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June 30, 2012

BYOB: Bottle Your Own Booze

Someone working on behalf of The Dalmore thought I might like to know that the Whyte & MacKay-owned Highland distillery has been beasting the competition as far as value growth is concerned. The ‘luxury brand’ is outstripping the other top 25 global single malts, with 69% year-on-year growth playing 12%. Consumers would appear to be fully prepared to throw lots of cash at rarer, more ‘deluxe’ bottlings from The Dalmore over and above other competitors, which is what I take ‘value growth’ to mean: the sumptuous packaging, the clever brand story, the astronomical performances at auction, would appear to be netting those managing the Cromartie Firth distillery vast amounts of money.

To double back and tackle the packaging issue, however. The Trinitas expression could boast crystal, rare woods, and enormous quantities of expertly-wrought silver, all of which nudged the whisky up towards that knee-knocking figure of £100,000. Yes, the whisky inside was doubtless rather special, but fostering the idea that a crack team of craftsmen had exhausted hundreds of hours of labour to manifest this specialness visually seemed to be important.

However, there is a counter-culture sweeping the visitor centres of Scotch whisky distilleries and it is the ‘bottle your own’ phenomenon. Aberlour, on Speyside, has perhaps the highest and longest-standing profile with respect to offering their visitors the chance to get their hands wet and fill, cork, seal and label their own bottle of whisky. Indeed, it was the first distillery at which I got up close and personal with raw whisky to take away.

Aberlour Warehouse No. 1 and the hand-bottling area.

The list of distilleries at which this gimmicky but fun and unusual process can be undertaken is a long one. Over the coming weeks, I hope to have factsheet posts for all of the Scotch whisky regions and sub regions detailing the visitor experience on offer, but for now here are those which I know accommodate hand-bottling: Aberfeldy, Aberlour, Auchentoshan, Balblair, Balvenie, Benromach, Bruichladdich, GlenDronach, Glenfiddich, Glengoyne, Glen Moray, Pulteney, and Tomatin. The spirits available typically hail from ex-Bourbon or ex-Sherry, but some may have occupied an exotic wine cask. They will vary in age and strength, but none are cheap. My Aberlour was £65, and at Auchentoshan you pay up to £100 for the privilege of infiltrating the warehouse and drawing your 70cls.

 

My 'whisky handshake' moment at Aberlour last September.

Why do we stand for it, if we are doing all of the manual labour? Of course, it is to experience that connection with the whisky-making process we have just observed. To see golden spirit exit the cask in front of us constitutes a timely reminder that depsite the often sanitized environments of modern distilleries and the gargantuan bottling lines by which our favourite single malt lands in Tunbridge Wells or Taiwan, whisky can be understood in terms of 250l hogsheads, and can - when emerging from oak - pungently enter the light and air of our personal atmosphere before slipping into a glass bottle. As we hold that bottle steady, and as its proportions slosh with spirit, it is like a whisky hand shake. We see, feel and hear before we taste and smell the personality of the whisky, uniquely developed in its wooden nursery, in a way we cannot do when picking up a bottle from the shelves of our local spirits store.

Distilleries lay on a special batch of spirit, and the tools to capture it, so that we can mark our moments in them. We can get involved, cut out the middle men, and escort off the premises a measure of the place itself. The label will bear not only the name of the distillery, but your signature, too, placing you in a new relation to your favourite dram. As far as the distilleries are concerned, I think it demonstrates that they similarly want to establish a new relation to their customers. The life of a cask is enriched by the 200-odd names, from all over the world, who drew spirit from it which I think is a powerful means of appreciating the lengths many whisky drinkers go to for their favourite whiskies, and the stories behind them. When that bottle sits, pride of place, on the shelf in Brussels or Beijing, there will exist a personal connection directly back to a few square feet of Scotland: not bad going for less than a litre of distilled beer.

Keep watching the Scotch Odyssey Blog for precisely what single cask, tasty morsels Scotch whisky distilleries will be offering the visitors this summer. Alternatively, I have found my way onto Twitter, and you can follow me via @WhiskyOdyssey. See you there.

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June 23, 2012

The Glenlivet Thermostat (Nadurra 16yo)

The debate rages on as to the ethics of putting ice in your whisky. Personally, I think that buying a lovely single malt or blend and throwing some ice cubes in is the equivalent of buying a Lamborghini Aventador, taking it to Silverstone, and driving it at 20mph. The full extent of the spirit’s capabilities and magnificence has been shackled and compromised. But I will concede that, on occasion, there is simply no choice in the matter. For example, when cycling to The Glenlivet distillery in April 2010, the snow and hail with which I had to contend meant that by the time I arrived, wandered around the plant via the warehouse, and eventually creaked into the tasting room, I was the ice with my drink.

That drink, however, was the Nadurra 16yo. ‘Natural’ in Gaelic, this was The Glenlivet at cask strength, straight out of first-fill Bourbon casks without chill-filtration (although the process would have been eminently possible on that day). It slid down my throat like molten shortbread, firing warmth into the very muscles of my legs, or so it felt like. Despite the raw power, I can still remember the delicate malt and floral flavours characteristic of The Glenlivet and which thrilled my soul.

The Glenlivet Nadurra 16yo.

So now I knew what my bottle of the Nadurra, which had lain in my whisky cabinet for two years, tasted like. Purchased with the full intention of drinking it, I had noticed on the label the bottling date of October 2007, the very month in which my obsession for whisky materialised, and consequently this was to be a golden-hued time capsule embodying that single glorious moment in my life. I had expected the Nadurra to remain sealed and chaste indefinitely, but then came an invitation to a 21st birthday in Stourbridge, near Birmingham. Siobhan, born in 1991 and being rather fond of whisky, constituted the perfect excuse to unleash this vibrant but subtle beauty of a malt which had itself largely come into being in 1991.

While watching Disney’s ‘Basil the Great Mouse Detective’ and snuggled into my sleeping bag, I poured measures for Siobhan, myself and a couple of other friends. While delicious, I appreciated the other extreme of the temperature spectrum to April 2010 as I sipped. Whisky + sleeping bag + room full of people = lustful contemplation of… ice.

Though now a whisky inseperably associated with a tortured hypothalamus, I poured some in neutral surroundings to see what it could really offer.

The Glenlivet Nadurra 16yo 57.7% abv. Batch 1007D

Colour - Rich and bright honey gold.

Nose - Bold, fresh ex-Bourbon barrels. Classic syrupy aromas of tablet, pine and coconut. Richness, but of an airy sort: butterscotch, floral notes and creme patisiere. With more time there is a scented, toasted Jack Daniels aroma and a touch of stewed green apple.

With water - Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I thought that might happen. Creamy vanilla pools unctuously in the cracks of the fragrant, golden cask staves. Stewed peaches and vanilla ice cream. Somehow that light, semi-dry sweet malt of the distillery can still be perceived. Firm, wild flavours like a winter burn on the slopes of Ben Rinnes: definitely a brown peaty aroma. That golden barley vista grows ever clearer. Greater exposure to the air unearths syrupy corn, pine again but with zesty orange immediately behind it. Gorgeous coconut and the dusty racked warehouse at The Glenlivet.

Palate - Bursting with mint toffee, oak prickle. Gradually, peat and sweet heather emerge which are then covered with oozing golden caramel. Toffee and ripe pear.

With water - Creamier, banana, still some spearmint but tamer. More impressions of the cask: char, honey, candied lemon. Lots of lemon, in fact. Caramel smoothness and delicate, drying malt.

Finish - Darker, with charred meat-esque sweetness. The coconut dribbles across the tongue but there are also firmer flavours including flowers. Lemon pith.

With water - Deepens into relaxed oaky toffee with a generous waft of heather. Harvest on Speyside. Delicate but purposeful with some sweet and rich corn melting in. Vanilla and green fruits which have plenty of sugar with them but also some juicy freshness.

So…?

What a stunning whisky. Indeed, as I nosed it there were shades of Compass Box’s Hedonism and even, could it be, that supreme Aberlour 14yo single cask which I tasted a few days after that Nadurra in April 2010. This is not a spirit that deals lightly with the oak, but those casks are of such high quality and let out enough of the inherently classy Glenlivet flavours that, to this palate, the effect is nearly faultless. This is the only expression I have tasted of The Glenlivet to be bottled at cask strength and whether it is this or the non-chillfiltration that I must credit with the gorgeous sustain and expert flavour development, I’m not sure. The whole marries suaveness and vibrancy with beautiful results. How delighted I am that I opened it after all; a cautionary tale for all those ‘wait-and-see’ purchasers.

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June 21, 2012

Bramble Bar, Edinburgh

A Bunker for Blissful Beverages

We’ve all been faced with this particular dilemma, right? How do you flesh out the remainder of the evening following a dinner date with some of the planet’s most important whisk(e)y people? Fortunately, if you happen to be in Edinburgh there is a contingency plan for this all-too-frequent eventuality. It’s called Bramble Bar.

Cocktails have appeared on my radar only recently and I say this to my shame. Mitigating circumstances might stretch to having grown up in a Northumbrian market town where ‘cocktails’ start and finish with the Black Russian. However, reading around the wonderful subject of whisky will inevitably alert you to those individuals for whom the spirit has a creative – rather than simply a consumptive - use value. These people interest me for many reasons, such as their understanding of flavour which is demonstrated in contexts and for purposes entirely different from mine. They can also champion whisky’s versatility and bash the whisky-drinking Bible in new ways, attracting new drinkers to the spirit. Mostly, though, they extend the stories and characters of these brilliant drinks, combining flavours and personalities to serve something not only tasty but unique and theatrical. A good cocktail, in its inception and execution, is just like a good single malt or Bourbon.

The Affinity Cocktail.

From what I had read about Bramble Bar previously (look no further than the fabulous feature written by Chris at Edinburgh Whisky Blog), I was expecting a very good cocktail indeed. Chris Hoban, Chris White and I tripped down the steps from Queen Street – a result of the low mood lighting, I assure you, and not our whisky encounters from earlier in the night. The space is snug, white-wash, with exposed stone on walls and floor. Lighting is, as I hinted, sparingly used with the dark bar tucked into the near right-hand corner. The array of drinks looked to be selective and towards the higher end: there was even a Kilchoman on the deep shelves. We deposited bags and ourselves on the yielding, plush bench running along the same wall as the bar and began our tab. To kick off? Three Affinity Cocktails.

The story behind the Affinity is a great one, combining ancient Scotch whisky know-how and techniques from the dawn of cocktails with a modern serve and a climate of inquisitiveness with respect to single malt. Bramble teamed up with Glenmorangie to re-cask their 10yo with vermouth and Byrhh (red wine and quinine) in tiny, 5 litre barrels. These have been ‘maturing’, or ‘marrying’, for a number of months now to meld the raw ingredients and allow the mixture to take on some of that oaky sweetness and structure.

Our Affinities came in a little wax-sealed bottle, with a chilled martini glass complete with cherry. Orange zest came separately. Sipping immediately, the cocktail was rich, sticky and deep, with a mulled wine flavour. Ripping the zest and placing in the drink transformed it, with the oily citrus pulling out some comparable fresh flavours from the Glenmorangie spirit underneath. A stunning, easy-drinking confection.

The Affinity Cocktail with progress made.

With those dispatched, but not before the empty bottles had caught the appreciative eye of a neighbouring drinker who was graciously enlightened by Hoban, thoughts turned to a successor and I grabbed the menu. Much like the illumination, this was a minimalistic list but I realise that – like a really top restaurant – this is no bad thing. Focusing on a few choice morsels and doing them exceedingly well is better than a melee of options. The Affinity had taken great strides to converting me on the whisky-based cocktail issue, having been unsure before, and I hazarded Bramble’s Butter-Scotch Cocktail.

When the drink arrived, accoutrements were a good deal more conventional than with the Affinity, with glassware restricted to the glass itself and the deep orange liquid inside it. The mixologist had put together butter-washed Monkey Shoulder, aperol, Oloroso sherry, vanilla sugar, ginger jam and Peychaud’s bitters. The result was one of the most delicious, soothing, invigorating, thought-provoking, try-this liquids I have ever had. Chris and Chris duly obliged and agreed it was rather special. The high-strength of the whisky had been tamed, with respect to mouthfeel, by the butter-washing process and the fruits, zests and sweetness could cascade lazily on top of one another – like cheesecake mix being poured from the bowl to the tin – on the palate. The whole package was like the FC Barcelona midfield: an operation of supreme slickness, simplicity and quality.

I will be back at Bramble when I am next in Edinburgh to range around their menu which may be the highest complement I have paid in this review so far. I trust the brains who have conceived these drinks and I am amazed by the skill with which they are put together before you. I don’t care what the base spirit it is; the flavour is all I’m bothered about.

Bramble Bar & Lounge, 16A Queen Street, Edinburgh 0131 226 6343

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June 15, 2012

A Master Blender Bonanza: Part 2

Fruitcake, Frivolity, and Figs

A fraction over a week ago I was to be found skipping through the streets of Edinburgh with Chris Hoban, ducking into coffee shops and chocolateries, trying to recover a sense of our own humanity. Events which took place a larger fraction over a week ago explain why.

John Ramsay marshalling the Q&A.

With our whisky ration cards long since frittered away in various corners of the Scotch Whisky Experience, a halt was called to the Master Blender Meet-and-Greet. I just had enough time to return Chris’ measure of Johnnie Walker Platinum (full and voluptuous with no small amount of smoke and plenty of coconut-laden grains) to him before we were herded up yet more stairs.

I had long since began to suspect my legs, uncertain as to whether they were working with me or against me, but the room into which we plodded revived my spirits. A vaulted ceiling allowed plenty of the last of the Edinburgh light in, and a striking stained glass window at the far end reminded all guests of the route by which those whiskies we had tasted already that evening had arrived beneath the noses of the master blenders, before they passed them along to us. The blenders themselves were sat along the high table to face the room. Only Richard Paterson, however, got to his feet. The show must go on.

In our glasses panted the juicy, dark and rich beauty that is The Dalmore King Alexander III. As chance would have it, this was the whisky I ordered following my first tour of the Experience, poured by Mr Hoban if memory serves. Paterson wanted to unlock the full spectrum of this immensely complicated whisky, which had seen the inside of six different specimens of cask before its tasteful glass bottle with silver embossing, via strong black coffee, fruitcake and dark chocolate. In a performance that blended at least six potent characterstics of its own to match the whisky, ranging from the ebullient to the outrageous, Paterson encouraged us to approach a single malt like never before. We were discouraged from following his lead, however, and hurling the first measure onto the carpet.

The Dalmore food matching tasting, minus the coffee.

‘Mm mm mmmm… Mm mm mmmm… Mmm Mmm MMMMMMMMMM. And swallow,’ he urged, holding the spirit on his palate for a tingling age. Then chocolate followed fruitcake which followed coffee in rapid fire ingestion. I wasn’t convinced. I don’t view the addition of food to a dram as ‘messing around’ but I have yet to come upon the right combination. Though at many turns in his lecture Paterson had the room gasping in disbelief, my scepticism for the food matching exercise could not be dispelled.

Tutored tasting over, Master of Ceremonies for the final portion of what had been a joyous, insightful evening so far, John Ramsay, took the microphone to the audience. The first question probed the panel with regards to their favoured drinks, a fairly uncontroversial line of inquiry one would have thought, until Paterson rebuffed Caroline Martin for pinning her colours to the Johnnie Walker mast. The Whyte and MacKay man paid tribute to David Stewart, and the Balvenie 21yo Port Wood in particular as a whisky of stupendous interest and beauty.

A lady on our table wanted to know next how the master blenders could keep track of the multitude of flavours they encountered on an hourly, never mind daily, basis. Could they offer any tips, she asked, for improving our own olfactory skills? Gordon Motion fielded the debate, asking the questioner how many windows she had in her flat. After a brief flurry of arithmetic an answer was provided. ‘Now how did you go about counting those windows?’ Motion asked. The lady replied that she could see them in her mind’s eye. ‘I do the same thing,’ said Gordon, ‘I have a set of images for certain flavours. For example, peaches will always remind me of a holiday in France when I was young and we were given a bowl of peaches by the roadside.’

As anyone who has read my collaborationwith Keith Wood on Whisky Emporium a little over a year ago will know, this is precisely what fascinates me most about personal encounters with whisky. My hand shot up when the ‘last question’ call came. What, I wanted to know, was the most powerful moment the panel could remember in which they were transported back to an earlier sensory memory when tasting whisky?

Richard Paterson regaling the room.

Chris Morris answered first, stating that the strongest impressions he can receive from nosing Bourbon is of the rickhouses at Woodford Reserve. ‘That’s warehouses for the rest of us,’ interposed Ramsay. David Stewart’s fifty-plus years around the spirit could flag up no particular instance, although he spoke with quiet pleasure of his apprenticeship with single malt Scotch whisky. Angela D’Orazio’s testimony came directly from the heart as she described peat-cutting on Islay. In addition to the peats, Angela noticed the little wild flowers that grew on the bog, and when she had a sip of Islay whisky later, echoes of those floral characters surged back to her.

Caroline Martin focused on ‘lightbulb moments’ in connection with the distilleries she works for. The instant someone told her that Clynelish was a waxy spirit, manipulating it and understanding it became a far easier task. A childhood growing up in Coleraine, near to the Bushmills distillery, abided with Billy Leighton. When going to school or playing with friends, ever-present was ’this smell’. Entering the industry later on, certain Irish whiskeys could successfully evoke that formative atmosphere. Gordon Motion, whose point about the peaches had inspired my question in the first place, related to us a nosing session in which a particular spirit yielded with irresistible potency the garden centre at B&Q. ’Fencing panels was all I could think of,’ he said, ‘but I couldn’t say that, it sounded stupid.’ But a fellow taster noted ‘tarry wood’ in the same sample, and Gordon was galvanised to supply his tasting note. ‘Just write down what you smell,’ he urged us.

The Japanese blenders had been silent for the majority of the questioning, but Koshimizu-san accepted the microphone. He described his experiences in Japanese, and his translator assisted afterwards. The result was a statement of gentle, thoughtful brilliance. In his day-to-day encounters with whisky, every so often a sample will radiate the aroma of figs. Koshimizu-san has not eaten a fig in the last fifty years, not since one particular day at his grandmother’s house where she always had an abundance of the fruit. Nevertheless, that single flavour – when discovered – reconstructs that house, that person and that moment. ‘It is as if time has vanished,’ said the translator.

John Ramsay concluded the evening and told us of how his days in the maltings when he first started with Edrington assisted him as master blender as, for one distillery, the re-occurrence of that green malt aroma signalled that the spirit was on track. Several rounds of applause later, we all had to sadly make tracks of our own. The master blenders had been supremely generous with their time, but the 9am start and hundreds of whiskies looked to have taken their toll by the end. Outside, while raffle winners collected their bottles, a line for the lift formed involving some of the whisky world’s most significant and talented noses and palates who were all deservedly heading to their hotel rooms. For Chris, Chris and I, however, we were off to Bramble Bar, but that will have to wait for another post.

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June 11, 2012

Summer of Distilleries 2012: LOWLANDS

The Lowlands of Scotland were where my Scotch Odyssey of 2010 began and, as a cyclist, it’s pre-eminence in my affections was guaranteed by the extraordinarily lovely weather I enjoyed. At the time, it was a somewhat overlooked region; accessible but somewhat ‘vanilla’. However, with a resurgence from Auchentoshan and the enduring individuality of Bladnoch, in addition to Ailsa Bay, Daftmill and building projects such as Annandale in the west and Kingsbarns in the east, the Lowlands is at the forefront of avant-guard distilling with a vast variety of flavours on offer.

Auchentoshan, Morrison Bowmore, 01389 878561 www.auchentoshan.com Open 7 days a week, 10am to 5pm. 

  • From Glasgow: 10 miles (20 minutes) from the city centre; from Edinburgh: 55 miles (1 hour 30 minutes) from the city centre
  • Tours: Ranging from the £6 ‘Classic Tour’ lasting an hour to the £45 ‘Ultimate Auchentoshan Experience’. At 135 minutes this is a tour of serious depth, with a nosing and tasting straight from the cask.
  • Visitor Centre Exclusives: bottle-your-own single cask in the warehouse. Choice of two. At present it is a 1999 first-fill Bourbon cask, 59.9% abv. £100.

 

 

Bladnoch, Co-ordinated Development Services, 01988 402605 www.bladnoch.co.uk Open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

  • From Glasgow: 100 miles (two hours thirty minutes); from Edinburgh: 115 miles (three hours)
  • Tours: one standard tour. Expect to pay between £3 and £5.
  • Visitor Centre Exclusives: not at the moment.

 

 

Glenkinchie, Diageo, 01875 342004 http://www.discovering-distilleries.com/glenkinchie/ Open 7 days a week, 10am to 4pm (5pm in August)

  • From Edinburgh: 16 miles (30 minutes); from Glasgow: 60 miles (one hour fifteen minutes)
  • Tours: Ranging from the £6 ‘Glenkinchie Tour’ to the £10 ‘Flavour of Scotland’ tour.
  • Visitor Centre Exclusives: ‘Double-treated’ with Amontillado American oak cask, 59.3%. Around £65.
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June 8, 2012

A Master Blender Bonanza: Part 1

I don’t go in for hero worship. Irrespective of how many Tours de France they have won, how many people they have performed in front of or how many Michelin stars they hold, they are still human beings beneath all the Lyrca, cymbals and cauliflower foam. However, at a recent event held within the Scotch Whisky Experience (SWE), Edinburgh, I must confess that I could finally empathise a little with Beatle Mania, or whatever it is all those teenage girls succomb to whenever anyone mentions Justin Bieber.

The master blenders and ISC panel.

Together with Chrises Hoban and ‘The Tiger’ White from Edinburgh Whisky Blog, I milled about in the refurbished SWE shop together with many other bright-eyed, excited members of the public for the fun, games and knowledge to begin. For the first time in 17 years, the International Spirit Challenge has devolved from London to Edinburgh. This, to me, seems only right for various coincidences of geography and whisky-producing heritage. As a further innovation, the panel agreed to meet with whisky fans for one night only, talking ticket-holders through one of their bottlings before a whisky and food matching presentation with Whyte & MacKay’s Richard Paterson (or R-Patz as C. Hoban insisted on calling him), to conclude with a Q&A. Courtesy of Mr Hoban, I learnt of the event just in time. Another arrangement for which I am deeply grateful comes courtesy of Mr Hoban as well, and that was permission to crash on his sofa afterwards.

Industry legend John Ramsay kicked off the evening, introducing the decorated individuals to the waiting throng. As they stepped out of the wings onto the new mezzanine floor, my easily-suggestible mind confected a Juliet-on-the-balcony comparison, but I was also struck by how – in this, a peerless collaboration by the Scotch whisky industry – the people responsible for so many of the smartly-packaged whiskies surrounding us on the shelves should also be in full view. Ramsay’s successor at Edrington, Gordon Motion, was introduced first, followed by Caroline Martin of Diageo, Billy Leighton of Irish Distillers, the great David Stewart who will complete 50 years of service for William Grant and Sons in September, R-Patz, Seichii Koshimizu of Suntory, Tadashi Sakuma from Nikka, Mackmyra’s Angela D’Orazio, and Chris Morris from Woodford Reserve. With head spinning, we were ushered upstairs where the chatting and dramming commenced.

Chris Morris, all the way from Woodford Reserve, Kentucky.

I have described previously the awe inspired by stepping into the Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection, but skipping between soaring cabinets of seriously old, seriously rare Scotch whisky – both blended and malt – there was added significance as I contemplated meeting the individuals resposnible for continuing the legacy of those brands which were so well-represented all around me. However, my first port of call was outside of Scotland. Since the beginning of the year my fascination for all things Bourbon has mooched into the kind of territory once upon a time open only to the likes of Lagavulin and The Glenlivet. With a recent pub in my local town boasting Buffalo Trace Antique Collection releases – the William Larue Weller expression I had tried a couple of days before – I wanted to learn from one of the masters.

With a big smile and a cheery How-do-you-do? Mr Morris poured me a measure of Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select. Though hardly an uncommon Bourbon, even in my less than cosmopolitan drinking circles, to sip and listen to an exposition from the man who makes it trumped all previous tumblers of this rich, spicy and floral whiskey. At 43.2% the spirit spoke eloquently of glorious American oak and six to eight baking Kentucky summers. In fact, that was the analogy Chris used when trying to differentiate Bourbon from Scotch in the maturation stakes: in the rackhouses, the intense heat forces the spirit into and out of the oak, and exacts an Angel’s Share of 7% per annum. Though Woodford goes into barrels at 55%, it comes out again at 63%. Chris revealed that he had even found a cask whose long tenure unnoticed had seen alcohol by volume reach 90%. It was, of course, ‘undrinkable’.

The mashbill for Woodford Reserve is 72% corn, 18% rye from Dakota and 10% malt. Mr Morris revealed that a new expression would be on the market in the US soon, and will eventually make its way to Europe. He has taken batches of fully-matured Woodford, reduced the spirit back down to 55% and put the whiskey back into Chardonnay casks for 6 months to a year. The result is infinitely darker than the standard expression and reviews so far are highly complimentary.

Richard Paterson in suitably rarefied surroundings with the new Cigar Malt from The Dalmore.

I headed over to the Edrington stand where the quietly spoken but forthright Gordon Motion introduced me to the Famous Grouse Wade Decanter. Constructed to celebrate the pre-eminence of Grouse in the UK market for the last 30 years, I found it to be a very gingery, biscuity spirit, with clean cereals and a hit of earthy smoke. I rather liked it, but appreciated the conversation I overheard between Gordon and Charles Maclean regarding his new film star status still more.

I managed to catch The Nose as the last of his consignment of the latest The Dalmore Cigar Malt disappeared. He had just put in an order for a replacement when the MC tapped him on the shoulder – the next stage of the evening had to begin promptly. He just had enough time to tell me that my date of birth and body mass index could provide vital clues as to how a blend personalised for me might taste (and to pose for a photograph) before strutting off upstairs.

The tutored tasting and blenders’ question and answer session would take place next, but that is for another post.

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June 6, 2012

For an Exquisite Visit

The latest Whisky Round Table discussion is a-raging over at The Casks blog right now. Peter Lemon has quizzed the Knights on their views concerning how whisky companies ensure you and I have a really jolly time at their distilleries, and has encouraged us to scrutinise our own experiences with regards to seeing whisky come to life before our eyes. How important is it? What makes a really good tour?

Please head to The Casks to read the debate and leave a comment detailing your own encounters with distillery visitor centres throughout the world.

*      *      *      *      *

In other news, I shall soon be jumping on a train to Edinburgh for what promises to be an extraordinary evening of whisky lore and conviviality. Ten of the world’s most illustrious master blenders shall be at the Scotch Whisky Experience on Castlehill to answer questions and generally mingle with the public. Or should that be blend? Here is the full press release over at Edinburgh Whisky Blog and I shall write up my experiences later in the week.

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June 2, 2012

Majestic Glenlivet

The word on the street is that there is some sort of royal shindig going on? Lizzie has reigned over us for 60 years and we Brits think that deserves bunting, scones, a few elderly gentlemen playing guitars, that sort of thing. The Macallan has grasped the spirit of the occasion a little better, I feel, with a new bottling from its regal stocks, although it cannot match – at least in terms of years – the Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 60yo. Either way, whisky as a fit means of honouring important occasions, usually with a calendrical application, cannot be disputed.

This brings me on to whisky as a fit means of marking notable moments in my life, and The Glenlivet in particular. It shall always be bound up with October 25, 2007, as the distillery I visited on that bright but chilly day and which launched my interest in whisky into the stratosphere. I don’t know whether this fact was consciously recalled by my friends when, in anticipation of my 21st birthday in September of last year, they pitched in for a bottle of The Glenlivet 21yo Archive (I should mention that it has shot up in price since). Upon opening it, I was ever so glad they did. Upon receiving it, I could only marvel at what a tremendous group of people I call friends. Lizzie will, doubtless, enjoy her scones this weekend and today I intend to tell you how much I enjoyed a measure of this whisky recently.

The Glenlivet 21yo Archive

The Glenlivet 21yo Archive 43% vol. £99.95

Colour – Boldly rich and burnished amber. Toffee apple.

Nose – A few choice aromas initially: clean, sweet and creamy ex-Bourbon wood with plenty of vanilla, sugary yellow fruits and fruitcake. With nose in the glass, I found the delivery a little timid at first but it was gentle and medium rich with a lovely freshness. Maltiness eventually appeared which boasted a certain oiliness whilst being wrapped in nougat and caramel. Terrific firmness of body with a fragrance like heather. The aroma seems to become ever richer with toffee and vanilla, in addition to nutty sherry and dark honey.

Water releases the creamy soft barley which makes powerful surges on a bed of vanilla. Peach, syrupy and running with juice, also Scottish tablet. The nose settles into an image of dunnage warehouses and top notch old Bourbon casks. The cereal notes are quite sharp and still somewhat oily. Plenty of nuttiness appears. With more time, shortbread, sweet mash tun and some dunnage again. Full, fresh and juicy malt.

Palate – Sweet, heavy fruits at first before oak and a slight earthiness break in. A malty flavour that combines vanilla and biscuity richness. Nutty oak dominates towards the finish.

Water heightens the creaminess, as it did for the nose. More toffee and sharp cereals. A good deal of weighty oak. A puff of vanilla after swallowing. Prune and almond.

Finish – Semi rich, oaky, but with a dusty floral note. Plum jam/ figgy residue and vanilla toffee. Quite basic and closed.

Water lent the finish real expressiveness. A crystallised sweetness to the malt introduced the oak once more, only on this occasion it had relaxed a fraction, allowing some tropical fruits to emerge: passion fruit, orange. Butterscotchy/ biscuity richness characteristic of the distillery.

So…? This is a whisky that just about succeeds in balancing delicacy and robustness. Some elements are as fresh and juicy as you could wish for with a Glenlivet, while the extra years have granted it a subtle, dark weight. The wood types have been juggled very impressively with controlled emphasis on Sherry oak but with some very high-quality refill Bourbon barrels in there, too. This is a very good whisky indeed, which does not require your full attention all the time but rewards closer inspection, too.

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