The year hasn’t ended yet and here it is – a blog post about the most recent Whisky Squad tasting. It’s even (unless plans go awry, in which case I’ll delete this sentence making these parentheses entirely pointless) before the next Squad meeting, the Christmas dinner on the 8th of December, so this officially makes me a good boy again.
Anyways, the second tasting of November was deliberately pushed towards the end of the month as it was in honour of Movember, and the extra couple of weeks meant that there were some moustaches on display, unlike during the Smoking Section tasting where MoSista Charly‘s stick on lip warmer was the only thing worthy of the name ‘Mo’. Anyways, we gathered upstairs at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society with bottles donated from a variety of sponsors and all the proceeds going straight to the Whisky4Movember fund raising efforts. Unfortunately we had some generous sponsors and even excluding the emergency bottle I had in my bag, just in case any of the whiskies didn’t arrive, we had eight drams to get through. It’s a hard life…
First up, tasted blind as usual, was a mid-golden dram. On the nose it had sour apple skins, butter, cream, light spice, and milky butter icing. To taste it was creamy up front, with fruit and woody spice down the middle. It was quite light in body and very easily drinkable, with a finish of spiced creme brulee. An excellent start to the evening and not particularly surprising when the paper was pulled off and it turned out to be the Great King Street Artist’s Blend from Compass Box. I’ve written about this before, both here in a post about the Compass Box twitter tasting and in a work post around release time, and my opinion stays the same – a versatile, tasty and easy drinking whisky, and a great place to push people who assume that all blends are rubbish. Thanks to Compass Box for donating the bottle.
Next on the list was the first of two drams donated by our hosts – the SMWS. On the nose it had spiced vinegar, pungent fruit, sweet and sour sauce, treacle toffee, Love Hearts and a touch of minty menthol. To taste it was big and meaty, with some drying tannic wood, spiced apples, sour grapes, apple wood and a hint of woody smoke. It finished very differently, with strawberries, coconut and tropical fruit, as well as some drying wood. A rather complex and interesting dram that turned out to be 123.6 – Rhubarb and Custard, matured for 10 years in a refill port pipe. While the society don’t officially give out what distillery each number goes with, 123 is Glengoyne, a distillery that until recently I’d almost entirely avoided but have become quite fond of in the last couple of weeks. They claim to be the only distillery to dry their barley with no peat whatsoever, using hot air instead, and have been running since 1833. They were taken over by Ian Macleod Distillers in 2003, as the company’s first only and currently only distillery, and since then have been making a lot of headway in the market. I need to try more of their whiskies…
Number three had a young and fruity nose, with some spirity alcohol, toffee, grapefruit and passion fruit – the last two flavours that I’ve been increasingly looking for in whisky. To taste there was fizzy sherbert, sweet lemons, cream and the caraway graininess of less mature whisky. It finished well, with lingering spiced wood, Tangfastic Haribo and more tropical fruit. A bit of a hit around the room and an annoyance when the label came of as it was Cask Strength and Carry On, a whisky from Arran bottled by the chaps at Caskstrength.net which sold out within a couple of days of release. I’ve still got a bit of the sample that Joel and Neil gave me when they released it, but annoyingly I didn’t try it until after they’d run out of bottles and didn’t get any myself. Luckily, Darren did acquire a few bottles (although whether that was by way of tax for his house being used as a staging point after the bottles were driven down from Arran is between Darren and the Caskstrength boys) and he donated one to the evening. There was even a Movember link with the Neil half of Caskstrength having been featured on one of the first Movember bottles. Well, his excellent moustache (now departed) was, at least.
Next up was one that I was fairly sure I’d guessed – a really dark and sticky dram. On the nose it was big and sherried – sugared raisins, the burnt edges from a beef joint, dark wood and rich fruit. To taste that continued, with lots of fruit – plums and stewed mixed winter berries – and some sticky liquorice at the back. The flavours hung around for a while with fruit and buttered wood. The label came off to show that I was right for once – it was the Movember 2011 bottling, a vatting of a couple of casks of 9 year old whisky from Glenfarclas. The barrels were chosen by Chris Hoban of the Edinburgh Whisky Blog and naturally there’s a post up over there about his visit to the distillery. It was sold exclusively by the chaps at Master of Malt (boo, hiss, etc) who donated all the profits to the Whisky4Movember fundraising effort (woo, yay, etc), picking up £6000 by the end of November. They are now sold out, but MoM do still have some samples left to buy.
Number five, the beginning of the second half, was a bit of a surprise at first, as after a run of three cask strength drams it was back to a normal 40%. On the nose it had Fry’s Turkish Delight, honey, red fruit and a touch of menthol. To taste it was creamy, with woody spic, some delicate polished wood flavours, and a lingering finish of wood and spice. A lot less powerful in alcohol than the last couple of drams but a nice contrast and very drinkable. A ripple of surprise spread around the room when the bottle turned out to be Balvenie Signature. I was rather pleased that my tasting notes match up with my usual take on Balvenie and it was impressive that it held up despite coming after some palate killing whiskies. Many thanks to Dr Andrew Forrester, Balvenie’s UK Brand Ambassador, for donating the bottle.
The next one was much lighter in colour and the first peaty whisky of the night – a nose of meaty smoke, dirty peat and mulched leaves all undercut by a young sweet spiritiness. To taste it had gritty smoke, sweet fruit and a metallic hint, finishing with tinned smoky fish and a lingering note of pineapple. A strange combination of flavours that made some sense when the whisky was revealed – Birnie Moss. This is a young peaty whisky from Benriach on Speyside, made with an eye towards the European market, especially Spain, Italy and France who love young fiery whisky and don’t mind a touch of smoke. Benriach don’t stop with Birnie Moss though, as their Curiositas is the same spirit left in the cask for a few extra years – an excellent peaty dram with some nice fruitiness underneath that the Birnie Moss shows some of the elegance of. This was a bit of a hit in the room, with at least a couple of bottles going on Christmas lists. Thanks to the Royal Mile Whiskies for the donation.
The penultimate whisky of the night was a step away from peat again, with a nose of spiced cream, sour fruit and a hint of balsamic vinegar. To taste it had fruity toffee, bananas, sweet apples and pears, and a burst of spicy cinnamon. It finished bitter, with green wood and some woody spice. Another slightly random whisky, this time from Jason’s collection, it was Glenmorangie Astar. I’ve written about it before, back in the olden days of this blog, and it’s a concentration of Glenmorangie’s experiments with interesting casks, using barrels made from wood from a forest that they specially selected, before the usual filling with bourbon, emptying, and shipping over to Scotland to be used to mature the whisky.
Finally we reached whisky number eight, another donation from the SWMS and one that was definitely an evening ender. On the nose the first note, that dominated almost everything else, was pickled onions, both real ones and the overpowering (and very tasty) smell of pickled onion Monster Munch. Underneath that there was sour fruit, some gravelly smoke, soured sherry, shoe polish and tomato ketchup. To taste it was full of coal, ash and coal smoke, with a back-end of sweet and sour sauce, baked beans and damp seaweed. The flavours lingered, with the smoke giving way to ash, ketchup, and spicy sweet and sour sauce. A strange and divisive whisky that I really wasn’t sure about, although I happily sat and sniffed at my glass for ages. It was revealed to be 29.104 – Not For Wee Boys, from Laphroaig, matured for 20 years in a refill sherry butt. A beast of a dram and one that had lost a lot of the typical Laphroaig medicinal nature due to the influence of the sherry wood – interesting and one that I hope to be able to grab a dram of next time I visit.
That was it for another month, although despite there being eight whiskies on the mat there was a trip to the bar downstairs for some more drinks, and a few more people left as members of the SMWS than arrived. December also has two meetups, the Christmas dinner later this week and the ‘everyone brings a bottle’ Whisky Surprise night (still some spaces left), which didn’t get a blog post last year due to the horrific drunkenness I managed to inflict on myself. Keep an eye on the Whisky Squad website for the announcement of January’s sessions, one of which I may have something to do with…
Compass Box Great King Street – The Artists’ Blend
Blended Scotch Whisky, 43%. ~£25 for a 50cl bottle
SMWS 123.6 – Rhubarb and Custard
Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 59.5%. ~£60
Cask Strength and Carry On
Island Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 49.9%. ~£50
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 53%. ~£40
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 40%. ~£35
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 48%. ~£30
Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 57.1%. ~£55
SMWS 29.104 – Not For Wee Boys
Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 58.2%. ~£70