With new year comes what is now becoming a tradition for Whisky Squad, in as much as doing something for three years in a row make a tradition – a session in the cellars of Berry Brothers & Rudd with friend of The Squad Rob Whitehead.
On arrival Foursquare informed me that I hadn’t been to Berry’s since January of 2012, when we did our ‘Third Sense‘ session in the Berry’s cellar, which makes me a sad panda – visiting the shop is something I try to do from time to time, despite being able to get most of their spirits at work, simply because it’s rather excellent, from subsiding floor to unalterable English Heritage listed nails (stuck into a Tudor period wall significantly after the time when the wall belonged to one of Henry VII’s hunting lodges), to say nothing of the wine.
Anyways, blatant sycophancy aside, this session was intriguingly called ‘The Brown Spectrum (Volume 3)’, with the Jason B Standing added parenthesis simply to make it sound more like a prog rock album. The plan was simple, as usual – try a selection of Berry’s excellent whiskies while sitting underneath St James’s, this time occupying their Wine School.
The first dram was very light coloured and on first nosing I thought that Rob might have snuck in a ringer – it smelled like tequila. As it sat in the glass it developed into first reposado tequila, then more a smoky mezcal and then finally a crunchy and zesty whisky. It had woody caramel, agave and pepper, green apple, sweet dried apple rings, gummi bears and some vanilla. To taste it was quite different with coal smoke up front, backed up by light liquorice root, woody spice, perfumed wood, sour apple and some floral hints. It finished slightly cardboardy, with apple skin and some lingering coal dust. The woolly bottle sock (Berry’s are much classier than we normally are at Whisky Squad) came off to reveal that this was a Bunnahabhain 1989, bottled at the end of last year and tasted by me previously as part of the BBR TweetTasting back in November. Maturing in a
knackeredrefill cask meant that the peated spirit shone through rather than the wood, giving a fresh tasting dram despite its age. It was whisky of the night at the TweetTasting and was well liked at this session too, although news has got out and apart from a couple of bottles in BBR’s shop it’s sold out.
Whisky number two, as we had confirmed by this point that everything in the ‘official’ tasting lineup would be whisky (although there were two glasses of dark liquid covered by upturned glasses sat at the head of the table waiting for later in the evening), was a bit darker. On the nose it was entirely different to the first, with a nose initially described as ‘tuck shops and Airfix models’ – polystyrene cement, pink shrimp sweets, coconut macaroons, sugar flowers, marzipan, sugared almonds, cocoa butter and creamy custard, getting heavier as it sat in the glass. On the palate it was sweet with apples and custard, apple skin, fruity gummi and hints of violet, and a drop of water brought out some bitter orange while knocking back some of the sweetness. It finished with butter, sweet wood and damp leaves. The sock came off showing that this was a Braes of Glenlivet 1994, bottled in late 2012, that arrived at Berry’s as soon as they reopened after New Year. You don’t see many bottlings of Braes of Glenlivet, often called Braeval these days, and its only the second I’ve tried. I didn’t think much of the last one but I loved this and will be picking up a bottle when it hopefully arrives at work shortly.
Dram number three continued the trend of getting darker and had a nose that changed quite rapidly after pouring. When I first picked up the glass it overpoweringly smelled of digestive biscuits, but while I was finishing the previous whisky that burned off to give caramel, crystallised ginger, spiced apple and a touch of young spirit. On the palate it was oily and creamy, with tingling woody spice, ginger and apples – pretty much a replication of the nose. It finished with woody spice, tannic apple skin, and some lemon zest and pith. A solid whisky, but not quite in the same league as the last couple. The sock came off to show that this was a Caperdonich 1992, another recent release. The distillery was mothballed a while back and has since been pulled down, with pictures posted on Facebook of various Caperdonich fans standing forlornly on the rubble pile. The distillery had quite a lot happen to it in a relatively short time – founded as a sister distillery to Glen Grant in the 1890s it closed after a couple of years when the market crashed; it reopened in the 1960s as Caperdonich; was sold to Pernod Ricard and then mothballed in 2002; in 2010 the site was sold to Forsythe’s, makers of a significant proportion of the whisky in the world, and then demolished to give them more space to expand their workshops. Two of the stills, however, have gone on to better things and are now installed at the Belgian Owl distillery in Wallonia. It’ll be interesting to see what happens from here…
Whisky #4 was again a bit darker and had, yet again, a very different nose the previous drams – green and minerally with new, curled ferns (still my favourite tasting note), Copydex glue, crushed sea shells, shellfish, rock pools and a hint of liquorice. To taste it was very different, with butter, milk chocolate, caramel, smoky tea leaves, touches of brine and a hint of struck match sulphur. It finished with damp wood. The sock was removed and this was shown to be a Tormore 1992, bottled a few years back at 25 years old. I’ve not tried many Tormores, with the last one being a sister cask of this at Rob’s More Whisky Squad session in October. A weird and coastal dram that reminded me of a less smoky version of some old Islays.
The final whisky of the night was very deeply coloured and had a nose of autumn leaf piles, leather horse tack, sugary marzipan, rich and savoury fruit cake, and floral soap. To taste it had floral soap up front, with rich loamy earth, old leather, black treacle, cinnamon sticks and brown sugar. It finished with more floral notes and burnt sugar. I thought this might be a mid-90s Bowmore from a fairly active sherry cask but wasn’t too surprised to see at it was a Jura 1976 when the label was revealed, as I’d tried a sister cask back in November’s tweet tasting with a similar result. As I mentioned back then this is the most expensive whisky that Berry’s have released, at a surprisingly low price of £200 – an official bottling of Jura 1976 came out in 2011 and goes for almost £500.
Whiskies done, attention turned to the covered glasses sat ominously at Rob’s right hand. They contained a very dark liquid and were the basis for a competition – guess the age. There wasn’t enough for a glass each, so they were passed around the table for a nose and sip. It was dark and fruity, with lots of apple and rustic old spirit, so at first I guessed old Armagnac, but after a taste, where the apple character was even more pronounced, I settled on old Calvados. It turned out to be a Cognac from Daniel Bouju, a house who produce against-the-grain cognac, going for a rustic and punchy spirit rather than the elegance that normally defines the category. The age was a the big shock – it was the Resérve Familiale, aged for 80 years (about 50 years in wood and 30 in glass). An impressive and rarely seen style of spirit.
The next Whisky Squad session is being run by me, so there may not be any tasting notes, depending on how much nattering I do, but the February sessions should be going out to the mailing list very soon – the January sessions sold out with even more speed than usual so keep an eye out for the announcement if you want to come along.