The Islay Festival of Malt and Music, Feis Ile to its friends, is almost upon us again. From 22-30 May, the Hebridean island’s population will double, with whisky fans from around the world descending to celebrate Islay’s whisky. However, while each distillery on the island has an open day, with an inevitable special bottling, it’s not only the locals who are getting in on the act. Last year, Douglas Laing popped up on the island with some tastings of their independently bottled Islay drams, and this year they’re joined by my favourite independent bottler, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. They are running an open day of their own on the island, including the launch of their first, to my knowledge, Feis Ile bottling – 3.243: Dark, smouldering flamenco gypsy.
One of the lovely things about the whisky industry is that you get to meet people spread all over the world. My semi-frequent visits north of the border mean that I know a bunch of people around Edinburgh and one of those is Mark Davidson of Cadenhead’s, my travelling companion for the 2013 Victoria Whisky Festival.
He runs the Jolly Toper whisky tastings in Edinburgh, and I’ve been annoyingly good at missing them whenever I visit. However, with my biannual pilgrimage to my family’s timeshare cottage in Aviemore on the horizon I decided to start my journey north a few days early and stop in at a charity tasting that Mark was running.
I don’t really do Twitter tastings any more. Mainly it’s because I seem to be quite good at missing them, but I also like the idea of getting more new people involved – most who see me tweeting along will probably already know about the drams I’m trying if they care about whisky, and if not they’ll be following someone else who’ll be taking part. However, every now and again one pops up that tickles my interest and drags me out of my self-imposed retirement. One of those hit recently – a preview tasting of the new Douglas Laing Old Particular range.
Twitter is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the whisky world, with the initial onslaught of geeky whisky fans acting as a vanguard to bloggers, writers and producers who have been signing up and joining in the conversation with various levels of enthusiasm. One of the more recent inductees into the online world is Rachel Barrie, aka @TheLadyBlender, master blender for Morrison Bowmore Distillers, the folks behind Bowmore, Glen Garioch and Auchentoshan (as well as the “I’ve never seen them before” McLelland’s single malts).
She’s thrown herself into tweeting in an enthusiastic manner and as a first larger work related thing put together a bunch of twitterers to join in with the first Bowmore Twitter tasting under the hashtag of #LoveBowmore. I was on the guestlist.
I drank a fair few things at the Victoria Whisky Festival and haven’t got enough hours in the day to write them up in my usual overly wordy fashion. But rather than let my notes disappear into the pile of notebooks on my desk I thought I’d better stick them up here. Firstly, a few Bowmores.
In recent times my Islay whisky drinking has become rather focused on Bowmore, pungent peat wuss that I’ve become, so I was rather please to get into Iain ‘Sometimes drinking Black Bowmore for weeks can be really awful’ McCallum’s final tasting of the day at the festival – Davin de Kergommeaux was knackered after a day of Canadian Whisky Awards press and ‘forced’ the ticket on me. What a horrible life I lead.
For the first Whisky Squad of October (two every month now, like clockwork. The website almost crumbled under the load when booking for November’s sessions went live…) we were joined again by ‘Squad veteran Mr Robert Whitehead, the most likely person at Berry Brothers & Rudd to use the word ‘delectable’ and get away with it. His theme was unannounced, other than through the title of the session – More Whisky. All would be revealed (actually, worked out by the people in the room) by the end of the session…
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 love technology. Not only does it enable me to fire these words into other people’s brains without having to insert them manually, it also lets me find out stuff that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Much to my annoyance one of the best places to find out news and information about whisky these days is Facebook, and I spend an increasingly large amount of time keeping an eye on the Malt Maniacs and Whisky Exchange groups for tidbits that I might otherwise miss. It was on the latter that someone posted up a picture of a new Bowmore the other week, and after a moment of negotiation with m’colleague Tim we decided to split a bottle and I was dispatched to our local Asda. Bottle in hand I pinged a mail to DK, my friendly neighbourhood Morrison-Bowmore PR person, and she sent me back some information – it’s a new whisky that had been quietly released days before I grabbed mine: Bowmore Small Batch Reserve – Bourbon Cask Matured.
Yet again it’s been too long since I did one of these, so here’s some stuff that I’ve randomly had a sip of in recent times that hasn’t quite merited a full burst of obsessive writing for whatever reason. Usually laziness.
As I’ve not done one of these for a while I thought I better had do…my notebook is getting full.
BrewDog/3 Floyds Bitch Please – a collaborative brew from BrewDog and Chicago’s 3 Floyds. Harking back to their older special edition brews, this is a oak-aged barley wine, reminiscent of the Devine Rebel they made with Stone (although not a patch on the Devine Rebel Reserve) and their own Tokyo. It poured a deep red with a creamy coloured head and a had big wood smoke nose with a hint of rubber and stoney mud. To taste it was coffee and dark chocolate to start, with a bit of very dry tannic red wine. As I worked through the glass it got slightly fruitier, with some malty sweetness appearing, as well as some black liquorice and some of the blackberry leaf fruitiness that I associate with barrel aged beers. I’ve got a couple more of these and I’m going to leave them to think about things for a while – I suspect this one may develop in the bottle.
Redemption/Kernel No.2 – my first beer of the night at last week’s Day of IPA at The Euston Tap. The Tap isn’t the biggest of pubs, built into one of the small gatehouses outside Euston station as it is, and as you’d expect from an IPA festival at one of the top craft beer pubs in London it was rather full. Anyways, being a fan of both Redemption and Kernel I jumped at this one, having missed out on cask Kernel beer every time I’ve had a chance of grabbing it in the past. This seemed to be a happy mix of Kernel and Redemption’s styles – big and malty with some comparatively restrained hops at the end. It was orangey in the middle and finished with a nice bitter mulchiness.
BrewDog Abtrakt:06 – the latest in BrewDog’s “release once and never again” Abstrakt collection, this time a triple dry hopped imperial black IPA coming in at 11.5%. This was one of the few kegs of AB:06 that BrewDog filled and I got in a half at the Day of IPA as early as possible to make sure I got some before it went. It was a very dark beer, in both flavour and colour, full of fruity black coffee and coffee grounds. As it warmed in the glass it developed some syrupy raisin sweetness but was dark and bitter, with the bitterness hiding most of the fruity hops that were hiding in the background. They reckon that it’ll age well, but I’m not sure how well the overpowered hops will hold up over time.
Auchentoshan Bourbon Matured 1975 – After replying to an email from the PR company looking after Bowmore and Auchentoshan I got a little parcel through the post containing a pair of sample drams. This first one is a 35 year old from Auchentoshan, bottled after 35 years maturing in ex-bourbon casks. With an out-turn of 500 bottles at 46.9% (which may well be the undiluted strength) I suspect this is a marriage of at least 3. It had a sweet nose of vanilla wood, lemon butter, green leaves, heather, floral scented candles and bourbon. To taste it started with some sour fruit (gooseberry?) and moved through a buttery wood middle to a long finish, with leaves (green tea and berry bushes), cardboard and tannic edges.
Bowmore 1982 – The second dram from the PR folks, this is a 29 year old whisky matured in Bowmore’s No.1 Vaults, the below sea-level cellars where most of the distillery’s on-site whisky lives. On the nose this started off quite vegetal – with leaves and a hint of peaty forest floor. This was joined by bubblegum, cinnamon and a bit of floral air freshener. To taste it started with boiled sweets (Tom Thumb Drops?) and quickly moved into floral territory, with woody pot pourri sitting in the middle. The finish was quite long and was very air freshener-like – as if you’d sprayed some and then accidentally walked through the cloud with your mouth open. It reminded me of the 21 year old Bowmore Port Cask I tried at Whisky Live this year, and neither of them are really whiskies for me.
Berry’s Own Selection Clynelish 1997 – at the last Whisky Squad Rob from BBR brought along a little sample of something that he thought we might like. He was, as ever, correct, although as I’ve yet to have a Clynelish I didn’t like it was a bit of a shoo-in, even if he did make me taste it before telling me what it was. On the nose this had wax (giving away its origins almost immediately – this was definitely a Clynelish), sweet fruit, pencil top erasers, Love Hearts, bubblegum and peppery spice. To taste it had sour fizzy fruit sweets and sweetened cream leading to a caramel covered woody finish. Water brought out milk chocolate, green apples and more sweetness in the finish. I didn’t get my whisky mule to grab me a bottle last time he was visiting the shop (although he did grab me some of the crazy Karuizawa from the last Squad) and I’m starting to regret it as there aren’t many/any bottles left…
Sheppy’s Tremlett’s Bitter – Last year almost every member of my family gave me booze of some kind. It’s as if I’ve got a reputation, or something. Anyway, my mum and step-dad nipped down the road to a local farm and grabbed me some cider, living in Somerset as they do. They picked up a selection pack of ciders from Sheppy’s, a few miles away from them on the south side of Taunton. The first one I got out of the box was a single apple cider – Tremlett’s Bitter. It’s a bittersweet apple with a big chunk of tannin, which pretty much describes the cider. On the nose it was sharp and medicinal, with some malic acid sourness and the traditional cider ‘hint of farmyard’. To taste there was an initial burst of sweetness that quickly turned to sour apple skins, which hung around for a tannic finish.