distillery bottlings – in general independents won’t go up in price to anywhere near the extent that original distillery bottlings will. His advice on the night was simple – buy independents to drink, buy distillery to keep. While my lack of cupboard space is currently beating my love of hoarding things, my love of drinking whisky will continue to keep the collecting bug away. For now. I hope.

Highland Park St Magnus
Highland single malt Scotch whisky, 55%. ~£85 from The Whisky Exchange.

Dalmore 1981 Matusalem
Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 44%. ~£400 from World of Whiskies (travel retail exclusive).

Glenmorangie Signet
Highland single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. ~£110 from Master of Malt.

Bowmore 21 year old Port Cask
Islay single malt vintage Scotch whisky, 51.5%. ~£150 from World of Whiskies (travel retail exclusive).

Macallan Oscuro
Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 46.5%. ~£400 from World of Whiskies (travel retail exclusive).

Signet image courtesy of Master of Malt

Learning about Sherry with Gonzalez Byass, Lustau and Waitrose

During my last jaunt towards sherry knowledge, the trip to Camino el Puerto del Canario that involved more food and beer than fortified wine, I lamented my lack of learning to Andrew Sinclair of Gonzalez Byass, along with a grumble that you don’t get as many chances to learn about sherry as you do other beverages. I must have made some kind of impression (my whining often does – it cuts to the soul) as a few weeks after I received an email asking if I wanted to come along to a ‘Learn about sherry’ session at the new Waitrose cooking school in Finchley. I, of course, said yes.

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The event was a joint effort between Waitrose, wanting people to see their new enterprise (the flooring of the entrance of which had only been laid hours earlier, so still rather new), Lustau (the supplier of Waitrose’s house sherry) and Gonzalez Byass (suppliers of brand name sherries), as well as including some matched food from Spain as prepared in the cookery school kitchen. We started the evening with a glass of Waitrose Manzanilla, bottled for them by Lustau. On the nose it had lemon zest, a bit of sour honey and a light nuttiness. To taste it started with a sweet fruitiness but quickly became dry, with olives, grass and woodiness, and a light sour finish. Quite nice, but still a little light for my liking. This accompanied a run through of how the evening would go – we’d learn about the sherry making process from Lustau’s Michael Hall and Byass’s Jeremy Rockett while Maria José Sevilla, the UK representative of the Spanish food and wine producers, ran us through some foods that could accompany the various sherries that Waitrose sell.

Sherry is, by protected designation of origin definition, only made in the south west corner of Spain between Sevilla and Cadiz in an region known as The Sherry Triangle. The area is bordered by three towns: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María, and the name Sherry is an anglicisation of Jerez. It’s very hot in the region and not great for growing grapes, although the chalky soil soaks up moisture when it does rain meaning that there is enough water for vines to grow even if their roots do have to dig deep. Most of the grapes grown are Palomino Fino, the base grape for sherry, but there is also some Pedro Ximinez and Moscatel produced, with PX often used as sweetener in wine and sherry production. Palomino doesn’t really make particularly great wine, it’s drinkable but isn’t that interesting, but the ‘magic’ of sherry production happens after traditional wine production has finished. The base wine is made to be dry and fairly bland with an alcoholic content of about 12-13% and is racked 500 litres per cask (not totally filling the casks, giving an air gap at the top) in January or February before it starts the journey of becoming sherry. There are two basic process for making sherry, each producing a distinctive style: Fino is pale and dry and Oloroso is dark and fruitier.

Fino is made by taking the base wine and fortifying it to 15% by adding grape brandy. This strengthens the wine but isn’t quite strong enough to kill the remaining yeast in the mixture, which forms a layer on top of the liquid in the barrel called flor. The flor eventually covers the surface of the maturing sherry and stops oxygen from making much contact with the liquid, as well as digesting sugar and glycerol remaining in the mix. This, along with the flor’s helping along of further fermentation in the maturing sherry, gives the distinctive dry fino flavour. Oloroso, by comparison, is made by fortifying the base wine to about 17%, which kills off the remaining yeast and allows the sherry to mature without the protective flor. This causes the liquid to darken as it oxidises as well as becoming fruitier and sweeter as the oxidisation and remaining sugars work on the flavour. The various other sherries are made by altering these processes slightly as well as working with the traditional system of sherry maturation – The Solera.

The solera system is method of maturation designed to give consistent results from year to year by blending sherries from different years and different levels of maturation. The maturing barrels are stacked about 4 high with the bottom row containing the oldest sherries and the top the youngest. When sherry is taken from the solera it is always taken from the oldest casks, which are then topped up from the next oldest, which are in turn topped up from the next, and so on until there are no more casks to transfer sherry from. The youngest cask is then topped up with new sherry and the process starts again. As long as barrel is never emptied as part of the filling process this ensures that each barrel contains a blend of sherries of different ages and the constant transference of liquid towards the oldest ‘Mother Solera’ barrels evens out any changes in flavour from season to season to give a slowly changing but year-to-year consistent sherry. As the process doesn’t rely as much on the quality or flavour of the base wine it is the location of the maturation, as well as the quirks of the individual solera, which leads to the variations in the flavours of the different houses’s sherries.

IMG_0322Our next sherry of the evening was the one that we opened the visit to Camino with – Tio Pepe Palomino Fino. The Manzanilla that we started with is a lighter version of the fino, made in a similar fashion, but you also get Manzanilla Pasada, which is aged longer and has more nuttiness. Tio Pepe is made in Jerez de la Frontera and is a benchmark of the standard fino style – a nose of lemons and honey with a quickly fading taste of soured grapes, citrus, yeasty undertones and wood. It’s a very light drink and is traditionally served very chilled to add to it’s refreshing nature. As a fino it doesn’t have much of a shelf life once opened – it oxidises quickly and goes off unless consumed within a couple of weeks – and the chilling also helps it keep for a bit longer. This sherry was matched with a prawn cooked with garlic, wine and pimento pepper. This worked really well – the flavour of the sherry fades quickly and the prawn filled the gap, the citrus flavours of the sherry cutting through the initial rich butteriness of the shellfish.

We moved on to the next driest sherry on our list – Waitrose Dry Amontillado, again selected by Lustau. Dry amontillado is from the same family of sherries as finos but is darker and more complex due to a double maturation. Wine is taken from the fino mother solera, as usual, but instead of being bottled as a fino it is further fortified to the 17% oloroso level and then run through a further amontillado solera. The fortification kills the flor and allows the wine to undergo a second oxidising maturation. On the nose it has raisins, bread and caramel – a chelsea bun in liquid form. To taste it has an initial fruity sweetness that fades very quickly to a dry, yeasty middle and a long sour grape finish. The sweetness on the nose is due to remaining glycerol in the wine rather than the usual sugars and the sweetness on the palate is due to a concentration of flavour during the maturation process rather than any particular production of sugars during the secondary solera. This was matched with a salad of warm broad beans, shaved manchego, smoky ground pepper, oil and salt which went very well – the earthy beans filled the dry hole in the middle of the wine’s flavour profile and the concentrated fruit of the wine provided a nice buffer either side, working well with salt and cheese.

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Next was La Concha Medium Dry Amontillado from Gonzalez Byass. An interesting style of sherry this, and one that is almost uniquely English and not generally found in Spain. Rather than being a true Amontillado it is instead a blend of regular dry Amontillado and PX to give a bit more of the fruity sweetness that is generally looked for in Sherry by us Brits. On the nose it was dominated by the PX, with raisins and toffee, but there was a hint of the sherry underneath with some dry hay coming through. To taste it had a rich raisin sweetness leading to a dry middle and lingering sweet and sour finish. This is the sherry that I’ve been drinking at Christmas for years and now I know how it’s made I can see why – I’m a big fan of PX but often find it a bit much. Cut the syrup sweetness of PX with some dry Amontillado and you have something that perfectly appeals to my sweet and sour loving palate. This was matched with three cured meats – lomo embuchado (cured pork loin), salsichon (a salami) and chorizo (coarse spicy sausage). The sweetness of the sherry cut through the strong spicy flavours of the meats, but not a lot more came through than that sweetness.

We then moved on to the sweeter wines, starting with the Waitrose Dry Oloroso. Matured using the regular oloroso solera process this was a rich reddy brown colour with a rich and sweet nose of fruit, caramel and brittle toffee. To taste it had the now expected burst of sweetness followed by grapes and unripe apricot – not actively sweet, but rich and dry. The finish was long with dry wood and a prickle of alcohol. This was matched with croquetas de jamón – ham croquettes. This again worked really well with a one-two combo of rich wine cutting through dairy richness, combined with salty ham enhancing the flavours of the sherry.

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Second of the sweeter sherries was Apostoles Palo Cortado. This is a rarer style of sherry and one that isn’t particularly well known. The choice as to whether particular base wine is to be used for oloroso or fino is now governed by science(!), with the chemical composition of the wines determining which process they will work best with. However, Palo Cortado starts with taking the best of the fino base wine and then fortifying it to 17%, as with oloroso. This wine is then aged for about 10 years in a single barrel rather than solera before being tested and, if it’s up to scratch, moved to a Palo Cortado solera for a further 20 years. Gonzales Byass, makers of the Apostoles, sweeten the wine with some PX when it goes into the solera, giving an old rich sherry which still has a chunk of dryness. It was a dark red wine with a nose of rich dried fruit, caramel sweetness and marzipan. To taste it had a deep wine sweetness with an astringent kick, and cherry stones (with a bit of flesh still attached) fading to a long fresh cherry finish. This was matched with a Galician Empanada – a Spanish pasty. It was mooted around the audience that this was made for similar reasons to the Cornish pasty, with both Cornwall and Galicia being known for mining, but either way it was a small tasty pasty that slipped down easily with the sherry, it’s pepperiness making a nice contrast and complimenting some of the richness in the middle of the wine.

IMG_0337We next tried one of the more maligned sherries of the evening – Waitrose Rich Cream. Harvey’s Bristol Cream is one of the UK’s best known sherry brands and the one (along with Crofts) most associated with the ‘old bottle kept in a cupboard by your gran’ image that often goes along with the drink. In years gone by Harvey’s produced some excellent traditional sherry, but as time has passed their product has become more generic and without some of the interest of the older iterati0ns. This blend is an attempt to get back to some of that older style, mixing together old Oloroso with PX and Moscatel. On the nose it had a hollow sweetness with grass, vanilla, figs and marzipan – quite Christmassy. To taste it had dried fruit, booze soaked bread, sweet grapes and a bitter finish. This was paired with a Christmas pudding parfait of gingerbread biscuit, cranberry, orange and mixed peel studded vanilla cream parfait. There were a wealth of common flavours and the astringency of the sherry cut through the richness of the parfait. I poured a drop or two of sherry into my dessert and the whole lot went a bit tutti frutti ice cream – a flavour that I haven’t had for ages.

Our last sherry of the night was one that my recent run of tastings with Richard Paterson had introduced me to – Matusalem. More specifically that’s the name for Gonzalez Byass’s old sweet oloroso, but it’s also the expensive cask that Whyte & Mackay prize for production of some of their more expensive sherried whisky. Going the same direction as the Palo Cortado, this is also matured in a cask before hitting the solera, but spends 20 years on its own before meeting the marrying barrels. PX is introduced early on the maturation process giving this wine a rich sweetness beyond the regular olorosos. It also, like the other long matured sherries, increased in alcoholic percentage while maturing, as the climate in Andalucia causes water to evaporate rather than alcohol, concentrating the sherry and making it more boozy over time. On the nose it had wood, cocoa, sour caramel, pepper, cinnamon and dried fruit. To taste it was sweet with fruit to start and rested on a bed of sour fruits – cherries, peaches (maybe nectarines) and pears. It had a long smoky wood finish and a hint of what reminded me of musty cheese rind – a hint back to its yeasty beginnings as fino before the flor died. This was paired with mahon, a cow’s milk cheese from Menorca, and mebrillo, the quince jam often served with spanish cheeses. I’m not sure this entirely went, but the cheese was nice enough that I’ve been nibbling at a block this last week and the mebrillo was impressively smooth and sweet.

From knowing nothing about sherry a few weeks back I now know enough to at least start asking the questions that will help me learn more. Unfortunately I’ve yet to find a Waitrose stocking many of the sherries from the tasting, but the Waitrose own range that Lustau have put together pops up in pieces in most of them. This post was written under the influence of Waitrose/Lustau Palo Cortado and I suspect that this year my traditional grabbing of a Medium Amontillado will be at least complimented, if not replaced, by a Matusalem, Palo Cortado and/or Dry Amontillado. Dryer sherries may not last all that long once opened, but I should get at least a month out of the stronger, sweeter ones, not that I expect them to last that long.

Waitrose Manzanilla
Manzanilla fina sherry. 17%. £8.19 for a 75cl bottle from Ocado

Tio Pepe Palomino Fino
Dry fino sherry. £9.49
for a 75cl bottle from Ocado

Waitrose Dry Amontillado
Amontillado sherry. 19%. £8.19
for a 75cl bottle from Ocado

La Concha Medium Dry Amontillado
Amontillado sherry/PX blend. £7.39
for a 75cl bottle from Ocado

Waitrose Dry Oloroso
Oloroso sherry. 20%. £8.19 from Waitrose stores.

Apostoles Palo Cortado
Palo cortado sherry. 18.5%. £16.29 for a 37.5cl bottle from Ocado

Waitrose Rich Cream Sherry
Oloroso sherry with PX and Moscatel. £8.19
for a 75cl bottle from Ocado

Matusalem
Rich old oloroso with PX. 20.5%. £16.29 for a 37.5cl bottle from Ocado

Many thanks to Andrew Sinclair and Jeremy Rockett from Gonzalez Byass for inviting me along. The tasting was free and filled with press, Waitrose customers, staff from elsewhere in the John Lewis group and me as the only admitted blogger. Just in case they’re reading I’d like to say hello to the lovely posse from the food hall at John Lewis on Oxford Street – thankyou for helping me find my way in to the cookery school and making sure that I ate my share of the olives.

Whisky Blending and tasting with Richard Paterson, two times…

As I noted in my last post, some of the current whisky obsessiveness on this blog can be laid at the door of Richard Paterson, master blender at Whyte & Mackay and constant whisky show presence. My first in person encounter with Richard was a few minutes after getting in to Whisky Live Glasgow, where I was dragged on to stage to take part in a blending session. However, something that I’d forgotten was that I’d signed up to do a blending class and tasting with Richard at Milroy’s a week later. There was a lot of crossover between the two blending sessions, so I’ll stick them together.

Richard PatersonThe basic premise of the session was to get people to understand blending with a ‘simple’ task – blend together 6 whiskies to try and represent the character of the person on a card in front of you. We were given some grain, lowland, Speyside, medium highland, heavier highland and smoky Islay as our ingredients and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronnie Corbett, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, Jordan and a sumo wrestler as our inspiration. At Whisky Live I got Jordan, and after being told off for saying I wanted to make a “cheap tasting” whisky, settled on something with a heavy perfume and hint of smoke – heavy on the speyside with a body of grain and a hint of Islay at the end. I deservedly didn’t win that time, the honour going to Nicole Kidman, but my team picked up the accolade at Milroy’s with our sumo wrestler whisky – big and heavy with a slap at the end. Lots of heavy and medium highlands with a bit of Speyside, some grain (at cask strength) for welly and a hefty slug of the Islay for a late punch. According to the rather large certificate that Richard signed for me I am now an official Whyte & Mackay master blender, but I won’t be giving up my day job quite yet – I have a small sample jar of ‘Jordan’ on the side and opening it for a smell does not fill me with enthusiasm for my skills.

If you want to see the fun and games of the Whisky Live Glasgow session, social media king Craig set up a camera at the side of the room and captured almost all of it – part 1, part 2, part3. Including my being rubbish on stage in part 2.

Jura SuperstitionThe more interesting bit (for a blending ‘veteran’ such as myself) at the Milroy’s event was the tasting we started off with, running through part of Whyte & Mackay’s premium range. We started off with Jura Prophecy, distilled in 1992 with 90% matured in bourbon casks and 10% in sherry. On the nose it had salt, grass and seaweed, toasted wood, caramel and hint of, maybe, sweet cooked carrots. It also had a bit of wood polish, some olive oil and a slug of damp peat at the end. To taste it had a tannic end led to by fizzy lemon, tarmac and polished wooden floors. Water definitely helped, bringing out more salt and some custard on the nose. The taste had sherbet lemons, bitter wood, sweet smoke and the custard from the nose. I’m already a fan of Jura, but this one was really rather nice – not as peated as I would expect from the ‘heavy peat’ reputation that Willie Tait (former Jura manager) pushed at Whisky Live and nicely balanced, with wood, citrus, smoke and sweetness all rolled together.

Fettercairn 24Next was a bit of a move up, going on to the Fettercairn 24. I’d tried the 40 year old bottling at Whisky Live and not been blown away, and was interested to see what the younger expression would offer. It was a lovely bronze colour and had orange, sweet fruit, liquorice, pine and lemon scented floor polish on the nose. To taste it had almonds and cinnamon with a bitter wood finish and a buttery mouthfeel. Water calmed down the bitterness of the wood, turning the almonds into marzipan and the fruit from the nose into fizzy fruit chews. On top of this was some hazelnut and a spicy woody finish. Much closer to the nose of the 40 year old (which was fantastic, even if the taste wasn’t to my liking), but maybe not to the tune of £120 per bottle. The marzipan flavour is something I’m definitely going to be looking out for in other drams and I may have to have a try of their regular 12 year old.

Dalmore MatusalemWe jumped up the price scale to the Dalmore 1974 Matusalem – named for its year of distilling and the type of sherry barrels used for its finishing. After an initial 27 years in rare palo cortado casks it sat finishing for 5 years in barrels formerly used to mature Gonzalez Byass’s rather special 30 year old oloroso, for a total of 32 years of maturation. A rather limited release this one compared to many from Whyte & Mackay’s stable, with only 780 bottles of it in the wild. It was deep bronze in colour with a nose of candied orange slice cake decorations and perfumed almonds. To taste there was an initial burst of sweetness leading to raisins, marmalade and buttery lemons. Water brought out more floral notes, creamy vanilla, fizzy refresher chews and a woody finish. Quite impressive, as you’d expect for the second most expensive whisky I’ve ever tasted.

Dalmore King Alexander IIIAfter the Matusalem the only way to move in price was down and we moved on to the Dalmore 1992 King Alexander III. I’d missed a chance to grab a dram of this at Whisky Live in London earlier this year, turning up moments too late and seeing a tray of glasses emptied before I could get to it. It is made up of whiskies that have been finished in 6 different cask types – port, madeira, marsala, cabernet sauvignon, Knob Creek bourbon and oloroso sherry – for 2-6 years depending on the type of wood (with the port taking 6). It poured reddy bronze with heavy raisins, woody sweetness and vanilla on the nose. To taste it had sugary sweetness, orange and vanilla, moved to a mid-taste of sweet raisins, and finished with spicy oak. I didn’t add water to it, and I wish I had – it was a bit of a muddle and I think it might have helped bring the various flavours out a bit. There was definitely a hint of all of the different finishes in there, but I’m not sure that it all worked together at bottle strength, only 40% though it was.

Whyte & Mackay 30We then moved on to our last dram of the night – Whyte & Mackay’s 30 year old. This is W&M’s premium blend and one that I’d got to have a quick sip of at Whisky Live Glasgow, enough to make me want to try it again. It’s definitely the top end of their range – with a boasted 25-27 components (a far cry from the John Glaser small batch approach) and bottled in black glass, it’s a cut above Whyte & Mackay’s regular range. On the nose it had custard, raisins and perfumed wood and to taste it had sweet custard with spicy oak bitterness and a lingering sherried fruitiness. Water bittered things up a little bit with dark orange chocolate joining the rich mix. Rather nice and further demonstrating that blends needn’t all be rubbish, grain heavy, Tesco’s shelf filler. This stuff does cost £180 a bottle, but it is pretty good. It’s not got the sort of backing and reputation that Chivas Regal’s top brands and Johnny Walker Blue Label have yet, but it’s definitely in the same league as them.

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable couple of events. Richard Paterson is definitely someone to see do his act in person, with over the top hand waving about ‘the pussies’ who don’t know what they’re missing, throwing whisky on the floor and audience, and the occasional party popper, although outside of that he is just a nice guy to have a chat with. I’ve not been to Milroy’s for a tasting before and while this one was a bit more than I’d usually pay (£40) it was an impressive whisky range that I’d not see elsewhere, with the 1974 Dalmore going for at least £40 a shot if you found it in a bar – I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more from them.

Jura Prophecy
No age statement (16 years old?) Jura single malt scotch whisky. 46%. ~£50

Fettercairn 24
Highland single malt scotch whisky. 44.4%. ~£120

Dalmore 1974 Matusalem Sherry Finesse
Highland single malt scotch whisky. 42%. ~£600

Dalmore 1992 King Alexander III
Highland single malt scotch whisky. 40%. ~£120

Whyte & Mackay 30 Year Old
Blended scotch whisky. 43%. ~£180

The photos above are a bit rubbish because Milroy’s do their tastings in the basement under their Soho shop. It’s dark down there…but nice.

Whyte & Mackay are currently running a competition to win a bottle of their 30 year old – find one of the bottles of their ‘regular’ Special Blended Whisky that has been filled instead with 30 year old (as indicated by a note under the cap) and you can win one of 250 additional bottles of neat 30 year old. There is more info, including a video of ‘Richard Paterson’ breaking into the bottling plant to be nefarious with the whisky, over on the Master Blender website.