It’s the end of the year and it seems that buying booze is towards the top of people’s minds. As such I’ve been hidden away at TWE Towers, poking the website, processing orders, picking bottles and generally running around like the famed blue arse fly of proverb. So, now that I’m sat on the sofa in deepest darkest Somerset, have survived Christmas day, am contemplating having another dram and am trying to work out where the warmest spot in the house is without Coronation Street audible, it’s time to catch up on a touch of blogging. First up – the penultimate Whisky Squad of the year.
We were back in The Gunmakers, but in the back room for this, the second Whisky Squad Christmas dinner. Due to Mr Rook claiming that he had ‘work’ or ‘a small child to look after’ or some other rubbish excuse I stepped in to introduce the first few drams until he could make his way over. As such my notes were minimal as I was standing up and getting in the way of a room eating and drinking. Anyways – whiskies:
Hibiki 17 year old – the surprise hit of the Suntory session with Zoran Peric earlier this year, this is the first (that I remember) repeat dram at Whisky Squad and was chosen to go with the first course (soup, pate or smoked salmon). Here are my notes from last time: On the nose it had glue (naturally), maple syrup, apples and custard, and candied lemons – ‘Apple tart with cream’ my notes read. To taste it was generally sweet with butter, sweet apple, vanilla cream and perfumed wood. It’s finish was long and spicy, with green apples and a lightly tannic woodiness hanging around.
Balvenie 21 Port Wood – I’ve spent a lot of the last year drinking Balvenie, so this was quite a fitting next dram for me, matched with the main courses (beef stew, roast chicken or something vegematarian). Annoyingly I don’t have any notes on this, the peril of having drunk it enough that I always assume that I’ve already written them loads of times – here’s some stuff from my unreliable memory. On the nose it’s got the regular Balvenie spice but isn’t quite as heavy as you’d expect from something with 21 years in a port pipe under its belt. To taste it’s got balanced savoury and sweetness, with honey, a bit of sticky red fruit, liquorice and some elegant wood. It’s a tasty dram and works better as a digestif in my opinion, although it happily held up to the beef stew.
Glenisla 1977 / 28 Years Old / Cask #199599 – I think it was this specific single cask bottling, but I didn’t get a chance to note down all the details. However, as soon as I stuck my nose in the glass I sat down and started writing tasting notes – I was trying this one blind (unlike the last two, which I’d been given up heads-up about) and it was unlike anything else I’ve smelled in the world of whisky. Glenisla was an experimental whisky made (I think) just in 1977 at Glen Keith distillery. I’ve heard a few tales about what it actually is, but as far as I can tell it’s a peaty whisky that was made peaty by using heavily peated water in the mash rather than peaty barley. It’s rather rare and there are only a few independent bottlings of it in the wild, so I was rather pleased to get a taste, especially as I’d only learned of its existence about the previous week.
On the nose it started off rhubarb-like, with stewed rhubarb and rhubarb & custard sweets, before moving into much more savoury territory with fresh celery, celery salt and the smell that I always associate with artichokes, despite not having any memory of what artichokes smell like. It went on with unripe figs, and grape juice before taking a weird turn through mushrooms, wet forest floors and rich compost. To taste it started out muddy before the artificial rhubarb from the nose made itself known. From there it went through artificial sweetener and sweet smoke to honey and cloying syrup. It finished with mint and aniseed balls, both hanging around for a little while. A totally strange whisky and one that after a single dram I couldn’t say whether I liked or not. It was also picked out as Gunmakers Landlord Jeff’s favourite whisky of all time. He is a man with strange tastes.
Glendronach 21 year old – ‘Parliament’ – this wasn’t in the originally published version of this post, but when Jason gave me a call to ask whether he had dreamed it or if I had left it out for editorial purposes I thought I’d better do a quick update. I forgot it as I was attempting to get Darren to eat his dinner at the time, although not in a ‘here comes the big airplane!’ style spoon to mouth faux-flying way, as I feel that he is probably a lot more qualified than I in that respect currently. Anyways, the whisky is named for the Parliament of rooks that live in the tree opposite the distillery and in short I rather like it. I even said so in the blog post I wrote for work when I went through a bunch of their whiskies. My tasting notes from then read:
Nose: Sticky black liquorice, dark chocolate, stewed raisins, spiced apple and hints of nuts and marzipan. It’s rich and fruitily sweet rather than syrupy, and it sits on the edge of cloying.
Palate: Rich and bitter sweet, with charcoal and raisins, soured PX and hard liquorice sticks. Water lightens the body and brings out some custard, but leaves the charcoal edge.
Finish: Menthol, ground almonds, woody liquorice root, dry fragrant wood and a lingering edge of marzipan.
The King’s Ginger – as donated by Whisky Squad presenting alumnus and regular attendee Rob Whitehead as a post-prandial dram, this was presented blind and with no comment on the fact that it’s a liqueur rather than a whisky. It was created in 1903 by Berry Brothers & Rudd on commission from King Edward VII, who required a drink to fortify him during his morning car rides. As such it’s sweet and spicy with lots of ginger to ‘keep the blood flowing’. It’s no longer a recommended driving aid but is incredibly popular, with Rob spending much of his time during December handing bottles over the counter at Berrys. On the nose you get a big sugar syrup hit as well as spicy ginger, but it’s not particularly heavy or cloying. To taste the ginger and sweetness is balanced by lemony citrus, although it does have the sticky syrupy finish of many liqueurs as well as a hint of sweet tea. A hit in the room and now on the Christmas list of a number of the attendees.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures of the food or whisky, but here’s the solitary snap I did get – landlord Jeff riding Squad regular (and Christmas fan, as his hat shows) Ross around the room…:
There was also a quiz with less questions than the previous year, winners who didn’t work in the whisky industry and a stack of whisky miniatures as prizes. A good night and a fitting end to the Whisky Squad year. Apart from the final ‘Whisky Surprise’ bring a bottle session, that is…although I suspect that will remain shrouded in mystery (my increasingly drunken notes peter out half way through).
Hibiki 17 year old
Japanese Blended Whisky,43%. ~£70
Balvenie 21 year old Port Wood
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 40%. ~£80
Glenisla 1977 Cask #19959
Experimental Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 50.7%. ~£140
The King’s Ginger
Bespoke Royal Liqueur, 41%. ~£18 for 50cl