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anCnoc at the Quaich Society

The selection of anCnocs waiting to charm the Quaich Society in their final tasting of the year.

With a feat of endurance the gain-sayers could scarcely believe, the Quaich Society held its second whisky tasting in as many weeks ast Thursday. To the plaintive sobs of all, however, it was to be the last of the 2011/12 academic year. Solace of sorts came in the form of Lucas Dynowiak, acting-brand ambassador for the charming and recently highly-commended Inver House single malt stable. Having kicked off our tasting year in September with Old Pulteney and Balblair, including the 21yo expression from the Wick distillery just days before Jim Murray announced it as his Whisky Bible Whisky of the Year, hopes were high and mouths were moist for what might appear on this occasion.

Though I could hardly feel otherwise after Inver House’s superlative hospitality towards myself and my fellow bloggers in November 2010, I arrived at Knockdhu distillery near Huntly and fell in love with the place. In the process, I acquired a keen appreciation for their creamy, unctuous but somehow clean and fresh make. The New York-based Scottish artist Peter Arkle obviously holds that little pocket of Aberdeenshire in high regard too, because a couple of weeks ago Inver House announced their partnership with a series of limited bottlings bearing Peter’s artwork, and furthering anCnoc’s affiliations with the creative arts industry. Armed with a couple of bottles of the brand spanking new Peter Arkle Limited Edition, Lucas’ arrival could not have been better timed.

‘I feel you can only judge a distillery on their entry level malt,’ said Lucas. ‘For me, this 12yo is fantastic.’ The Quaich Soc’ers set to work on the first of only two core expressions which bear the anCnoc name and I for one loved the up-front sweetness, with tempered but ominous darkness underneath. The nose was firm and fixing with fresh barley, bold vanilla and candied orange. The palate revealed the slightly feral richness that worm tubs convey to a spirit: rich barley and building vanilla toffee skirted around the darker flavours which reminded me of malting floors and the dustier corners of the distillery.

If there was one dram that captured the popular imagination over the course of the night, however, it was the 16yo. Glasses containing this pale gold spirit were the first to be scavenged from unattended tasting mats and little wonder. Lucas suggested there were some ‘tired’ Bourbon casks in the vatting for this whisky, but all I found was malt and vibrant oak working in sublime harmony. Seriously honeyed on the nose, there grew aromas of caramelised, candied yellow fruits, soft but deep floral tones and cookie dough. The oak made the mouth water, while elevating all of the other flavours packed in to the soirit. Peach and coconut emerged with a bit of water. The palate boasted fullness and richness with plenty of fruit and Werther’s Original toffee maltiness. Stunningly good, all-round.

On then, to the more singular sideshow of anCnoc, and one which makes it highly popular with connoisseurs. Released a short while ago, the 1998 Vintage exhibits partial Bourbon and Fino sherry cask maturation. On the nose this produced heavy red raisin aromas and macerated green fruits. The belief is that worm-tub-condensed spirits often require a little bit longer in the cask for sulphur-masked flavour compounds to completely blossom into more attractive aromas and flavours and despite being two years older than the standard 12yo, low wines and feints receiver scents came across more forcefully in this expression. With a bit of time, though, hedgerow berry conserve and nettles predominated. Full on the palate, there was a pronounced nuttiness which I interpreted as walnut and peanut. Dark and grungey overall.

A close-up of the label for anCnoc's new Peter Arkle Limited Edition.

What of the boldly-packaged Peter Arkle then? Was the eye-catching black-on-white design disguising an inferior product? Far from it, as this was to be a handful of peoples’ favourite of the tasting. All-matured in Fino sherry casks, the nose was creamily nutty with masses of golden raisin. Green pear and so much fudge appeared next. Grape skins emerged, too, and a waxy feel which must hint at the drams youthfulness (8 years in oak, roughly). The palate was markedly different from the others of the night: fruity and sulphury with cider apples and mango. Dried fruits took over into the medium-length finish. I must confess that my colours were pinned to the 16yo, but this is one intriguing bottling.

For the fifth dram, Lucas opted for an ‘informal’ policy. Guests had the option of a measure of the Speyburn 25yo, decorated at the recent World Whisky Awards, and the third instalment from Balblair’s 1989 stocks. Attendance numbers meant that most, as fortune would have it, succeeded in wangling a dram of both. The Speyburn blended aromas and flavours of old country houses and libraries, with an oily and fresh maltiness that made yours truly sit up and take notice. The Balblair delivered its usual creamy citrus and banana-toffee notes with, if anything, still more elan and softness than previous releases.

To the Raffle, therefore, and the impossible very nearly happened. If John Glaser had outdone himself with the previous tasting’s prizes, Lucas’ donation exceeded many of the company’s happiest whisky dreams. Held aloft was a pre-release, pre-just-about-anything bottle of the forthcoming anCnoc 35yo – the oldest expression ever bottled by the distillery. I was forbidden in no uncertain terms from posting images of this beauty, but I can tell you what it tasted and smelt like.

On the nose, this whisky echoed the 12yo with its cleanliness but also with its hints of the deeply dark. Like the single cask Aberfeldy of our Society tour in March, oak held sway but to gorgeous effect: interspersed with the charcoal were glossy orange sweets and rich honey. A mint fudge note alluded to the redoubtable age of this dram. The palate was a slow build: candle wax, honey, floral notes and spice filling the mouth. Dense mossy oak hove into view and the finish revealed clean, malty sweetness.

Our thanks go to Lucas for his generosity and improvisation. anCnoc may not have been firmly established in the subconsciousnesses of our members beforehand, but I suspect there are some new converts who won’t be looking too far over The Hill for their next whisky purchase.

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