Whisky Squad #33 – Raw Spirit (aka the 2nd Birthday)

How time flies. A mere two years ago I was an occasional drunk who sometimes wrote things up on his blog, who then bumped into Andy and Jason of WhiskySquad at a couple of booze events, leading to my attendance of almost every one of their sessions. These days I’m a professional drunk who still only sometimes writes stuff on his blog, but WhiskySquad has gone from strength to strength. Up to at least two tastings a month and at least three iterations into their website, tickets still sell out quickly and, as a crowning achievement, they’ve even had me along to present an evening. After last year’s shindig there was a standard to be lived up to, so the big guns were rolled out for birthday number two – a matured whisky and new spirit pairing.

Yes, after two years of schmoozing the assembled masses of the whisky industry Andy and Jason managed to lever a number of sample bottles of new make spirit out of the hands of the distilleries for a bit of a special evening – tasting blind, as usual, whiskies and the new make spirits that they started out as.

The pairs were served together, to allow appreciation of the similarities and variances in the aged and unaged spirits. The first new make had a buttery nose, with ground coriander, lemons and yeasty bread. To taste it was sour with crunchy pears and peach. The accompanying aged dram was light and floral on the nose, with sweet grain, hints of sherry and a touch of farmyard. On the palate it remained light, with a little bit of fruit, lots of cream, and some grain. It finished with woody spices and pleasant oak. The mask came off the bottle to reveal that it was Glenmorangie 10 year old. I’d gone for a while without having tasted the 10, but had tried it recently at the Whisky Lounge festival in Brighton (a good time was had, even from behind the Glenmorangie/Ardbeg stand were I was stationed for the day) and was more favourable towards it than I remembered being. It’s light and easy drinking and you can see why they sell so much of it.

The next new make had a slightly fizzy nose, with pear, grain and a little bit of generic fruitiness. To taste it was sweet, with some charcoal and fruit, and a minerally backbone. The whisky had spiced pear on the nose, with caramel digestives, brown bread and browning apples. To taste it was creamy, with cinnamon, sweet and sour apples, woody spice and a touch of linseed oil. It finished with more apples, both flesh and skins. I was quite surprised to guess this correctly, with the label coming off to reveal that it was Glenfiddich 12 year old. As I’ve written before I wasn’t a fan of the distillery until recently, letting the memory of bad old bottles and whisky snobbery get in the way of actually tasting the stuff. I still don’t think it’ll change your life, but it’s a decent dram.

The third new make had a nose of lemony grain, caraway seeds and pungent farmyard – bits of silage and a hint of cowpat. It started off tasting sweet, but quickly faded away to not a lot. The whisky was a different matter, with a spicy nose of sherry fruit, parma violets and iced fruitcake. To taste it was spicy, with apples, spiced spongecake, bananas and a touch of tannin, finishing with more parma violets. This was a bit of a conundrum, with the assumption being that it was a refill sherry cask matured whisky, but the label came off and it was revealed to instead be from the Isle of Arran – a single cask whisky from a bourbon barrel, to be exact. A tasty whisky that showed not only how much the wood lends to the spirit, but also how different every cask can be.

Number four came as a trio rather than a pair, with a mystery dram poured in between the whisky and new make. The spirit had a nose of citrus and caraway, with a hint of coffee ground bitterness. To taste it was very light, with only really a hint of sweet grain, and finished very hot. The second glass had a nose of butter icing and lemon, and a soft creamy taste that continued into the finish – we assumed, correctly, that this had been in a cask for at least some time. The whisky was quite different to the middle dram, with a nose of charcoal dust and sherry, carbonised bacon and young raw spirit. To taste it had sweaty leather, lots of sharp wood, pungent raisins, ground coffee and a lingering finish of new make spirit. The presense of an intermediate dram meant that this wasn’t much of a surprise – it was Glenglassaugh First Cask, a three year old whisky bottled at 59.1% that was some of the first distillate to be produced after the distillery changed hands back in 2008. The middle dram was their Fledgling XB, matured for a year in bourbon and sold as part of their spirit drinks range,. I’ve tried some of the older Glenglassaugh’s and I very much hope that their new spirit continues to develop towards that style, as I wasn’t a fan of the First Cask (or their new three year old Revival).

The next new make was very different – crunchy and green on the nose with pungent grain, and a spicy taste with lots of pear. The whisky was again different, with a nose of balsamic vinegar, raisins, Garibaldi biscuits, marzipan and damp forest floors. To taste it had sour cream and sweet fruit laid against a muddy background, finishing with cream, spice and a touch of menthol. The label came off and the bottle was shown to be Glenrothes 1995, a recent entry into their range of vintages that was bottled last year.

The penultimate new make started our decent into the smokier end of things, with a nose of sour fruit, light smoke and a hint of ham. It was sweet to taste, with mint, hay, tobacco, tea, tar and a young spirit caraway tang. The whisky had smoked peanut butter, coal stoves, lime and brine on the nose. On the palate it had coal dust, mango, sweet spicy fruit, extra strong mints and a burny hit of alcohol. It finished with a sherberty fizz and fizzy fruit chews. The big reveal showed it to be Lg3 from the Elements of Islay range, a rather excellent range bottled by my employers. I can’t possible mention which distillery Lg3 comes from, other than that it is on Islay, but the new make we tried beforehand was from Lagavulin.

The last new make of the night had a nose of smokey limes and a sweet mineral heavy body. The whisky’s nose started out with sweet fruity pip sweets and flowers, and moved on to glacé cherries, medicinal peat, freshly unwrapped bandages, germolene, turkish delight and candied lemons. To taste it had smoky coal, sweet syrup, more flowers, mint and a creamy, oily texture. It finished with the lime and coal smoke of the new make’s nose. For the last time the whisky was revealed and turned out to be Ardbeg 10. I don’t know whether to blame my knackered taste buds but this was not how I remembered Ardbeg 10, with none of the big vanilla that I associate it with coming out, replaced by a much more delicate and interesting set of flavours underneath the smoke. More investigation needed.

Anyways, with the whisky over there was only one thing left to do – eat cake. And cake there was.

Expect more Whisky Squad writeups when I get round to them. There were three sessions in April and I’m already a month behind, but as I’m missing the next one (my second one missed since I started going from #4) I might have a chance to not only finish up but also write about something else for once…

Lack of piccies courtesy of frantic note writing and talking toot with the lovely people of The Squad. Ho hum. Luckily Charly was on hand and took some rather pretty ones – they’re over on her blog.

Glenmorangie 10yo Original
Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 40%. ~£25

Glenfiddich 12yo
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 40%. ~£25

Arran Cask Strength Bourbon (I think this was the 1998)
Island Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 57.8%. ~£45 

Glenglassaugh First Cask
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, CS%. £90 

Glenglassaugh Fledgling XB
Scottish Barley Spirit, 50%.  ~£13 for 20cl

Glenrothes 1995
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 43%. ~£45

Elements of Islay Lg2
Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 58%. ~£45

Ardbeg 10
Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky,  46%. ~£35

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