Hello. I’m in Scotland, surrounded by snow and equipped with inadequate footwear, a combination of facts that should make post(s) later this week a beacon for schadenfreude tinged enjoyment. Anyways, as whisky distilleries treat weekends in February with appropriate level of contempt (they’re working but don’t open for tourists, as there are only four of us here who want to come and visit, and we’re all sleeping, going to the pub and bemoaning our inadequate footwear) today is a day for writing things, in this case a quick note (edit: quick was the intention, however it didn’t happen) about Whisky Squad #30 – The Management presents.
We were back in The Gunmakers and slightly taken aback by the upstairs room’s transformation – the reorganisation and addition of furniture has created a perfectly sized space for fitting in a whole group of Squadders without resorting to darkened corners or consensual lap sitting. On that latter point we were again bereft of a Darren, as the (obviously minimal, in my unhelpful opinion) effort of setting up a new London distillery meant that he was elsewhere, and I had been promoted/drafted in (my words/Jason’s words) as a member of ‘The Management’ for the session. The conceit this time was simple – Jason, Andy and I had each chosen a pair of drams that we like to present to the group. Andy, competitive chap that he is, also brought in an extra element – at the end of the session a vote would be taken to choose the favourite whisky of the night. As usual the whiskies were tasted blind, and each presenter did some presenting on his whisky, which may have shown a bit more about our competitive nature than was wise.
First up was Andy and his iPod (I think it might have actually been a Zune, the pervert). Taking a leaf from the Book of St Heston he accompanied his presentation with track 47 of ‘Relaxation for Hippies’, or some other such album – The Sound of Breaking Waves. On the nose the whisky was pure toffee popcorn and salted caramel – potentially an aftereffect of having Butterkist for dinner the previous night, or maybe a psychosomatic introduction thanks to Andy’s soundtrack, but in any event it was rather nice. To taste it had more salted caramel, dark wood, lemon and a touch of menthol/liquorice cutting through the sweetness. A drop of water brought out even more caramel, leading into a finish of woody spices and green leaves. A top dram that I’d been looking forward to trying again since seeing the line-up – Arran 10 year old Cask Strength. When I started out on the latest chapter of my whisky obsession a few years back Arran was by far and away my favourite distillery and this dram reminds me why – sweet and spicy but balanced with some darker woody flavours to stop it going over the top.
Next was Jason with a very lightly coloured dram, unaccompanied by music. Jason let on that this was a slightly more difficult to find whisky than the others on the card for the evening as it was a distillery only bottling – an excellent idea by the distillers to almost guarantee a purchase in the giftshop by visiting whisky geeks. This one was selected to be a distillation (pun not intended) of the distillery’s character: On the nose it had fizzy sherbert, dried apple rings, anis, creamy vanilla, alpine scented floor cleaner and a whiff of smoke; to taste it had brine, pepper, chilli, beeswax and candied lemons, with water introducing some tropical fruit Chewitts; it finished with more brine, fragrant wood and liquorice root. This was the dram I was most looking forward to, as it was the only one I’d not tried before and I’m visiting the distillery this week – Clynelish Distillery Only Cask Strength. It’s a vatting which they’ve had on sale their for a few years and I’ll definitely be picking up a couple of bottles – one of them for someone at the session who found out my travel plans.
Next was my first selection, a very different beast to the two previous whiskies, very dark in colour and obviously the product of a sherry cask. On the nose it was massively sherried, with raisins (specifically the sugary ones that you can pick off the top of a fruit cake) and slightly sour wine galore. Along with that there was milk chocolate, the fruit cake that sat under the raisins, custard and cream. TO taste there was medium-sweet oloroso, cream and even more fruit cake, with some anis and menthol balancing the sweetness. It finished with spicy wood, ginger cake and lingering liquorice root. An excellent whisky that I’ve underestimated in the past, prompting my choosing it – Glendronach 15 Revival. I went to a tasting of their range last year (as written about on the work blog) and having pretty much dismissed them beforehand I was shocked by how much I liked their spirit. The current owners haven’t been around that long and have spent the last 6 years investing heavily in excellent casks to bring back the distillery’s former reputation for excellent sherried spirit – from this example it’s certainly paying off.
Number four was Andy’s next selection, another darkly coloured sherry beast. This time it was accompanied by some light jazz and talk of relaxing in leather armchairs around the fire – a suitable atmosphere for the dram. On the nose it had sweet spice, caramel and treacle toffee, an earthy hint of the farmyard, cherries and anis. To taste it was big and spicy, with cinnamon and cloves prickling the tongue. Along with that there were cinnamon danish pastries and dark chocolate leading to a woody and warming finish. I was doing pretty well on whiskies I like at this point, with this one being the first single malt that I knew by name and one that I’ve always had a bottle of in the cupboard until recently, when it was replaced by a single cask Glendronach. It was the most well-known high proof sherry bomb in Speyside, Glenfarclas 105. I first experienced this on my first trip up to Scotland that I can remember – the first holiday to the timeshare resort where I am currently sitting, almost 30 years ago (although the conservatory I’m sitting in now was at the time a wooden terrace generally used for storing sledges and hiding my brother’s mittens). We went to the Glenfarclas distillery for a tour and afterwards my dad tried a dram of the 105. He offered it to the five year old (almost six. It mattered back then) me and I couldn’t get it any closer than a couple of inches from my mouth, the smell was so strong. Happily I’ve got over that youthful physical limitation.
Next on the list was my second contribution – a pale whisky that opened up the third style we would be trying, smoky. Unfortunately I was too busy knowledgeably waffling about the whisky (well, being a bit pissed and drunkenly giving away too much information about it at least) to write tasting notes, so here’s some from last time I tried it:
On the nose it had a sweet peaty, cracked stone minerality and lime – ‘Chopped limes on a muddy pebble beach’ as my notes read. It also had some fresh coal smoke, metallic sardine tins (sardines in oil and not ketchup, of course) and red fruit – a very clean and crisp nose that added a bit of mud as it sat in the glass. To taste there was salted cream, lemons & limes, green wood and pungent Manuka honey leading to a coal fire with an edge of black rubber. It finished with surprisingly fruity strawberries and lime, smoked ham, coal dust and sour lemon infused butter. As that disappeared there was a lingering pepper and black plimsoll rubber.
I don’t remember it being quite so rubbery this time, but to sum up it’s a very clean peaty whisky, with lots of minerality, crisp coal smoke and soft citrus. It was Compass Box’s Peat Monster. I wanted to bring along something different and this was the only non-single malt whisky of the night (as well of one of two non-cask strength ones – the other being my Glendronach). A blended malt with whisky from Laphroaig, Ardmore and Ledaig in the mix, it combines three quite diffent types of peatiness from three quite different areas (although their peated malt could all happily come from the same source – there isn’t much in the way of terroir in malt these days due to the large maltsters supplying most of the industry). It’s not as much of a monster as the name would suggest, but it’s big and smoky but without some of the pungency that puts many off peaty whisky. A great dram, but I would say that.
Last of the night was Jason’s second choice, another peaty dram but one that went towards the darker side of smoky malts. On the nose it started with fresh grass, anis, a hint of metal and waxed fruit (Jason’s note of ‘Tinned fruit salad’ hit the nail on the head), crushed seashells (the clean briney note in the middle of a seafood stock), sweet lime, muddy peat and seaside bonfires. To taste there was more peat than smoke, with a nice earthy base, malt loaf, seaside pebbles, lime skin, gravel and closed cast iron stoves. It finished quite dirty, with gravel, smoky tar and sweet wood. Another interesting dram and, similarly to Jason’s first choice, one that isn’t quite so common – Lagavulin 12 year old (2009 release). Lagavulin is more well known for its 16 year old (one of the most praised of Diageo’s regular bottlings) and a few years ago they started producing a bottling of 12 year old whisky as part of their yearly Special Releases. Most of the other whiskies in the range change yearly, but the Lagavulin has been a constant member since its first appearance as one of the reasonably priced entries in the lineup.
With the drams drunk voting slips were passed around, and an independent adjudication panel (Dave) was set up to count the results and announce the winner. I felt that this was slightly unnecessary, as my agreement with Jason and Andy before the session was that I would happily support the idea of a vote as long as it was fixed such that I won. However, counting done, it was not to be, with Andy’s Glenfarclas 105 taking the (purely honour based) prize for favourite of the night. Dave did a bit more statistical wrangling and pointed out that while the Glenfarclas had won, every whisky we’d tried had been marked as both favourite and least favourite by at least one person within the group. Which was nice.
Anyways, the March St Patrick’s tie-in Irish whisky sessions (including one next week led by m’colleague Tim) are now sold out, as is next weekend’s blending school with Chris Maybin down at Compass Box HQ. As ever keep an eye on the website and Twitter for last minute dropouts, they do sometimes happen.
Arran 10 year old Cask Strength
Island Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 54.1%. ~£45
Clynelish Distillery Only Cask Strength
Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 57.3%. ~£45
Glendronach 15 year old Revival
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 46%. ~£40
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 60%. ~£40
Compass Box Peat Monster
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, 46%. ~£35
Lagavulin 12 year old (2009 release
Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 57.9%. ~£65