Quick Tastings – Maltstock 2011

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.

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An aside and some actual content: The Balvenie Whisky Den – Preview…

A bit quiet on the blogging front this last week as I’ve been doing my first week at The Whisky Exchange. So as not to leave the blog fallow here’s a quick post pointing you at another post – my first post on the TWE Blog, talking about whisky cocktails. Feel free to go and add a comment (that’s the last time I ask for comments in a blog post, I knew what was going to happen…). I’ll probably be putting something up over there most weeks, but hopefully usual service will be continuing here soon.

To add the actual content that the title promises, here’s something for London people. I’ve heard tales over the last few months of something interesting coming out of the pleasantly mad end of the William Grants PR dept and now it’s distilled into something real – The Balvenie Whisky Den. Hiding in a shop front on Tavistock Street near Covent Garden it’s, simply put, a pop-up bar. However, to build on the idea of craftsmanship that Balvenie are pushing as part of their brand on day one (Monday 9th May, about a week ago) there was nothing there apart from some building supplies and whisky. Since then, with updates through the @BalvenieUK twitter account, the team has been building out two levels of the shop to be a bar and tasting room for the Balvenie range.

I popped by at the end of week one and was confronted with a fairly spartan upstairs and a closed downstairs area. There was a bar, some stave based lampshades, a pair of barrel racks (complete with barrels) and a halved sherry butt being used as a table for tastings. They’re open from 1pm-8pm (although that may change) and offer visitors a free taste of Balvenie Double Wood and, for Warehouse 24 members (the Balvenie club, sign-up forms available on-site) a deconstructed tasting of Balvenie Signature – a try of each of the three types of whisky that go into Balvenie’s master distiller David Stewart’s signature malt.

The downstairs was closed when I went, due to to it still being a proper building site, but by Sunday 15th the upstairs was clad in staves and, all going to plan, downstairs should have had some interesting adornments and ‘activity areas’ added. The press launch is on Wednesday, which I’ll hopefully make it down for, and the London Cocktail Society, including myself again, are visiting on Friday, so there will be a more complete blog post sometime soon. However, in the meantime if you are around the Covent Garden area and feel like a dram – The Whisky Den, 34 Tavistock Street. They made a sign last Wednesday, so it should be easy to find…

The piccies are lifted from the @BalvenieUK yfrog account, where there are a bunch more in progress shots.

Quick Tastings

Some more of what I done been drinking:

Balvenie 12 Years Doublewood – a whisky grabbed as a chaser round the corner from the Sci-Fi-London film festival after a day of packing bags and herding punters. It had a grassy, olive oily nose with hints of sugary spice and a touch of wood. To taste it had a woody sweetness with some cinnamony spiciness with a bitter fruity finish. As it developed in the glass the sweetness increased and turned towards candyfloss.

OldRascalThatchers Old Rascal – I popped into the branch of Byron Hamburger that’s now hiding in the building that used to house The Intrepid Fox (I may never have drunk anything but Newcastle Brown or bottled cider when visiting, but RIP anyway. The new location just isn’t the same) and grabbed a quick bottle of cider to accompany my tasty burger. Described on the label as ‘Full bodied medium dry Somerset cider’, I would have stuck it more towards the medium sweet end of things. Anyways, it was quite nice – more mulchy farmyard flavour than you usually get from a mainstream cider as well as a nice tartness contrasting with the underlying sweetness. One to remember.

The SMWS release a new tranche of whiskies every first Friday of the month, so I stopped by to try a couple. Well, more than a couple after I got talking to the bar staff…I am weak:

SMWS 35.38, Fire in the hole! (Glen Moray) – Chosen specifically because of my interest in strange wood maturations, this one was matured for 9 years in a 2nd fill chardonnay cask. Wine finishes are generally badly thought of by whisky connoisseurs, but a few interesting ones do get out into the wild – this one is a bit of a mixture. A strange nose, with a slab of wood as well as a strange chicken and ammonia combination (to be honest there was a hint of the pub bog to it). To taste it was almost meaty, with overripe fruit and a bitter woody finish. With a bit of water it softened out, becoming more wine-like with some vanilla from the wood and an oily sandalwood flavour coming through. One to try, but not one I want a whole bottle of.

SMWS 93.38, Stirs the atavistic soul (Glen Scotia) – The intended final dram of the evening, this was to sate my love of Campbelltown whiskies, although as there are only two remaining distilleries, Glen Scotia and Springbank, this is quite a limited love. Luckily Springbank have a couple of brands they distill giving a slightly wider field for me to taste my way through. Anyways, this reminded me, from my notes, of a damp wood fire in someone else’s garden – smoke at a distance with a touch of damp woodiness. There were sour grapes and cured meat on the nose as well. To taste there was a touch of sweet wine as well as tannic wood, almost like a fruity rioja. A drop of water softened the wood, bringing out more sweetness and hiding the tannins. Overall the main memory I have is of a tingling menthol like finish down the sides of the tongue. Quite definitely from Campbelltown and really quite nice.

SMWS 27.80 (Springbank) – no name for this one as I can’t find it on the website. Continuing the Campbelltown kick I went for a recommended dram of this new (I think) Springbank. It had salt and a light sweetness on the nose, as well as a plimsoll-like rubberiness. To taste it had more salt and rubber as well as a sweetness and a prickly, numbing sensation. Water brought on more sweetness and a slick, buttery mouthfeel, along with more rubber and fisherman’s friends. It reminds me very much of the bottle of single cask Springbank I got from Cadenhead’s while at the Edinburgh Festival last year, although this one is even better. I may have to pick up a bottle on my next visit.

SMWS 53.140, Swelling, crashing, waves of flavour (Caol Ila) – a deliberate evening ending choice, although I was offered an even more peaty Ardbeg by the ever helpful barman. I declined, but made a note for my next visit. On the nose it had a sweet peaty smoke with a hint of disinfectant, mulch and parma violets. To taste it was crisply smoky with candy floss and citrus fruit, but rather complex and overpowering and in need of dilution. Water saves your palate from certain destruction, with the flavours combining to give a sweet wet ash smokiness, a touch of orange and a tingly finish. It’s good I stopped after it as I was still tasting it when I got home an hour later.

And my favourite of the week:

BengalLancerFuller’s Bengal Lancer – I’ve tried this IPA on tap, but not grabbed a bottle yet, however, I’m glad I did. It’s a bottle conditioned, very heavily hopped IPA which is light on the palate but still wonderfully bitter, with the great taste of citrusy hops dominating in a rather pleasant way. As the hops die back there’s a nice touch of fruity malt and it finishes with the same bitterness that most Fuller’s beers display. Very good and one that I’ll be stocking up on when I find someone to drive me to the shops.