Another week, another decision to make on the drink front. However, tonight’s choice has been made easier by a couple of things that have happened this week.
A few days ago the results of the Spirits Business Scotch Whisky Masters were announced. I’ve been a judge for them for a couple of years and this is my second time on the Scotch Whisky Masters panel. It’s quite an interesting experience and does wonders for honing your decision making – my group had 55 whiskies to taste in a day. Of all of the drams we tried there was one that really stood out for me. As we judge blind it’s an effort to find out what a specific whisky is, but this was good enough for me to ask for a reveal once we had finished judging. It turned out to be Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch 45.
Christmas and New Year are approaching. I know this because I’ve received the ‘prepare for the PAIN’ email at work, warning us of the propensity of people to purchase boozes towards the end of the year and the commensurate increase in the amount of work that us booze slinging retailers will see as it approaches. However, we’ve also noticed this at Whisky Squad and to help in the selection of some more thrifty purchases for the festive season we brought in m’colleague Tim Forbes of TWE to go through a range of more affordable, ‘bang for your buck’ purchases.
Rumours that the session was once going to be called “Timmy Wimmy’s Nifty Thrifty Whisky for Chrissy” are entirely true. It was vetoed quite early on by Mr Forbes, as he has a modicum of pride left in his body. I will, however, be referring to my younger brother as Timmy Wimmy for the rest of the year to ensure balance.
I’m so very tired. It’s over a week since I got back from The Netherlands and still I am a broken wreck who looks on the concept of being a ‘shell of a man’ as being a step up. And what is to blame for this? Maltstock 2011 – the best whisky festival I’ve been to so far. A gathering of whisky fans from mainly across Europe organised by a group of whisky fans and with the intention of being pretty much the least commercial whisky festival in the world.
The weekend took place at an old Cub Scout lodge in Nijmegen, near the German border, and the plan was simple – turn up, bring whisky, put the whisky on one of the tables provided, share, talk toot and maybe sleep. A few companies had organised tastings, including my employers who had commented “do you want to do a tasting?” when I tried to blag some whiskies from our tasting cupboard to take along for the table, and I ended up showcasing some upcoming releases in the Elements of Islay range. There was also the promise of music and a BBQ, but mainly it was focused around sitting down with a bunch of new friends and drinking, talking and generally contemplating whisky.
The year has turned and time for another whisky squad has rolled around. This month, in a departure to the norm, we relocated from The Gunmakers to sample some more whiskies from Berry Brothers and Rudd, the eponymous Berry’s Own Selection, this time in the cellars beneath their shop at Number 3 St James’s Street. Due to Epic Camera Failage! (I forgot to charge it) I ended up with only a few rather noisy pictures courtesy of my iPhone but Mr Standing, Whisky Squad co-founder and probable boxing champion if he put his mind to it, has put up a flickr set with a few more piccies of the lovely location in.
While The Gunmakers has history (named for the nearby site where Hiram Maxim’s machine gun, the first of its kind, was manufactured as it is) Berrys have been selling continuously from their shop since 1698 and despite The Blitz hitting surrounding buildings quite heavily it is still made of a lot of original material. The floor in the main shop floor may be a bit on the wonky side, thanks to the settling of the foundations over the last 300 years, and the floor boards near the door may only be a few years old due to being replaced after the break in, but walking into the shop does almost feel like walking into a museum. In the back left corner there is a small room where Rob Whitehead, returning as our whisky guide for the evening, spends most of his time looking after Berry Brothers’ spirits selection, but most of their business remains selling wine. While most of the stock is no longer under the shop the cellars aren’t going to waste, having been refurbished and turned into a selection of vaulted venue spaces, one of which Rob led us down into for our tasting.
The plan for the evening was the same as usual, despite the change in location, and the focus was to be whiskies from Speyside. As it’s the largest, by number of distilleries, area of whisky production in Scotland, with the number of different styles of whisky that suggests, Rob decided to narrow the selection and work (mainly) with whiskies matured in refill bourbon hogsheads. Along with the four whiskies we were to taste he also put two glasses in the middle of the table with an attached challenge – whoever identified the difference in age between the two glasses would win a prize. More on that later…
First up was a lightly coloured dram with an interesting waxy nose of apples, foam strawberries and green wood. To taste it was oily with vanilla, acetone, a caramel sweetness in the middle and hazelnuts to finish. Water brought out candy canes, spicy apple pie and some balsamic vinegar. In an effort to help with guessing Rob let us know that the distillery name didn’t begin with G or B, removing all the Glens and most of the other distilleries. However, even with this help and Whisky Guy Darren reeling through distilleries at a rate of knots we didn’t guess – it was a 1989 Aberlour, bottled after 15 years at 46% (as most BoS whiskies are – they are single cask but are diluted down to that strength if they haven’t already dropped below it). This is a bit different to regular Aberlour (which is well known for its use of sherry casks in maturation) and was a pleasant start to the evening.
The next whisky was a bit darker and before I got my nose in the glass it was announced that it smelled of “Swimming Pools”. I didn’t get the chloriney smell that others did, but I did get nail varnish, sweet & fruity air freshener, non-soapy pot pourri, rose water turkish delight, gin botanicals, candle wax, shortbread and ginger nut biscuits. The nose was fantastic and the taste didn’t quite live up to it. It had a slowly building gingeriness, reminding the table of Thai food, leading to an icing sugar powdery sweetness at the end. On the way there was rhubarb and butterscotch, married up with a pleasant sourness underneath. Water brought out more butteriness, spongecake and violets. Interesting, but one that I liked the nose of much more than the taste. The cover came off to reveal that it was a 1985 Linkwood bottled in 2006 at 21 years old. Linkwood doesn’t get out much as a single malt, with about 98% of production going into blends (mainly Diageo’s), but as it is sold for blending the independent bottlers can occasionally get their hands on casks like this one.
The next bottle appeared and the whisky was yet again slightly darker. On the nose it had floor polish, a hint of salt and mincemeat, and a dark savouriness sitting under it all – the phrase “umami on the nose” was mentioned, causing me rather too much amusement (umami being specifically a taste rather than a scent, and all that) but made a lot of sense. To taste it had ozone (posh swimming pools…), sweet and sour fruit, and a vegetal tang leading a crisp sweetness and mix of green and old wood at the end. Its tannic taste and hints of vegetable added a tea-like feel to the flavour. Water tamed some of the dryness and added in some sweet butter. Again we had no correct guesses and the bottle was revealed to be 1971 Dailuaine bottled in 2005 at 31 years old. Dailuaine is another blending distillery that doesn’t make its way out into the single malt world very often and as this bottling divided the room I can see why. The savouriness didn’t appeal to everyone but I rather liked it. I’ve tried one or two other bottlings at the SMWS and will continue to keep an eye out.
Last of the night was a dark whisky with a pile of sherry cask on the nose and Rob admitted that this was the one where he had departed from his ‘refill bourbon hogshead’ plan. On the nose it had hot gravel, dark fruit, deep savoury notes, hints of sugary rum, struck matches and wet undergrowth. To taste it had dry spicy wood up front, with a slab of vanilla, fine sawdust in the middle and a long finish of preserved fruit. Water brought out more depth, with liquorice and caraway, and butter and vanilla. There were no ideas around the table at all for this one and it turned out that was with some justification – it was Berry Brothers’ blended malt Blue Hanger, this being the previous 4th release. They’re on to the 5th release now but this version is made up of about 50% heavily sherried whisky from Mortlach, matured for about 17 years in two sherry butts, with some 33 year old Glen Elgin and 16 year old (I think) Glenlivet to make it up to 3500 bottles. Blue Hanger has been around for a while, named after William Hanger, the 3rd Lord Coleraine, who was nicknamed “Blue Hanger” and died in 1814. The Blue Hanger comes from the days when whisky was sold in bottles that the customer would bring in to be filled from casks in the shop – they had three barrels: a smoky whisky, a sherried whisky and one where the dregs of the barrels were married before refilling. The ‘dregs’ barrel thus picked up a combination of smoky and sherried whisky, mainly the sherried as it sold in much larger quantities, and as it was constantly topped up it had bits of a variety of older whiskies in. A bottle of original Blue Hanger was found a few years back and after tasting it Doug McIvor, Berry Brothers’s whisky king, put together the first new limited release and has been working on it with each batch. It was rather nice.
After the four main whiskies of the tasting all eyes turned to the mystery drams in the middle of the table. From colour alone we could tell that one was new make (being entirely clear helps with that) and thus Darren correctly guessed that we were looking at Glenrothes – BBR own Glenrothes which makes it significantly easier to get new make spirit. On the nose the new make had buttery grain, cereal and a hint of cream. To taste it had lemon, grass, and apples and pears to finish. I rather liked it, which is dangerous when you’re drinking something that is 68.8% abv. The other dram was a solid bronzey gold and obviously a chunk older. On the nose it was sweet with biscuits and a touch of citrus – maybe lemon shortbread? To taste it was buttery with spicy wood and a plimsolly rubberiness hiding behind. There was only a drop to share between the table and it became apparent why on the reveal.
The second whisky was a 1975 Glenrothes bottled in 2006 and long sold out at Berrys. Known as an excellent whisky it’s not been easily obtainable for years and we got the last from Rob’s stashed tasting bottle.
Noone guessed the 31 years difference but there was a 30 and a 32, and the guessers very kindly decided to let everyone try their prize before dividing it up – a bottle of a very much long gone and rather pricey Talisker 20 year old that Rob happened to find knocking around in his increasingly enviable tasting cupboard. On the nose it had rubber tires and balloons, spicy fruit and muddy river banks. To taste it had marzipan dust, butter, spiky smoke, struck match sulphur, ketchup and violets. Water brought out more of the sulphur note (hated by many but liked by me) and fluffy powdered sugar. It was an impressive dram, especially after the almost entirely peat free evening we’d had, and one that I’m happy to have had a taste of.
Next month’s session (the mysteriously named Bottle of Britain) is already sold out, but keep an eye on the site as March’s will be up soon enough. Looking ahead to the future, there will be a group (well, at least three of us) going to Maltstock in The Netherlands in September under the Whisky Squad banner. Let us know if you’re coming along…
Berry’s Own Selection 1989 Aberlour
Single cask Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. No longer available, but was ~£50
Berry’s Own Selection 1985 Linkwood
Single cask Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. No longer available, but was ~£45
Berry’s Own Selection 1974 Dailuaine
Single cask Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. No longer available, but was ~£70
Another month, another slab of Whisky Squad related delight Chez Jeff, the lovely landlord of The Gunmakers. This month we were treated to another special guest following in the rather hefty footsteps of Colin Dunn – Rob Whitehead from Berry Brothers & Rudd. Regular Whisky Guy Darren was off recovering from a whisky related sojourn state-side, so we were left in the capable hands of Rob to run us through some of the whiskies that Berry Brothers bottle.
Berry Brothers & Rudd are the oldest family owned wine and spirit merchant in the world. Generally they’ve been known in more recent times for their wine, with their cellars extending for quite a way under St James’s, but they are also a very well respected independent bottler of spirits. Despite having known about them for a while, something that is inevitable when your dad sells wine, I didn’t realise that they also did whisky until recently. Having tried a couple of drams at whisky live earlier this year I did a bit of research and found that they’d won Whisky Magazine’s Independent Bottler of the Year award last year, a feat they’ve recently repeated for a second time.
The shop started out in 1698 as grocers on the same site that it is now, 3 St James’s Street. The Berry clan became part of the business in the 1780s through marriage and Hugh Rudd joined the company in 1914 as a junior partner, completing its current name. While the wine side of things is more well known these days, with the full cellars of St James’s as well as a warehouse in Basingstoke allowing them to store 6 million bottles of wine, a million of which are looked after for customers needing proper cellaring, it was whisky that helped them keep going through the post-war period. In 1923 they released Cutty Sark, their own blend, which had great success in the US during the 50s and 60s giving a well needed boost in the still struggling British economic climate. They recently did a trade with the Edrington Group, swapping Cutty Sark for Glenrothes (which they already had a part share in) and a share in the Anchor brewery in San Francisco, but the whisky loving streak runs deep in the company.
Rob works with the BBR spirit’s manager Doug McIvor to put together an impressive selection of spirits, from distillery bottlings to a range of their own – the Berry’s Own Selection. This doesn’t only cover whisky, but also rums, and they also bottle their own cognacs and gin – the spirits room at their shop is rather full of interesting looking bottles. However, the whisky is where we were at for the evening. They bottle quite a range, with their youngest being a 4 year old Ledaig and the oldest a 42 year old Carsebridge, from all over Scotland. They buy casks from various distillers and mature them in a variety of locations, having their own warehouse in Scotland as well as leaving many with the distillers themselves, although in order for a whisky to be called scotch it does have to be matured in Scotland. Their bottling policy is very simple – it’s bottled when it’s at what Doug thinks is the whisky’s best. If they miss that point or if they don’t think it will reach it they sell the cask on – the trade in casks is very active, with many companies needing whisky for blending and not worrying if it’s not up to single cask bottling as it will only be one component of many in a finished product.
In traditional Whisky Squad style we tried the whiskies blind, with Rob helping this along by bringing along a set of whisky socks to conceal the bottles. We started on what he described as ‘Breakfast Whisky’, a lightly coloured introduction to the evening. On the nose it had boiled sweets, liquid caramel and apples. To taste it had spice, orange candy, sherbert, polished wood and a hint of floral (rather than peppery) olive oil. Water brought out more of the woody flavours, with vanilla and sour wood joining the rest, along with blackjacks, menthol and a biscuity graininess. Guesses were made and Rob revealed the bottle to be a 14yr old Aberlour matured in a many times refilled cask. The standard Aberlour style is quite heavily sherried (as I’ve mentioned before), so this less active cask, as most of the wood flavour had been leeched out through the previous fillings, gave a more ‘naked’ tasting Aberlour, revealing the underlying new make more than usual.
We moved on quickly to number 2, a rather different beast. On the nose it had rubber boots, earthy smoke, turpentine, chilli and charcoal, with a sweet hit at the back of the nose. My tasting notes start with ‘charcoal butter’, continuing with lemons, brine and a smoky mineral (granite?) finish. Water tamed things slightly, revealing a rich spicy sweetness and more of a prickly mouthfeel – maybe revealing a hint of horseradish. This one at first seemed easier to guess, being quite blatantly made in the style of an Islay whisky, and predictions were made. However, this was another deliberate curve ball – a 12 year old heavily peated Bunnahaibhain. The regular production bottlings of Bunnahabhain are unique on Islay due to being almost entirely unpeated, however for two weeks a year, just before they close down for summer, they distill a heavily peated spirit that is generally used in making Black Bottle (a smoky blend using a bit of most of the Islay malts). They then thoroughly clean out the stills and tuns before returning to their regular spirit production when the distilling starts up again. Berry’s bought some casks either side of the closedown one year and released this rare peated version – the others are still waiting to reach their peaks.
Number 3 was my favourite of the night. On the nose it had flowers, wax, pears and linseed oil, along with a sweetness that I described at the time as ‘like when you mix together the strawberry and vanilla sections of Sainsbury’s neapolitan ice cream after it has started to melt. There’s not chocolate because the chocolate bit in neapolitan ice cream is rubbish’. I ate a lot of Sainsbury’s neapolitan ice cream as a child. To taste it had a big creamy sweetness with fizzy lemons, opal fruits, sour plums, and some oiliness and spicy dry wood. A drop of water opened it more with strawberries and custard, but it stilled retained the woody spiciness. An interesting dram that I dreaded discovering the price of. The sock was whipped off and it was shown to be a 26 year old Glen Mhor. This didn’t enlighten me much, but Rob continued with the story. Glen Mhor (pronounced ‘Vor’) was an undistinguished distillery in Inverness, not particularly admired but producing okay whisky until it closed in 1983. It was demolished in 1986 and is now a Co-op. This cask was distilled in 1982, just before the closure, and bottled in 2009, and unlike the regular whisky the distillery produced it has come out to be rather special. It’s an older style of whisky, as you might expect from a slowing down distillery in the early 80s, and Rob told us about whisky lovers who tried things back in the early 80s waxing lyrical about its old school flavour. The writing of this post was accompanied by a dram of it.
Number 4, the ‘official’ last whisky of the tasting, was poured out and sat a deep bronze in the glass. On the nose it had sweet orange, dark rum, vanilla and coconut. ‘Like a milk chocolate Bounty’ someone offered from the room. To taste it had a cool creamy sweetness with a touch of woodiness and a drying finish. Water brought out more flavours, with butter icing and sour fruit making an appearance. The finish was still woody, with some astringent booziness to the sides of the tongue. While the guessing went on I rather proudly detected the key USP of this whisky – it’s a single grain. With my recent discovery of and continued searching for grain whiskies I shouldn’t be quite so preening, but preen I did. The sock was removed and it was shown to be a 39 year old Invergordon single grain. I tried one of their previous bottlings of Invergordon at Whisky Live when I first discovered the Berry’s Own Selection range and thought it was quite special – this one beat it hands down. Distilled in 1971 this was bottled 5 weeks ago, with an outturn of about 190 bottles, missing out on its 40th birthday by a few months. After 39 years it still came in at a strength of 47%, which was helped along by the cask being filled with much higher alcohol distillate than usual – maybe 70% or above. The empty barrel has since been filled with Laphroaig new spirit and is now sitting somewhere thinking about what it’s done, waiting to be bottled some time in the future. This whisky reminded me of the Port Dundas that I own as well as the one that Colin Dunn brought along to Whisky Squad #5 even though this was matured in a first fill bourbon cask rather than sherry, as used in the other two. An interesting whisky that shows the delicate common characteristics of well aged grain and one that I was very tempted by.
Now that the tasting had officially finished Rob unveiled a special fifth bottle. Grabbed on the way out of the shop it’s one that was used for customer tastings of a whisky that sold out that day. Rather than leave it hidden in a cupboard Rob kindly brought it along for us to have a try. On the nose it was waxy with linseed oil, sherbert and thick vanilla. To taste it started with leather and stones before moving to a floral sweetness with red fruit and citrus, and a dry woody finish. Watter brought a chalkiness with the fruitiness, described as ‘fruit rennies’, sherry wood and more vanilla. Rob gave us a few hints, starting with the fact that the distillery is now closed. It’s a triple distilled (rather than the more regular double) lowland whisky that was matured in a fourth fill sherry cask. With blank faces all around the sock was removed for one last time to reveal a 26 year old St Magdalene from 1982. The distillery closed in 1983, another victim of the over production of the 70s, and is now a block of flats. This bottling sold for £90 and is now completely sold out.
We repaired, as usual, downstairs to find the place had been overrun by the London Perl Mongers on their monthly meetup. Being an occasional monger of Perl I knew a bunch of people and they soon started digging in to the left over whiskies that made it behind the bar – the Invergordon didn’t last long. I ended up running down to Berry’s the next evening to grab a bottle of the Glen Mhor (one of the last 5 or 6) and caught them just before they closed. I’m not sure if it counts as a lock-in but Rob walked me through a couple of their other whiskies including the fabled 4 year old Ledaig, the youngest they’ve bottled and also completely sold out, which was a young peaty slap to face (and good with it), and also their Guyanan demerera rum, which was dark, dangerous tasting and unlike any other rum I’ve tried before. It’s definitely worth the trip down to St James’s.
Berry’s Own Selection Aberlour 1994
14 year old speyside single malt scotch whisky. 46%. ~£35. No longer available online.
Berry’s Own Selection Bunnahabhain 1997
12 year old cask strength Islay single malt scotch whisky. 55.3%. ~£45. No longer available online.
Berry’s Own Selection Glen Mhor 1982
26 year old cask strength highland single malt scotch whisky. 46%. ~£70. No longer available online.
Berry’s Own Selection Invergordon 1971
39 year old cask strength single grain scotch whisky. 47%. ~£100. Available on bbr.com
Berry’s Own Selection St Magdalene 1982
26 year old lowland single malt scotch whisky. 46%. ~£90. Sold out.
There’s a chance that the whiskies that aren’t online are available at their St James’s Street shop, so it’s worth wandering in if you’re interested.
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 quoteAnna, 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.
Speyside single malt scotch whisky, 40%. ~£20, available in Waitrose.
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.
Speyside single malt scotch whisky, 40%. ~£40
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