I am heartbroken – I missed a Whisky Squad, my first since number 4. Through the inconvenient scheduling of The Whisky Show I ended up late at work preparing for a weekend of backbreaking toil rather than sitting around above The Gunmakers surrounded by whisky. Luckily Alan stepped up to the plate and wrote it up, and while I could not possibly comment on whisky bottled by a rival retailer it looks like it was a good one (…and I may have sought out a couple of the whiskies since just to make sure). Anyways, onwards and upwards!
The Squad is getting a bit popular, with the tickets zooming out of the door at quite a scary speed. As such Messrs Standing and Tate have bribed even more people and started putting on second sessions, and this saving grace meant I got to have an October visit to the Whisky Squad after all. They roped in Whisky Squad drinker Jonny McMillan (for values of ‘roped in’ where Jonny said ‘Can I do a session’) and October part two was born – Now There’s Something You Don’t See Every Day…
Jonny works, when he isn’t selling his soul to the world of non-whisky, at Cadenhead’s whisky shop in London as well as appearing around the country at whisky shows, including the recent Manchester Whisky Show (more of which in a future post) and on the Glenglassaugh stand at the aforementioned Whisky Show (where I was on the stand next door and he fed me some tasty whisky). His theme for the night was elegantly simple – a group of whiskies from distilleries where less than 1% of their output goes to single malt. Apart from one, because Jonny really liked it. Luckily Cadenhead’s are an excellent independent bottler who have lots of interesting whiskies from such places. Anyways – whisky.
Dram #1 poured a light gold and had a nose dominated at first by chocolate caramel digestives, one of the finest biscuits of all time. That was followed up by creamy vanilla, green melon, fizzy Refreshers, lemon, baked beans and some minted peas. The lemon came through on the palate with some lime, spicy wood, apple and more vanilla, with water cranking up the apples and adding some tannic apple skin. The apple skin note continued on into the finish along with some green wood – quite fresh but tannic. As usual the guesses as to what it was were fairly inaccurate, helped by the fact that it was from Glenburgie, which isn’t particularly well known. It was a Glenburgie 1993 bottled in 2004 at 11 years old, one of an outturn of 288 bottles. Cadenhead’s still use the old name of the spirit, Glenburgie-Glenlivet, with the theory floated around the table that they’ve been bottling it long enough that their naming has been grandfathered in by being around longer than the current case law that restricts the use of the Glenlivet suffix. Glenburgie is owned by Pernod Ricard and usually goes into the Ballantine’s blends, although I suspect that there’s a bit in the various Chivas whiskies as well. It’s one that seems to do very well as a single malt (as a recent sell out of the SMWS’s latest bottling at The Whisky Show, along with people randomly grabbing me and asking me if I’d tried it can attest) but still it rarely sees the light of day.
At first I got confused and started nosing whisky #1 again when we moved on and was quite pleased that I got the same things again, and was about to comment that we had two rather similar whiskies, at which point I realised that I was just stupid – dram 2 was quite different. On the nose it started out quite dirty with a chunk of diesel and rubber plimsoll soles, but quickly moved on to sweeter things with icing sugar, vanilla cream and strawberries. To taste there was cooling mint and menthol up front, followed by lemon and lime, chocolate and sea salt. Water added some nice spiciness and more citrus. It finished with sherbert lemons and lots of liquorice. Jonny told us this had an interesting cask but noone guessed either its nature of the distillery – it was a Duthies Ben Nevis 14 year old, matured entirely in a rum cask. While finishing in rum casks is fairly common this is the first one that I’ve tried matured for all of its time in one. Jonny was rather keen on this one and it was quickly (and accidentally, ruining Jonny’s plan of giving a prize to the person who guessed) outed as the distillery who has more than 1% going into single malt releases. Ben Nevis is owned by Nikka and I assume that a lot of their spirit goes overseas, but they also produce some interesting whisky locally as they have a column still onsite that they use to make grain spirit. As such they’re one of the only distilleries left in Scotland (if not the only one) that can still make single blends – whisky made from combining grain and malt spirit at the same distillery. We tried one of their single cask single blends (made by filling a cask with a mixture of new make grain and malt whisky and leaving them to mature together before bottling) before at Whisky Squad and this one was similarly strange in flavour – I liked this one a lot more, though.
Number 3 had a nose of red wine gums (although Jonny thought it more strawberry Chewits), grass, aniseed, floral honeysuckle and a hint of savoury celery. To taste it was sweet and floral, with a strangely vegetal back-end, almost liked buttered green veg. The finish had green grass and wood, lemon and lime, and a light menthol tinge. Again we had no clue what it was and to the surprise of those who had tried whisky from the distillery before, including m’colleague Tim, this was an Aultmore 1997, bottled at 11 years old in 2008. I’ve not had a good record with Aultmore, and neither has Tim, and this was quite different in that we both quite enjoyed it. Most of the spirit from the distillery goes into the Dewar’s blends, also owned by Bacardi, but it was once owned by United Distillers and Vintners (UDV) and there was a 12 year old single malt released as part of the Flora & Fauna range. That is now a rather expensive and rare bottling, as UDV is now part of Diageo and the distillery sold on, but independent bottlings of Aultmore do appear from time to time.
We swiftly moved on to the penultimate dram. On the nose it had sweet rhubarb, berries, green leaves and flowers, with an astringent sweetness isolated by the room as a ‘balsamic drizzle’. To taste there was furniture polish, ginger, more leaves, apples and custard, and a hint of floral air freshener (one of my least favourite notes in a whisky, although subdued here). It finished quite tannic, with apple skins and a pot pourri mix of wood and air freshener (again). This was another surprise, being a Fettercairn 1993, bottled this year at 17 years old. Fettercairn is the quiet distillery from Whyte & Mackay’s portfolio, with their old single malt not particularly well thought of. Their older expressions have turned heads more recently but the vast majority still goes into blending. I’ve found Fettercairn to have a bit leafiness when I’ve tried it before and was happy to find that it’s also in a younger whisky (not that 17 years is that young). This one continued Jonny’s love of strange casks, having been matured entirely in a claret barrel. Red wine finishes are often a bit hit and miss, and this is only the second whisky I’ve tried that spent it’s entire life in a red wine cask – I declare this experiment to be at least a partial success.
We then moved onto the final dram of the night. It had a nose of fruit leaves and berry jam (I rather like leafy whisky at the moment so that recurring note was a good thing for me, at least) with an unexpected of hit pine floor cleaner. It had a rather oily mouthfeel with mint, menthol, woody liquorice root, a bit of soft liquorice pastille, raspberry and victoria sponge cake. It finished with mulchy fruit leaves, dark wood and lingering dark chocolate. A strange combination of flavours and one that yet again noone got near – it was a Craigellachie 1994 (again with a -Glenlivet on the end on the label) bottled at 12 years of age in 2007. Craigellachie sits slap bang in the middle of Speyside, near the Speyside cooperage, and I’ve been driven past it a number of times when up on holiday in Scotland. However, from the road it’s not the picturesque pagoda roofed thing you might expect from seeing distillery photos and looks very much like a chemical plant, which in essence it is. Like Aultmore they’re now owned by Bacardi, having been acquired from UDV when they sold Dewar’s, but they didn’t get a look in to the Flora and Fauna range, changing ownership before UDV got a chance to release one. Diageo, as successors to UDV, have released a Rare Malts expression from their stocks, but in general independent bottlers are the only place to find Craigellachie as a single malt. I’ve only tried a couple and so far they’ve been entirely different to each other, the previous one being a light stereotypical bourbon cask whisky…
Anyways, my missing of a Whisky Squad seems to have started a trend – I am most probably missing the next one as well (although hope has sprung today with a move to a new venue). There are another two in November and the first one (#23, The Smoking Section) flew off the shelves in the usual tiny amount of time. However, there are still a few left for session two of the month, which I will be going to – Whisky 4 Movember. I suspect its fear of bad moustaches that has kept the tickets from selling out, but worry not facial hair is not mandatory.
Glenburgie 1993, 11 years old
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 59.8%
Ben Nevis 14 years old
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 58.1%
Aultmore 1997, 11 years old
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 57.5%.
Fettercairn 1993, 17 years old
Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 51.5%.
Craigellachie 1994, 12 years old
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 58.3%.