Aberlour tasting at The Whisky Exchange

Another month, another interesting tasting at The Whisky Exchange. The main difference this time is that I was actually able to attend rather than gallivanting around in places that weren’t the deepest depths of Vinopolis (which seems to get bigger every time I visit). This month it was the turn of Aberlour, with the tasting led by Phil Huckle, the Chivas brand ambassador who did the Chivas tasting I attended earlier this month.

Aberlour is a Speyside whisky famed for its heavy use of sherry barrels, using them for complete maturation rather than just finishes. Unlike the way that Macallan traditionally operated they do also use bourbon barrels and their standard expressions are 50/50 mixes of bourbon and sherry cask matured whiskies, but there’s still a lot more sherry here than you will often see. The distillery was founded in 1879 by James Fleming, who became well known in Aberlour for his philanthropy, investing heavily in the local community and helping to build up the area. However, this fame was only after his death, as his involvement with his various was made under strict secrecy. The village of Aberlour seems to be more fully known as Charlestown of Aberlour, although the first bit seems to be generally missed out these days, and sits between Grantown and Elgin, in the heart of Speyside. The distillery is part of the Pernod-Ricard portfolio (hence Phil doing the tasting) and while not that well known in the UK is one of the top selling whiskies in the world, topping the charts in the biggest single malt market in the world – France.


First on the tasting mat we had a whisky unavailable in the UK – the Aberlour 10yr old Sherry Cask, a 100% sherry matured whisky that is on sale in France. On the nose it had red fruit, salt and some woody hazelnuts. To taste it was quite different with a caramel sweetness and oak, digestive biscuits, wax and a hint of mint. Water killed a lot of the sweetness, brought out more of the wood and softened some of it into vanilla. A nice sherried Speyside with a lot of the traditional flavours of the region and a distinctive edge to the nose that I am still trying to describe – almost bbq sauce and cold grilled chicken, but not quite…

Next up we had the regular Aberlour 10yr, 50/50 sherry and bourbon casks, and a good way of seeing how the bourbon cask matured whisky affects the sherried whisky. On the nose it was sweeter than the last, with more light sugar, as well as the sherrylike dried fruit. It also had the distinctive bbq chicken smell that I mentioned before, nuts and a chunk of damp sherry barrel. To taste there was waxed wood obscuring some of the fruit and a soft spiciness. There was also a perfumed flavour not unlike Mr Sheen but, to quote Anna, in a good way. Water added creaminess and bitter oak while dropping a lot of the perfume and starting sweetness, but pushing some dried fruit to the finish. A rounded dram that definitely improves on the raw sherry cask by bringing in some of the lighter bourbon barrel influence.

Next was the Aberlour 12yr, another 50/50 mix with a noticeably deeper bronzey gold hue. On the nose it was quite different to the earlier ones, with a savoury edge, sour cherries and an underlying meatiness. To taste it was quite creamy leading to sweet berries, spice and a woody finish. It also had a cooling menthol flavour that dried the edges of the tongue. Water made it chewier with more cream, vanilla, woody spice, dried fruit and a dry stony ‘granite’ flavour. Definitely developed from the 10yr, there’s quite a bit more complexity to this one and a drop of water really opens it up.

We then moved on to what Phil predicted would be the star of the night, even if not his personal favourite – The A’bunadh. Meaning ‘origin’ in gaelic, it is a no age statement whisky (although generally made up of 8-15 year old whiskies with occasional younger additions) designed with the idea of recreating a victorian style – fully sherried due to the non-availability of bourbon casks in those times. It’s unchillfiltered and contains no caramel, the first of which, at least, is not true about the rest of the range, and is released in small batches, each numbered, which vary in flavour – we tried batch 30, the most recent one, which has just started hitting the shelves. On the nose there was the regular distinctive Aberlour-ness, although not quite so pronounced as usual, masked by sherried fruit, glace cherries and creamy creme brulee. In the mouth it was oily and exploded with nutmeg. Once you got over that (and there was a lot of nutmeg) there was honey and a long spicy finish, with more nutmeg. Water, and it can take a lot, calmed things down a bit, bringing out chocolate on the nose and a chocolate milkshake creaminess to the body. There was more fruit and spice as well as a tannic woody finish. In the middle it quite reminded me of lardy cake, which reminds me – I need to find a supplier of lardy cake… Phil was right – this was definitely the star of the show for me, especially as I can grab it at my local (posh) supermarket.

Next was the Aberlour 16yr, continuing the standard range with a slightly darker colour and evolution of flavour. On the nose it had the normal bbq chicken woodiness but it was very light, with much more in the way of grapes, caraway, red fruit and a hint of butteriness – like something a lot closer to new make spirit than something that’s been in the barrel for a decade and a half. To taste it was very creamy, with sweet vanilla complimented by bitter wood, red grapes and mint, with a tannic finish. Water brought out vanilla to go with the cream, a lemony zing and cinnamon. Not what I expected at all, a much lighter flavoured and more zingy dram.

The last on the mat was the Aberlour 18yr, a deep reddy gold dram that almost rivalled the darkness of the A’bunadh. On the nose it had fruit, heavy cream, prickly spice and the bbq chickeny wood that I now expected. To taste it was quite soft, with creamy wood and a dry toasted wood finish. The middle was filled with apples and pears with cinnamon, along with the toasted finish it was almost like drinking apple pie. Water knocked out the complexity very quickly, giving rise to icing sugar sweetness, vanilla wood and leaving a touch of apple. Phil’s favourite of the evening and well appreciated by many in the room, this was interesting but a bit light for my, by this time, rather deadened palate. Definitely one to try again.

As a special treat Phil also managed to dig up a couple of more rare whiskies to round off the night, first of which was an Aberlour 23yr old single bourbon cask bottling, distilled in 1985 and one of the single casks that you can pick up at the distillery itself (although this one is probably now finished). On the nose this was light with apples, cream and freshly cut oak trees. To taste it was creamy with more apples, wood, vanilla and some hints of spice and nuts – like a very light fruit cake. Water seemed to intensify things, with it becoming apple pie and cream, with a cereal hint pointing to pastry. It was still very lightly flavoured and a hint of citrus helped it along to a woody finish. A beautiful light dram and one that you can imagine taming some of the sherry punch of the 10yr sherry cask and A’bunadh into something more approaching the regular house style.

Last of the evening was a cask sample of 26 year old sherry cask, at cask strength. Being only a small sample there wasn’t quite enough to go round, leading to a quiz with correctly called out answers earning a generous dram. Fortunately my attendance and remembering things from the earlier Chivas Regal tasting helped out, with my correctly identified home city of the Chivas brothers grocery store (Aberdeen) winning me a slug of deep golden spirit. On the nose it was quite overpowering with toffee apples and sulphorous wood, and tasting it was an eye-watering experience with the alcoholic strength backed up with strong flavours of caramel, toast and wood. It was powerfully tannic, taking your breath away and leaving the tongue drying, but it also had quite a hollow taste, with almost everything happening on the front, back and edges of the tongue, with a gap in the center. Water, and as expected it could take a lot, calmed things down, bringing out leather, salt, caramel and softer tannins, with a hint of rubber running down the middle. An interesting whisky but one that shows more what using a sherry cask for too long can do rather than one that you’ll want to drink a lot of.

An interesting tasting, despite my not being won over by the regular range. Finally having got a taste of the A’bunadh I can see why it was recommended as an alternative to the now increasingly scarce Yamazaki Sherry Cask that I served at my last whisky tasting – it has the rich sherried flavours, but also more wood than the Yamazaki, which becomes interesting when you add water. I also saw quite how far into the more overpowering ends of the flavour spectrum things can go, with the 26 year old cask sample being too much for even my sherry loving tastes, blasting through my fatigued palate and definitely ending my chances of tasting anything else – the comment I made about it on connosr was that it was like “being hit in the face with an oar after rowing over a lake of sherry”. However, I suspect a bottle of the A’bunadh will be appearing on my shelf soon enough.

Aberlour 10yr Sherry Cask
Speyside single malt scotch whisky, 40%. Available in France.

Aberlour 10
Speyside single malt scotch whisky, 40%. ~£20, available in Waitrose.

Aberlour 12
Speyside single malt scotch whisky, 40%.

A’bunadh batch 30.
Speyside sherry cask single malt whisky. No age statement (approx 8-15).
59.8%. ~£35, available from Waitrose.

Aberlour 16
Speyside single malt scotch whisky, 40%. ~£40

Aberlour 18
Speyside single malt scotch whisky, 40%. ~£45

Aberlour 23year old single bourbon cask
Speyside single malt scotch whisky, 47.6%. ~£125, available from the distillery (although this specific barrel has probably run out)

Aberlour 26year old single sherry cask
Speyside single malt scotch whisky, ~60%. Not commercially available

Cooley Whiskey tasting at Whisky Lounge London

It’s a busy time of year for a man with a booze related mission, such as myself. All of a sudden tastings and shows are appearing from the woodwork, and last Saturday allowed me to combine both of those into one event – Whisky Lounge London. My tasting notes from the show floor are fairly worthless (although they may make a very brief appearance in a Quick Tastings, if I can decipher them) but I also signed up for the first event of the day, a tasting of Cooley whiskeys.

Cooley is the only independent distiller in Ireland, having been founded (as the traditional anecdotal story states) by some guys sitting in the pub and wondering why there were so many scotches and not as many Irish whiskeys. Despite having been much more popular than scotch during the first half of the 1900s the trials of two wars and prohibition took their toll on the sale of Irish whiskey and production shrunk down to only one working distilling concern, doing the distilling for all of the various Irish brands. In 1987 Cooley started up distilling on the Cooley peninsula and since then has also picked up the Kilbeggan distillery, claimed as the oldest working distillery in the world. They put out their whiskey under the names of older, now defunct, whiskey brands, with the core range consisting of whiskeys from Greenore, Tyrconnell, Kilbeggan and Connemara, not necessarily matching up the styles with the older versions (most of which are now forgotten) but doing something different with each brand.

Irish whiskey is currently one of the biggest growing segments of the global spirits market, with Pernod-Ricard pushing Jameson heavily in the US and Tullamore Dew (the second biggest selling Irish worldwide) recently being sold to William Grant & Sons for a respectable £260million. Ireland is a country with whiskey brands owned by holding companies with contract distilling along with the big boys, Diageo and Pernod-Ricard, owning most of the production facilities – there are no other independents and much of the tradition of making spirit seems to have been lost. It’s a very different environment to that on the other side of the Northern Channel and one that Cooley seem to be doing well in.

GreenoreThe tasting was led by Stephen Teeling, part of the family who own the distillery, who’s based in London and seems to wander the country telling everyone how great Cooley whiskey is. I may be jealous. We were presented with 6 whiskies from the Cooley stable, showing the range of what they make. First up was a ‘welcome dram’ to keep us going while Stephen, by his own admission and in stereotypical Irish style, talked a lot. This was the Greenore Single Grain.It’s aged for at least 8 years and is currently the only commercially available Irish single grain. It’s made with 99% corn, rather than the cheaper grains you can often find in grain whisky, and matured in barrels from Heaven Hill in the US. On initial release they ran out due to an underestimation of demand, as there was no other product like it in the market, and I can see why. On the nose it’s quite perfumed but with the underlying alcohol kick that seems to be a trademark of grain whiskies. When you get over the punch to the back of the nose things calm down with roses and vanilla wood coming through. To taste it was light and sweet, with pear drops, rose water, boiled sweets and white chocolate, fading to a cereal finish. With water it became more sparkly, with vanilla and fizzy Refreshers with some apple appearing in the finish. To spoiler the rest of the article, this was my favourite of the day and I bought a bottle of it from their stand lateron. An excellent summer whiskey that would probably work when slightly chilled…maybe even with a piece of ice.

Next up was the Kilbeggan 15 year old, a premium blend named for the Kilbeggan distillery that is Cooley’s second production location. It’s also the more picturesque of the two distilleries, with the one at Cooley being a hard hat wearing industrial plant rather than the prettier Kilbeggan, which is also the site of the main visitor centre. The distillery, formerly known as Locke’s Distillery, is ‘the oldest licensed distillery in the world’, with their 1757 certificate hanging on site, and runs with a still bought from Tullamore, which is the oldest still in operation in Ireland – they are definitely pushing the oldness angle. The whiskey is a blend with a 35/65 malt/grain split, all aged for at least 15 years. It’s a premium blend (coming in at over £50) with an aggressively large bottle designed to stick out on the back bar – flat and wide with the name writ large. The aggressiveness doesn’t carry over into the spirit, however, with its style being similar to that of other premium blends – easy drinking and not too challenging. On the nose there is toffee as well as some of the floralness of the Greenore, a common note in Irish whiskeys we were told. To taste it’s soft with more toffee, flowers, a hint of the grain sweetness and some orange fading to a bitter finish. Water brings out more fruitiness and wood as well as amplifying the grain flavours. A good easy drinking blend, but not one that I’d spend £50 on (although my drinking companion eagerly grabbed a bottle).

We next moved on to the malts, starting with the Tyrconnells. Tyrconnell was at one point the biggest selling Irish whiskey in the world but, as with the industry in general, has now faded into memory. The first of the two we tried was the Tyrconnell Single Malt – a no age statement whiskey matured in Heaven Hill barrels for at least 5 years, with some 7 year and older whiskeys also in the mix. On the nose it’s salty with a some meaty umami, a hint of toffee and some sherbet citrus. To taste it’s lighter than the nose suggests with grass, apples, cereal, some aquavit-like caraway and a strangely meaty finish. Water opens it up with more sweetness but also enhances the savoury note that runs through it – chicken sherbet? One to try again.

photo1Next was the Tyrconnell 10 yr old Madeira Finish – one of several whiskies in their wood finish collection. On the nose this was sweet with caramel and maybe a hint of acetone. To taste it was much more savoury, with red peppers and red berries. A touch of water unlocked some of the more traditional finish flavours, with vanilla, cinnamon and fruit through to a woody finish. The flavour didn’t dim much with water and it could take quite a bit before tasting dilute – an interesting and tasty whisky.

We then moved on to the more unique Connemara whiskeys – peated irish. With Ireland’s overly egged reputation of being one big peat bog you might expect there to be more peated Irish whiskey, but with the contraction in the market decisions were made and the older peated styles died out completely. Connemara is Cooley’s attempt to bring back some of the older flavours as well as having something that might compete favourably with the peaty Scottish malts. The first one on the table was the regular Connemara Peated – peated to 20-24ppm, roughly equivalent to having the malt smoked for a day, and with no age statement. On the nose there is sweet peat with crisp granite hint to the smokiness. To taste it has a light peatiness with a sweet malty middle and a peaty finish, although it doesn’ t have much to it (this could well be a sign of palate fatigue). With water it sweetens and there’s more fruit, but otherwise it maintains the peat/malt/peat profile of the un-diluted dram. Not my favourite, although maybe a good introductory whisky to someone who wants to explore peat.

The last whiskey of the tasting was the Connemara Limited Edition Sherry Cask, 9-15 year old whiskey finished for 24 months in Oloroso sherry casks. The nose was interesting with caramel, salt, old apples and, as one would hope, a hint of peat. To taste it had a fruitcakey base mixed with flinty peat smoke which prickled across the tongue. Water calmed things down a bit bringing out orange and frothy icing sugariness. Another interesting dram, and one I’d like to try again.

Since I heard of Cooley last year (rather than just the names of their whiskies) I’ve seen nothing but praise for their company and the whiskies they produce. They seem to be accumulating awards by the barrowful, with Kilbeggan recently picking up the IWSC Best Irish Blend award and Malt Advocate naming Cooley 2010 Distillery of the year, and it seems to be well deserved, with a wide range of interesting and tasty whiskey. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Greenore Irish Single Grain
8 years old, 40%. ~£30 per bottle

Kilbeggan 15 year old
Blended irish whiskey, 40%. ~£60 per bottle

Tyrconnell Irish Single Malt Whiskey
No age statement, at least 5 years old, 40%. ~£25 per bottle

Tyrconnell 10yr old Madeira finish
Irish single malt whiskey, 46%. ~£45 per bottle

Connemara Peated Irish Single Malt Whiskey
No age statement, 40%. ~£30 per bottle

Connemara Limited Edition Sherry cask
No age statement, 9-15 years, 46%. ~£50 per bottle

Keep an eye out for other events from Whisky Lounge – the show was quite small but perfectly formed, with a big range of whisky producers and some very interesting drams to taste. Eddie Ludlow, Mr Whisky Lounge, puts on events all around the country and I’ll certainly be along when I next find the time to do so.

Whisky Blending Class with John Glaser

I like the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Not only do they allow me to claim that I’m ‘off to my club’ of an evening and there-in drink interesting whiskies, but they also put on events. I may have failed to attend an event for the last 2.5 years, but this most recent one gave me the kick I needed to book a place – an evening of learning about whisky blending with John Glaser of Compass Box. I’m quite interested in whisky blending, as I’ve increasingly noticed decent ones over the years and have come to realise that ‘blend’ doesn’t equal Bells and friends. As Compass Box seem to be the name in boutique blending, hearing from their founder about his views on blending was high on my list.

The evening was centred around making our own blended whisky but first we got to hear about the Compass Box approach to blending and taste a few samples of finished whiskies, all of which are no longer available (either by being discontinued or having their recipes noticeably changed). First up was an early version of Asyla, the ‘standard’ Compass Box blend, from August 2002. It’s 50% grain whisky, from the Cameron Bridge and (now closed) Cambus distilleries, and 50% malt, with the malt coming mainly from Linkwood with a bit of Glen Elgin and Cragganmore. The big noted difference about this whisky is that all of its components come from first fill barrels (an uncommon enough situation that it may well be the first modern commercial bottling to have done so), so have taken on more of the wood characteristics than they would have in a more reused barrel. On the nose it’s quite light with fruit, pepper and some vanilla, and to taste it has bananas, green apples and a touch of caramel, with a rubbery finish – very nice but maybe a bit light for me. The recipe has changed over the years, with availability issues meaning that the Linkwood has been slowly replaced by Teaninich over the years to today’s no-Linkwood version. The theory behind it is quite simple though – grain for vanilla sweetness, Linkwood/Teaninich for perfumed fruitiness, Glen Elgin for some more fruit and Cragganmore for a ‘meatiness’. The main difference between this strategy for blending and the big batch blends is that generally Compass Box aim to take a single whisky and build the flavour around it – in the case of the Asyla it’s the Linkwood/Teaninich flavour that is complimented by the light grain flavours and the slightly more obvious (hence their smaller concentration) Glen Elgin and Cragganmore influences – rather than build consistency and ‘complexity’ by adding lots of whiskies together.

Next on the sample list was Juveniles, named for the Juveniles wine bar in Paris. This one comes in at 44% (as requested by the owner of Juveniles, to be ‘like the elephant gun’), was bottled in 2002 or 2003 and is now discontinued. This one is built around Clynelish, a whisky whose name appears quite often when John talks about his recipes. It provides a waxy, oily fruitiness as a base which is then built on with Glen Elgin, for fruit, and Glen Ord, for some smokiness – it’s about 1/3rd of each, all first fill again. On the nose it’s oily with pepper and red fruit and to taste it has that oiliness along with a chunk of smoke and fruit, finishing off with charcoal.

Last of the pre-blended whiskies was Eleuthera, which I am quite pleased to have got a miniature of from John’s sample sack, which has also now been discontinued. It’s one of Compass Box’s attempts to make an easy drinking but still smoky whisky, like the Peat Monster in idea but not quite as peaty. It’s 80% Clynelish (1/2 first fill and 1/2 refill) with 20% Caol Ila to add some smokiness, as a little bit of Caol Ila goes a long way. On the nose it has sweet peat, salt, pepper and a little bit of fruit. To taste it has warm smoke, woody spiciness and a some nice fruitiness. It’s rather good and one that I wish I’d found before it disappeared.

Next we moved on to the task for the evening – making our own whisky. We were told to think about what sort of dram we wanted to make and were let loose upon tasters of our 5 potential components:

  • Port Dundas – grain from a recently closed distillery, made in 1991 and recently drawn from the barrel. On the nose it had vanilla, coconut and biscuits, and added toffee and caramel in the quite delicate taste, giving a combined effect of fruity caramel digestives. Which was really very nice indeed.
  • Clynelish – a predictable addition to the list and very welcome, this was provided by the SMWS rather than from the Compass Box stocks – it was very good, with John expressing disappointment that the society didn’t have a spare bottle to sell him. On the nose it was salty with sour fruit and sherbert lemons, with the taste turning towards salty preserved lemons. Water brought our a fragrant wood polish flavour and some spice.
  • An unnamed vatted malt – from the Compass Box stash, this was a barrel with new wood french oak heads that will go on to make up Spice Tree, a mix of Clynelish, Teaninich and Dalhuaine. It had a bit of sweetness and caramel on the nose but opened up to a rich woody sweetness with dried fruit on the taste. Water worked well, bringing out vanilla from the wood and a chunk of spiciness. If Spice Tree tasted more like this then I suspect I would have a case hidden somewhere in the house (I got a chance to taste one of the older Spice Trees later on and it did used to taste more like this, but they are now moving towards a more refined style which while very nice isn’t quite as much to my rather unrefined taste).
  • Ardmore – aged somewhere between 10 and 13 years this was brought in as a potential peaty element. On the nose it had salty wood and tasted of smoky fruit. Water softened the smoke and brought out some vanilla. Nice, but not one for my blend.
  • Laphroaig – an 11 year old that Compass Box have held for a number of years (and that was lovely at 7 years old) this was our more extreme peaty component. It smelled of sweet mulched peat and had a flinty peaty taste. A nice Laphroaig, but a bit of a beast.

Billy's BlendI decided to pinch the idea from some of the Compass Box range and build my blend around Clynelish, bringing in some of the sweetness from the Port Dundas and then ‘enriching’ it with the Spice Tree. Armed with the idea, a pipette and a measuring cup I did a few test drams, gradually dialling out the Spice Tree until it didn’t come through too much. I ended up with 50% Port Dundas, 45% Clynelish and 5% Spice Tree, although as there was a little bit of space in the top of the bottle still there may be a little bit more spice tree in the mix than that suggests.

On the nose it has bananas, pineapple, candied fruit and a hint of salt. To taste it starts with a burst of red fruit and moves on to tropical fruit with a vanilla-y wood finish. A drop of water changes things quite a bit, with some more oiliness appearing on the nose and in the taste, along with a rubberiness to the finish. Unsurprisingly, I rather I like it, almost as if someone made it just for me. John advised us to leave it for a few weeks and then to try it again as the flavours should develop – I’ve always been slightly dubious about this, but I’ll give it a go and report back…

Anyways, a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I must remember to keep an eye on the events list – there’s been a change of manager at the SMWS London rooms (with former boss man Darren now at Master of Malt) and it looks like there might be some interesting things coming up.

Eastercon Whisky Tasting with Iain Banks

Being a science fiction fan I spent the long easter weekend just gone hidden away in hotel by Heathrow airport attending Eastercon, the yearly british sci-fi convention. While the con committee managed to rustle up a bar full of London Pride and Old Rosie (even if the cider did its traditional thing and disappeared a lot faster than the bar staff expected) the other bars were fairly lacking in interesting booze. I continued my habit of drinking through the most interesting whiskies that they had (knocking back some Glenkinchie, Knockando and Caol Ila) but one program item above all caught my eye – a whisky tasting with Iain Banks.

IMG_4791Mr Banks is one of my favourite authors, not only for his excellent regular fiction and SF but also for his other book – Raw Spirit. It may claim to be a book about whisky, but the main things I remember are a page of waxing lyrical about Chateau Musar (which I now try and keep at least one bottle of in the house at all times) and many more passages about how much fun it is to drive around the great wee roads of Scotland in a Land Rover. However, the book is one of the things that kicked me into trying to explore non-beery boozes and also to write about it, so obtaining a spot on the whisky tasting became a mission. I foolishly turned up several hours before sign up to make sure I got one of the 15 spots only to find that a) noone was queuing at 8am and b) noone was awake at 8am. However, a queue did appear at about 9am and as number 4 in line I got on the list.

We convened later that day for the tasting, led by a panel including Iain Banks and Liz Williams, two of the convention’s guests of honour, with an original plan of going through six whiskies: a lowland, a highland (although one on the edge of speyside), two speysides and a pair of Islays.

First up was Auchentoshan 12 year old, our easy drinking lowland to lull the non-whisky drinkers into a false sense of security. I’ve not tried the regular Auchentoshan before (this having replaced the previous standard 10 year old expression), although I did work my way quite happily through a bottle of their Three Wood a few years back. This is a unique distillery in that it distills its spirit three times, rather than the standard twice of the other distilleries in Scotland. On the nose the whisky was quite strong, with a touch of vanilla and quite a slug of alcoholically themed scents – pear drops, lighter fluid and a hint of acetone, although I suspect that part of that was from the use of plastic cups and my already setting in con tiredness. To taste it was not as light as I expected, with a chunk of wood and tannin softening into vanilla and a touch of honey. A drop of water opened up the sweetness into a more honeyed caramel and revealed a touch of smoke, fruit stones and linseed oil as it developed in the glass. Definitely one to let sit with a drop of water in, it mellowed into rather an interesting dram over a few minutes.


Iain Banks is quite well known for his ability to spin a yarn in person as well as on paper and in between whiskies there was a touch of discussion and story telling, even if it did inevitably splinter into 10 conversations as the booze started to settle in. It seems that I was not the only one to notice a hint of the petrolhead in Raw Spirit, but Banks has started to tone down his car collection due to a touch of green guilt. The Land Rover and fast cars seem to have disappeared to be replaced by first a hybrid and now a diesel, a tale accompanied by a slightly sad tone to his voice.

Next we moved to the highlands for the Dalwhinnie 15 year old. One of my fall back malts this is one that I know well, having visited the distillery a few times and had numerous bottles in my cupboard as a drink I know I like. On the nose there’s a touch of smoke and a sweetness that turns into fruit salad chews in the mouth. It also has a peppery prickle on the tongue and a bit of toffee. Water evens out the smoke a touch, letting a bit of the fruitiness come out.

Hiding at the back of the audience, behind the lucky people who got the drinking passes, was a lady who works in the perfume industry and as a discussion of flavours and scents flourished she chipped in with some interesting thoughts from a different but very similar industry. As we started describing the flavours of the whiskies, and comparing them to the traditionally flowery tasting notes, the inevitable contradictions started to appear. There are many reasons for this, with two main points coming up. Firstly the physical limitations of smell, from genetic heritage governing sensitivity to certain chemical compounds, to just the fact that over time (and with age) the senses start to dim, leading to them being less overpowered when you experience a strong flavour such as whisky. Secondly the role that experience plays in both forming sense memories and retrieving them, leading to flavours that may not perfectly line-up but mean something to the individual.

Next on the list was our next speyside – Glenlivet French Oak. This, like Macallan, is one of those whiskies that I kept meaning to get round to again – a big name that I assume I know the taste of, but don’t actually remember. The French Oak is yet another whisky that uses a bit of new wood in its production – a proportion of the blend of malts has been matured in new Limousin oak casks. On the nose it had vanilla and red fruit but became a bit more complicated in the mouth, with a malty sweetness, creaminess and a hint of smoke. A touch of water turned up the heat and added some more wood to the flavour but turned down both creaminess and sweetness. A much more interesting dram than I expected, especially with the creamy mouth feel that the oak brought, but one to drink at bottle strength.

It was about this point in proceedings that you could tell you were at a convention that attracted some people with a knowledge of science. Led by the perfumer a discussion started about the biology of scent detection, with the traditional lock and key explanation (certain ‘shaped’ chemicals clicking into similarly shaped receptors to produce nerve impulses) being questioned as current research suggests that similarity in the shape of chemicals doesn’t always lead to similar tastes. There is also some difficulty in doing experimentation on this as imaging people’s brains in controlled and repeateable conditions is not trivial, especially as everyone’s brain is wired somewhat differently leading to different areas ‘lighting up’ with the same flavour in different people. There’s rather a lot to the science of flavour…

Next was the first of our cask strength whiskies, bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society – 24.106: Discordant Staves. It’s a 12 year old Macallan which I assume was matured in one of their regular sherry casks. On the nose it was fruitcakey with a thick caramel sweetness, but on tasting a lot of the cake fell away to give a sweet, slightly oily dram with hints of raisins and a touch of rubberiness running through the middle. A rather different flavour to the other Macallan’s I’ve tried recently and one that has pushed them towards the top of my ‘taste these when they arrive at the SMWS’ list.

Our discussions about flavours and experiences led to how we decide on what a ‘good’ whisky is. In the end a large part of that seems to come down to the associations that the whisky had. Liz Williams had a fondness for Glenfiddich, as it’s what her dad drinks, other people had drinks that they’d had a weddings or parties. When ‘researching’ (the quotes were explained as being implicit in all mentions of the word) Raw Spirit, Iain Banks actually did very little drinking at the distilleries – as the main driver he ended up buying a bottle from every distillery he visited for later sampling at home. However, he mentioned that one of his favourite whiskies was an Ardbeg, one that he tried at the distillery. The experience of drinking a one of a kind barrel, since sold to someone else, standing beside the distillery as the sun sets over the sea is an experience I can see sticking with you, especially if it’s a good dram.

Suitably, our next whisky was Ardbeg 10 year old. Ardbeg’s a bit on the up at the moment, with a lot of their limited production being snapped up quite quickly. I’ve not tried it since I met up with some friends a couple of years back to drink our way through the rather complete range that Adam had ‘accidentally’ bought while leafing through the Ardbeg web store. The 10 year old is the standard expression and it shows the distillery’s nature quite well. On the nose it has a strong peatiness, moving into a cattle feed and mulchy sweetness. On the tongue the smoky peat taste continues to dominate, with woody sweetness, a thick rubberiness and a slightly buttery taste combining to make a rather nice whisky. It’s not one for the fainthearted, with the TCP-like taste of the very peaty Islay whiskies shining through, but if you like that sort of thing it won’t disappoint.

By this time conversation was getting a bit confused – it’s quite surprising how many people can get a decent sized shot out of a bottle of whisky… We quickly moved on to our final dram in the tasting, another SMWS cask strength bottling, this time of a Laphroaig29.80: Wedding Cake in a Coal Sack. Laphroaig’s reputation preceded it, which made this dram a bit of a sheep in wolf’s clothing – a stealth whisky. Rather than the regular TCP, sea spray and peat that you’d expect, I got hint of burnt matches on the nose, along with a rich fruity sweetness. To taste it continued the nose with ash, citrus and dried fruit all coming through. A drop of water removed little, adding a taste of coal and a slightly socky tint. A very interesting whisky, not at all what we expected and a good one to finish the tasting.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your state of inebriation, a few of us had brought along a few samples of our own. 1/2r Cruttenden brought along a bottle of the St George’s English whisky, which very quickly was accepted into the running order as a final drink of the session. This is part of the first release, at 3 years old, with the distillery having released ‘Chapter X’ bottlings every six months over the maturation of the spirit. It’s only a limited release as they want to mature it a bit longer, a decision I thoroughly agree with. The whisky is obviously very young, with only a little of the wood’s flavour penetrating the spirit, leaving it with a definite hint of aquavit and caraway seed. However, it is a very smooth whisky with an incredibly thick and creamy mouth feel that makes me want to get my name on the waiting list for new bottles. There is also a peated version coming out in the summer which seems to be preferred by many, so I may have to look into obtaining a bottle. For scientific purposes, of course.

On top of that I tried a drop of my own Yamazaki Sherry Cask, still as good as ever, and a big sip of some 18 year old Bladnoch that was more fully flavoured than any lowland I’ve tried in a long time – another to move back up the tasting list.

A fun tasting with some fun stories, interesting science and some rather tasty whiskies. Well worth queuing up for…


Auchentoshan 12 year old
Single Lowland Malt Scotch Whisky, 40%, ~£30

Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old
Single Highland Scotch Whisky, 43%, ~£30

Glenlivet French Oak Reserve
15 year old Single Speyside Malt Scotch Whisky, 40%, ~£30

SMWS 24.106 Discordant Staves
Single Cask Macallan Single Speyside Malt Scotch Whisky, 58.9% (Sold out)

Ardbeg 10 Year Old
Single Islay Malt Scotch Whisky, 43%, ~£40

SMWS 29.80 Wedding Cake in a Coal Sack
Single Cask Laphroaigh Single Islay Malt Scotch Whisky, 52.7% (Sold out)

Vodka Tasting at Bob Bob Ricard

The lovely people of Qype, especially organisatrix extraordinaire SianySianySiany, have looked after me again, this time be helping with one of my missions for the year: learning more about vodka – somehow I managed to wangle may onto one of Bob Bob Ricard‘s rather exclusive vodka tastings. At first I felt this rather strange as I’d thought that BBR was a english restaurant with a continental twist, but after a few minutes talking to Richard Howarth, the Ricard of the name, I discovered the error of my ways – Bob, the other owner, is actually a chap by the name of Leonid whose Russian influence is the twist on the restaurant that I’d assumed to be from a bit further west. Part of Bob’s introduction of Russian culture into the fabric of the restaurant is his love of vodka, hence the freezer (chilling the vodkas to -18°C), selection of zakuski (Russian nibbly food) and, following on naturally, this tasting.

BBR Vodka Tasting We started off with BBR’s signature cocktail – a Pink Rhubarb Gin and Tonic. It was both sweet and tart, with a slug of rhubarby goodness running through it, and topped with a fairly stiff head that we assumed to be under the influence of egg white. For a G&T it wasn’t at all fizzy, which is good as I suspect that making it gassy wouldn’t have worked. We asked a waitress about the preparation and after a quick disappearance to consult with the bar she came back with a rough recipe: add rhubarb and sugar to Bombay Sapphire and heat until things are about to start bubbling; turn off the heat and leave overnight; strain the liquor to give a rhubarb infused gin; mix with tonic and ice, shake and serve. The egg whitey head is actually brought about the high sugar content and our theories of rhubarb syrups were all shown to be rather pedestrian – a nice drink with an impressive effort behind it.

The plan for the tasting was to try five vodkas, each with a different piece of zakuski. At this point the difference to a whisky or wine tasting became apparent – the vodka wasn’t particularly meant to be tasted. Very specifically, the history of vodka production has involved continued refinement of the process to try and remove more and more of the bad products of distillation, giving as clean and light a taste as possible (as well as minimal headaches and a continued ability to see) – cheap vodkas may taste of petrol cut with meths, but expensive ones will barely taste at all. Luckily Leonid was away for the day and Richard was not quite as harsh a tasting master as his colleague rumoured to be, allowing me to have a bit of a sniff and sip as long as I knocked back a chunk of the booze, as is the Proper Way Of Doing Things.

First up we had a Kauffman Special Selected Vintage 2006 – Kauffman’s vodka is made using grains of a specific year, hence the use of a vintage in the description, and produced in very small batches. As with wine, certain years are said to have produced especially good vintages, with 2003 and 2006 being singled out recently. That said, they haven’t been producing the spirit for long, with their website only listing the 2002, 2003 and 2005 vintages. A quick knock back of the first half the glass showed a surprising smoothness, with a fairly even distribution of flavour, a good mouthfeel and a nice warmth (rather than burn) on the way down. A bit more of a sip and savour revealed a honeyed sweetness across the whole tongue and a long grainy finish.

Next we followed along the range with a taste of the Kauffman Private Collection Luxury Vintage 2003, a name with way too many qualifiers in it for my liking. This was one of 25,000 bottles to be produced from the harvest (the Special Selected Vintages run to about 45,000) and was the most expensive vodka of the afternoon, coming in at about £12 a shot on the BBR menu. The initial chuck down the throat gave a more aquavit-y sensation, with the centre of the tongue going almost untouched by taste, with a bit more of a sensation down the throat and a gentle warming feeling spreading out across the chest. With a bit more of a swill around the mouth the centre of the tongue stayed unworried, but a pleasant pepperiness crept across the sides of the tongue to go with a sweetness similar to the 2006. Very clean tasting, I can see why this is a favourite amongst ‘real’ vodka drinkers.

BBR Vodka TastingAfter these two we took a break for food, as previous tastings had seen a marked decline in tasters who drank through without a break. Accompanying the first two vodkas we’d had jellied ox tongue with quails eggs and horseradish (which I thought was excellent, despite the jelly fear in some of the other tasters – the horseradish was especially good and quite happily edible on its own with a long spoon), and salmon roe on hard-boiled quail’s eggs (which, due to a rather serious love of big roe, happily went down my neck). We were now confronted with some slightly larger dishes to share, with the week’s special of scallop, black pudding and cox’s apple with watercress and chives (not my fave – a bit too dry a black pudding for my liking, although Richard did say that they deliberately went for such a beast, and I don’t really see what the fuss about scallops is, even if these were rather nice), blaeberry wine cured Orkney beef with celeriac, blueberries and hazelnuts (this was rather excellent, although the bluberries were confused for olives and then grapes before a final realisation of their identity), goat’s cheese salad with pickled beetroot (which I avoided due to a dislike of goaty cheese), and potted shrimp with watercress, croutons and lemon (which I started craving while writing this after seeing the picture – butter with a few prawns in on crunchy toast…tasty). It was all rather tasty and definitely a good bit of fortification for the next few drinks.

After a quick table clearing we were presented with glasses of Beluga Vodka. There was some discussion as to the nature of its relationship to the Beluga sturgeon, spawner of tasty caviar, and eventually we came down on the side of associating itself with luxury. The vodka is made in the middle of nowhere, pulling its water from a local well with no industry within 300km of the distillery, a big flag displaying the spirits march towards purity. On the quick throw down the throat it came across as much more prickly, raising the hackles of my tongue, and causing more of a reaction as it wandered down to the stomach. Going slower, it had much more flavour, with grain coming through a lot more than the sweetness of the earlier vodkas. This may be a fault for the Russian connoisseurs, but it’s the sort of thing I like – being able to actually taste my drink – and I thought it to be rather good.

We quickly followed on to Russian Standard Imperia. This was the first producer of the day that I’d heard of already, as I use the basic Russian Standard as my regular vodka at home. I don’t drink a lot of it on its own, but mainly use it to extract flavours from things to make flavoured spirits. I suspect I will write up my experiments sometime in the future, but for now the regular vodka is quite rough, but good at having its flavour masked by other things. The Imperia is a different kettle of fish, based on a recipe by Dmitri Mendeleev, the inventor of the periodic table, it’s been around for a while and had its recipe declared to be ‘The Standard of Vodka’ in 1894. The production process strikes me as maybe going too far, with 8 distillations and two filterings through quartz (I don’t even know how that would work…). I chucked half of it down my throat, as was becoming usual by now, and got much more of a burn than previously, with a much bigger taste of grain. On the nose this was the first to be easily discernible, with hints of caraway in with the regular alcoholic whiff, and in the mouth it had a touch of vanilla and a long warm finish – nice, but not quite as smooth as the others.

Finally we got to the last vodka of the tasting – Stolichnaya Vodka Elite. Described as being much rougher than the rest despite being an expensive premium vodka, this one was included to show us how refined the top vodkas at BBR are. True to form I necked half of it and got a nice burn down the throat and a chunk of grain across the tongue, definitely a bit more to it than the earlier ones. It had a slightly sweet smell and lots of flavour – honey and grain rolling around the mouth. Again, this was up my street and I quite enjoyed it, but it’s definitely not as close to the Russian ideal of clean flavour that was displayed by the Kauffmans.

BBR Vodka Tasting The last three vodkas were accompanied by some more zakuski and we were treated to Meat Pelmeni (meatballs wrapped in noodles – a russian ravioli – served with vinegar and sour cream. These were my favourite thing of the day, excellently moreish and enough to get me to return on their own), Malosol Cucumbers (baby cucumbers cured in brine until crispy, an easy win for someone who likes both salty food and crunchy cucumber like me. I may have to make some of these at home) and Salo on Rye Bread (wafer thin slices of cured pork fat on rye bread. The fat melted in the mouth into a smoky butter that then infused the highly flavoured bread – it was almost great, but there was a bit too much bread for the [still quite large] amount of salo, so it turned into a bit too much of a rye fest for my liking) which continued the filling process to the extent that we turned down en masse an offer of Sunday lunch. We were, however, offered another go at whichever vodka the group liked the best, and after some umming and ahhing the consensus appeared to be the first one that we tasted – the Kauffman Special Selected Vintage 2006. It balanced the lack of flavour that the producers were going for with some very pleasant flavours, making it a very worthy favourite. I may not be grabbing a bottle for my freezer (at about £70 a go) but I may have to have a try next time I see some.

My favourite of the tasting was the Beluga – prickly and full of flavour while still rather smooth and easy to throw down the throat if need be. I may seek out a bottle and then offend the Russians by drinking the occasional shot slowly over ice. I wonder how cold my freezer is…

Many thanks again to Richard for leading us through the vodka, telling tales of running a restaurant and filling us with food; Siany for organising the thing (and letting me go along) and Qype for keeping their website going so that I can go and do such things.

Vodka Kauffman Special Selected Vintage 2006
40%. Approx £70 per 70cl bottle

Vodka Kauffman Private Collection Luxury Vintage 2003
40%. Approx £140 per 70cl bottle

Beluga Vodka
40%. Approx £40 per 70cl bottle

Imperia by Russian Standard
40%. Approx £30 per 70cl bottle

Vodka Elite by Stolichnaya
40%. Approx £40 per 70cl bottle

Bob Bob Ricard is at 1 Upper James Street, Soho, London W1F 9DF and they are lovely.

Siany’s Qype blog post is up and there are a bunch of reviews appearing on BBR’s page

Whisky Tasting Chez Moi #1

Being someone who likes to talk I’m jealous of those lucky folks who get paid to wander around and talk about whisky. So, in an effort to get at least part of that I invited an exclusive posse of people around to my flat to have a bit of a whisky tasting. The intention was to try a few things that were in someway different to the norm and to span as much of the whisky spectrum as I could with 4 or 5 bottles.

Compass Box Hedonism, Benromach Organic, Kilchoman New Spirit, Benriach Curiositas, Yamazaki Sherry Cask

So, here are my notes on what to say about each one, as well some audience reactions:

Compass Box Hedonism: There are number of different legal classifications of whisky, which due to recent lobbying by the SWA changed at the end of 2009. The three main types are:

  • Single Malt Whisky – malt whisky from one distillery. It will be most probably be a mix of various different batches (to get a consistent flavour and style for each line of whisky), but all of the whisky comes from the same distillery.
  • Blended Malt Whisky (formerly known as vatted malt) – changed November 2009, a move not entirely popular amongst many whisky makers. This is a blend of malt whiskies, which can come from any distillery. It is, however, only made up of malt whisky.
  • Blended Whisky – whisky that is made of malt and grain whiskies from any producer.

This is a fourth type – a vatted grain (maybe now a blended grain…who knows?). While grain whisky is usually used as a bulking agent for blends, produced quite cheaply in a continuous rather than batch distillation process, there are some producers who take a more malt-like approach to its creation and there are companies who try and do interesting things with it – Compass Box are part of the latter group and buy whiskies from the former. Run by John Glaser (who corrected me last time I wrote about them), they produce interesting blended whiskies that are in a totally different league to the Bells and Teachers of this world. This has some flavours in common with a bourbon, coming from grain as it does, but definitely has a different style.

From the audience: It seemed to go down fairly well. It’s the lightest of the whiskies I was presenting, hence its position at the front of the line-up, and even the less keen whisky drinkers appreciated it.

Benromach Organic: The distillery reopened in 1996, after years of closure. Rather than the more regular ‘mothballing’ of the site, where they leave everything in place, Benromach was pretty much stripped of all its equipment and had to be almost rebuilt. Their regular whisky is lightly peated (slightly more than the Speyside norm of 0-5ppm of phenols at about 8-12) to try and capture the flavour of speyside whiskies when peat was a more common fuel for drying malt, but the Organic is different. It’s the first Soil Association certified organic whisky and as part of this process everything involved in the making needs to be organic, from malt to barrels. Whisky barrels are normally used before the whisky gets to them – sherry and bourbon are the two main spirits that go in beforehand, and they take on a lot of the woody flavour from the barrel, allowing whiskies to mature without extracting quite as much of those flavours. However, In order to keep with the organic certification the Benromach Organic uses new american oak barrels that have never seen another drop of booze. This whisky is also entirely unpeated, which is fairly normal on Speyside, although their stocks of the regular Organic are running out due to their switching of production to a peated version. I’m not a fan of the new “Special Edition Organic”, so I’m pleased that after a short while they switched back to the unpeated version, so while there will be a gap in availability it will be returning in the future.

From the audience: this one started off less popular, with the woodiness not well received. However, with a drop of water the flavour changes a lot, with creamy vanilla appearing, and it grew in popularity.

Kilchoman New Spirit: One of the problems with whisky production is the time it takes between making your whisky and making money from it. This is especially difficult for brand new distilleries as they have no older stock to keep themselves afloat with until they can start selling their wares. Kilchoman opened in 2005, the first new distillery on Islay in 124 years, and was setup to be slightly different. Their barley is grown on the attached farm, they are one of the last 6 distilleries who have their own maltings and they bottle on-site. In order to keep cash coming in they sold cask, case and bottle futures for their first production runs, keeping them going until they hit the 3 year mark at which their maturing spirit legally became whisky and could be sold as such. The first release was in 2009 and has been received quite well, although their upcoming 5 year is something I’m keeping an eye out for. Another way that they raised money was to sell samples of their maturing whisky – their New Spirit. This bottle doesn’t have a maturation time on it, but the otherwise identical one I bought at the same time claimed that it had been in wood for 1 week…

From the audience: I didn’t pour everyone a shot of this – a very young, heavily peated 63.5% spirit is not something that you generally knock back much of – instead pouring a small slug into a large wine glass so that everyone could get at least a smell. Almost everyone tried it in the end, with the reactions being what you’d expect for something that I generally describe as tasting like cattle feed and death. That said, I do quite like the flavour and there were a couple of nods that it wasn’t all that bad, even it was burny and eye watering.

BenRiach Curiositas: I’d not heard of the distillery until recently (and I now have a box of miniatures of their aged expressions to try) but heard of the Curiositas through Anna’s twitter stream when her friend Jon got a bottle and rather enjoyed it. The distillery is another that has changed hands a lot, recently being picked up by the independent Benriach Distillery Company (who recently picked up their second distillery – Glendronach) in 2004. It had a sad beginning, opening in 1892 and then mothballed in 1900 when the bottom fell out of the whisky market. It reopened in 1965 under Glenlivet, sold to Seagrams in 1978 and then dropped to a 3 days per week production in 2001, before the more recent purcahse. This is one is different because it’s a peated Speyside whisky. As I mentioned earlier Speyside whiskies are normally peated lightly to not at all, coming in at about 0-5ppm, with Islay whiskies like Laphroaig and Ardbeg being much more famed for their peaty smokiness (with barley peated to about 40ppm and 54ppm respectively). The Curiositas is peated to 55ppm – which is about as peaty as you get for a widely available whisky. They also have a younger version (3-5 years?) of their peated spirit, Birnie Moss, which I found at Whisky Live – it’s mainly sold into the French and Spanish markets, where there is a strangely high demand for young, unmellowed, peaty whisky.

From the audience: As expected this one was the least popular, although the speyside sweetness coming through the smoke brought it up the popularity scale quite a lot. The progression from raw spirit to matured whisky worked quite well though, with the mellowing process really showing (although choosing something as powerfully flavoured as the Kilchoman probably helped there).

Yamazaki Sherry Cask: The whisky that I ran from Blackfriars to Soho to buy the day before the tasting; one that I tried in Milroy’s at Christmas and rather liked. The difference with this one is that it’s Japanese, which isn’t really all that unusual as there are 90 years of history backing up their produce, and very heavily sherried, which is slightly more so. Whisky production in Japan was started by Shinjiro Torii, a pharmaceutical importer, who founded the company that became Suntory and started bringing foreign booze into Japan. He hired Masataka Taketsuru, who had trained at Hazelburn in Scotland (a name now used by the Springbank distillery to brand their triple distilled, unpeated Campbelltown whisky, as the original distillery has closed), to start distilling at the Yamazaki distillery and Japanese whisky was born. Taketsuru left Suntory in the 1930s, travelled around Japan looking for a spot that felt like Scotland and built a distillery in Yoichi on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, starting Nikka, the other famed Japanese distiller. The mix of whiskies that goes into a single malt will often contain at least some spirit matured in sherry casks and other whiskies will be matured for a length of time after they have been married together in a cask which has held sherry or another drink to ‘finish’. However, you don’t get many bottlings which have sat exclusively in a sherry cask for as long as this – a very dark reddy brown whisky, it almost looks like flat Coke and is a bit thicker and stickier than your average dram.

From the audience: Far and away the favourite of the night (which is one of the reasons why I did my cross-central-London run the day before to make sure I got some before Milroy’s closed). It’s sweet and rich, with fruitcake and dates. It’s quite unlike the ‘regular’ whisky flavour that people expect, although with enough hiding behind the dried fruit to remind you that you’re not drinking port. I’ve tried an even more heavily sherried Yamazaki at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, but that almost felt like a fortified dessert wine than a whisky – this is an excellent winter dram, and unfortunately one that seems to be becoming scarce as stocks start to sell out.

Anyways, my choices seemed to work and lasagna was fed to the assembled throng. On top of my selections there were also some pressies and temporary donations brought along, with Nikki‘s sloe gin, and Alan and Ruth‘s chocolate vodka, blackcurrant vodka, homebrew beer and bottle of Marble Chocolate Marble all sitting on the side waiting for me to do some tasting and writing about them. Alan also brought along his bottle of Glenallachie single cask 18yr old, also matured exclusively in sherry casks, to compare to the Yamazaki – it compared very well, coming in as the second favourite of the night on flavour and favourite for price – £35 from the web or in person at the Strathisla distillery, home of the Chivas Brothers experience…

I suspect this may happen again, especially as Nikki and Ruth now seem to be whisky converts. I must use my powers for good…

Alan and Anna have also done write-ups on their blogs and I think I need to give a general thanks to all of my victims for letting me talk at them for an afternoon: Anna, Alan, Ruth, Paul, Nikki and Michael.

Compass Box Hedonism
Blended scottish grain whisky
43%, component whiskies 14-29 years old
£45 from Waitrose

Benromach Organic
Unpeated Organic speyside whisky
No age statement, 5-6 years
43%. Limited stock available

Kilchoman New Spirit
Islay new spirit, 1 week old
43.5%. Occasionally available in whisky specialists (I got mine from Cadenhead’s in Edinburgh)

Benriach Curiositas
Peated speyside single malt whisky
40%, 10 years old. Peated to ~45ppm.
Available from whisky specialists (I got mine from The Whisky Shop)

Yamazaki Sherry Cask
Very sherried Japanese single malt whisky
48%, 10-12 years old
Limited availability – worldwide release of 16,000 bottles (I got mine from Milroy’s)