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Inver House at the Quaich Society

Between the six of us committee members, my ironing board and some Benromach whisky fudge, we must have succeeded in getting the message across. You cannot go far wrong with the Quaich Society, St Andrews’ whisky tasting club, for a Thursday night of top drawer dramming. When discussing the academic year’s first tasting last week, I’m delighted to say the expression ‘auspicious start’ doesn’t do it justice.

Two vertical tastings, of Old Pulteney and Balblair, proved a popular format.

Lucas, acting Brand Ambassador for Inver House Distillers, provocative co-author of Edinburgh Whisky Blog and new father, arrived with the whiskies a matter of moments before the inundation of whisky anoraks who watched, beady of eye, as the Quaich committee poured out the evening’s chief talking points. That two decidedly premium expressions, in addition to the present entry-level bottlings, from both the Old Pulteney and Balblair stables had materialised successfully got tongues wagging.

Having squeezed as many souls around the tables as was decent, Lucas launched into the serious business of our congregation: the whiskies. He began with the Old Pulteney 12yo, one of my very favourite drams in the age category by merit of its punchy salt and fruit palate and ludicrous drinkability. Next came the 17yo, which Lucas, I must interpret, rather liked. He praised it’s citrusy character, extra smoothness and poise. ‘Going back to the 12yo from this,’ he said, ‘it comes across as a dirty dram.’ However, a few patrons were concerned that their measure of the 17yo might not have been a dirty dram, too. Indeed, the disparity in colour between samples poured from the newly re-packaged batch of 17yo and those hailing from the older bottling was striking. What we had here was batch variation in practice, and a perfect example of why major brands adjust the complexions of their whiskies with the help of spirit caramel to preclude any confusion or suspicion. Lucas assured us that nothing sinister was afoot. Perhaps the brand sparkly new packaging has given the whisky a sun tan.

I won’t speak to much of the 21yo, as I intend to publish tasting notes of my 21st birthday present to myself soon. It’s rich, spicy Sherry notes and deep toffee flavours were a hit with many on our table, however.

Lucas with the newly re-packaged 17yo. A new canister - and also a new hue.

We now turned to Balblair and the fresh face of youth again. I have had the 2000 bottling maybe four times, but never has it had the power to recall the distillery so particularly and thrillingly. The bolshy, jellied citrus fruit notes leapt out at me straight away and for a moment I was standing with Martin by the spirit safe as the low wines began to dribble through, then by the feints receiver. The incredibly dense spiciness and clean barley flavours evoked the malt bins, and my cleated clatter between them to the changing rooms each morning. As the aroma developed my nostrils duped my brain into believing that I was back in the courtyard beside the draff lorry, and then in the mash house itself. I was stunned by the clarity and idiosyncracy of smells which I could identify with the help of the 2000, that within my little wine glass Balblair’s scent-filled nooks and crannies could be rediscovered.

For my thoughts on the Balblair 1989 I would simply direct you to this post of earlier in the year. Suffice it to say that for those who could not be made to swear oaths of fealty  to the Old Pulteney 21yo, this was their champion of the evening and received plenty of plaudits. It was the 1978, however, that made my night.

When Lucas mentioned that column condensers hadn’t made it to Balblair until the early 1980s, my ears pricked up. When he spoke of Sherry maturation my legs began shake. When I raised the glass and inhaled, the rest of my anatomy damn near went into catatonia. Whiskies pushing passed 30 are always difficult to dissect. They have that langorous ease of age which melds all elements of its production and ingredients list into one glorious whole. So it proved with the 1978 as rich dried fruits and deep oak aromas blended with dark, smooth maltiness and a dried floral note. The grip on the palate was mightily impressive and creamy vanillins curled around drying tropical fruits as the finish developed. I adored it. And stole the canister so that its purply handsomeness could commemorate another precious encounter with one of my favourite malts.

Massive thanks are owed to Lucas and Inver House whose generosity and estimation of Quaich Society tastes proved to be most astute. Lucas hinted that anCnoc might merit a tasting all of its own next year… We shall see.

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October 13, 2011 um 1:22 pm
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