The Whisky Tasting Club

August VIP Tasting

Pat, the author of this blog, wondering what to write

Some years ago (I can’t tell you exactly when as it’s lost in a kind of a spirity haze) Dom had a great idea. This isn’t an unusual event in itself as Dom has lots of great ideas, but in this particular case he had decided that it was a good idea to extend his usual tastings to include rarer and older whiskies, charge more and invite his regular attendees. So, the VIP tastings were born. Not just a good idea, Dom, it’s a genius idea.

What makes these tastings particularly special is that he has access to some very rare and wonderful beasts indeed. Having just completed the Michael Jackson book and his soon-to-be-released ‘World’s Best Whiskies: 750 Unmissable Drams from Tennessee to Tokyo’, he has been sent stacks of whisky to review from round the world. Now, as a man who cares about his liver and kidneys, he can’t drink all of every bottle he is sent, so once he has sampled a whisky and discharged his professional responsibilities, the remainder becomes a contender for the VIP tastings.

Welcome to my tasting!

So to the ‘underbelly’ of the Rumsey Wells pub and another ten-whisky-extravaganza. I should point out here that each sample is very small – we take the safe drinking message very seriously! [speak for yourself – ed.] In addition to the usual 8 regulars, we picked up a new friend who turned up expecting a regular tasting and who was invited to stay for the event. VIP doesn’t mean elitist.

Right so, to the whiskies themselves:

Whisky Number 1:

Zuidam Millstone 8yo matured in French Oak (40% abv)
£58.49 from Whisky Exchange

We’ve had rye whisky from this distillery before and LOVED it, but this was something new to us, although Susie is convinced we’ve had it before. No matter, because we loved this one as well. Its nose has a slight schappsy note along with a healthy dose of caramac (the caramel chocolate). Taste-wise, it’s nothing like it smelled. The French oak gave it a lovely spicy and peppery element which didn’t detract from its smoothness. Some thought it a little too young at 8 years and that maybe another couple of years would make it even better; I guess we’ll never know.

Whisky Number 2:

Sheep Dip 1990 Old Hebredian (40%)
£44.95 from The Whisky Exchange

Sheep Dip seems to have been around for years and I’m not sure that many of its many drinkers will have realised that it’s actually a blended malt (vatted malt to all of us, but the SWA obviously know best) and not a blend. In fact this bottling shows that blended malts can be every bit as good as single malts when they get it right.

A recent addition to their range, this peated beauty contains a 20 year old Ardbeg (according to the man who travels round the country marketing it at various shows). Now for many of us at the VIP tasting, this is very good news indeed. After we had finished it Dr. Bagnall was seen trying to squeeze another few drops out of the bottle.

It had quite a restrained peaty nose which was quite rich and grapey. Taste-wise, you immediately get a hit of Islay, followed by spicy wood. Its finish is long, spicy and drying. As peaty as it is, it isn’t overpowering and would make a great introduction to Islay for those who wished to cast their whisky net a little further afield. When we were in Islay we were told that this is actually 80% Ardbeg, cracking value -Ed.

Whisky Number 3: Balvenie, drawn from the cask 29/07/09. Cask number 10334/1996 (60% abv)
Distillery only

A real rarity, Dom had been given this while on a trip to Balvenie and had decided that he liked us all enough to bring it to a VIP rather than drink it himself. I have to say that I could never bring myself to share any of my Balvenie with anyone, so full marks to Mr Roskrow for his generosity.

Normally, I can spot a Balvenie by its nose but this one fooled me completely. The signs were there – the slightly dusty, perfumy nose, white chocolate in the mouth, but I still didn’t twig. Others chipped in with their thoughts too. Geoff got bananas on the nose, I detected more than a hint of apricots, Susie got rice pud. Once it hit the taste buds, we had an avalanche of spicy Del Monte fruits. I loved it. So did we all. God, I love Balvenie.

Whisky Number 4:

Amrut Double Cask (46%) Limited Edition 7 year old. (46% abv)
Dom has reviewed this here

We are big fans of Amrut but this one simply didn’t do it for any of us. Its nose (meaty and sweaty, slightly pasty) was a bad start. Matters improved slightly when we tasted it: tropical fruits, coconut and a ‘refreshers’ fizz, but there was still a kind of plasticine taint and (so Michelle reckoned) a hint of cumin. The finish was grapey and long. This was a limited edition of 306 bottles and is pretty steeply priced at over £70. I think the consensus was that we would rather buy two bottles of Fusion rather than invest in this. Seven years old is very old for an Indian whisky, given the rapid maturation. Amrut say it is unlikely to be repeating such an experiment. This is a very wise decision, on the evidence of this. In fact, it gave Susie a nosebleed, so there you go.

Whisky Number 5

Old Malt Cask Glen Grant 30 y.o. (50% abv)
Can’t find the exact one, this one is similar

Glen Grant isn’t a distillery we taste very often. Pity. On the evidence of this, it’s a distillery I would like to know more about. With a fabulously clean and crisp nose, full of sherbet and fruit, it’s about as far removed from the Amrut as is possible to imagine. In the mouth, it was more of the same: creamy, fresh, fruity and spicy, although some might perceived this latter quality as being quite aggressively woody. The finish was long and fizzy. Overall, I like this immensely. Given that it currently goes for over £100, some might see it as expensive.

Whisky Number 6:

Mackmyra Special Number 4 (53%).
£63.49 from The Whisky Exchange

Mackmyra Special Number 4 came within a gnat’s crotchet of winning our Whisky World Cup in July, 0.5% behind the eventual winner. Needless to say we loved it again. If anyone sneers at the prospect of the European mainland making whisky, give them a bottle of this or Belgian owl and then tell them to go away (but not before they’ve poured you a glass of both). Plum and mango with a hint of the expected juniper on the nose, herbal liqueur and spicy fruit in the mouth, tropical fruit on the finish. Bear in mind that after five whiskies our taste buds might not be up to detecting the subtleties of the later whiskies so if you want to know a slightly more sober and thorough assessment of the Mackmyra, look at the Whisky World Cup here

Whisky Number 7:

Old Potrero 18th century-style whiskey. (62.05% abv)
£88.75 from Drink Finder

Distilled at the Anchor distillery in San Francisco, this Old Potrero is, as the name suggests, an attempt to recreate a style of whiskey from yesteryear. More than that, though, this is an attempt to make the original whiskey of America. At only two years, three months old, it’s still incredibly young and our immediate thoughts on nosing it were that it was the product of another distillery in the same city, St. George’s (not to be confused with the English whisky of the same name). In fact, one might be forgiven that this was an eau-de-vie or gin rather than whiskey. Now, I realise that sherbet is a word rather overused in this blog but believe me, this has such an effervescent and fizzy mouth-feel to it, the analogy here isn’t an idle one. As nice as this was, I can’t say I like it as much as some of the other whiskeys that Old Potrero has put out. As an experiment though it is fascinating and, as Tony pointed out, add some tonic to it and it would be a great alternative to a G&T.

Whisky Number 8:

Thomas H Handy Rye (64.5% abv)
£94.50 from theThe Whisky Exchange

This was a first for us. Susie’s extensive records hadn’t ever recorded a Thomas Handy so we had no idea what to expect. In the event, it was quite restrained for a rye. Underneath a distinctly hickory nose, you could sense that there were some of the spicy little Rye blighters waiting to spring out and give your taste buds a good kicking but were kept under strict control. I could sit and drink this all day long. Strangely muted for a rye but quite wonderful.

Whisky Number 9:

Laphroaig 20 yo Double Cask Limited Edition, exclusive to Paris Airport (€225). (46.6%)

After eight whiskies, you need something memorable to finish on. Dom, as usual, didn’t disappoint. The peat was enveloped in a sweetness that was creamy, smooth, with a hint of liquorice. This was matured for 18 years in hogshead barrels and then in quarter casks for the last two years to give a ‘sweeter, richer style of Laphroaig, while retaining the traditional peaty smoke tang’. At €220, this isn’t cheap, but judging by the reaction last night, they might sell our rather quickly so grab a bottle while you can. Michelle thought there was less of the medicinal or iodine twang in this than you might usually associate with Laphroaig, but still loved it.

Stop Slouching!

So there we have it……hang on, what’s that you say, we have a little extra treat? Blimey! Not quite sure what we did to deserve this but none of us are going to turn it down, not least when it’s another Bourbon. Dom produced a rather citrusy and light Elmer T. Lee from the good people at Buffalo Trace. Not as good as the Thomas Handy but excellent and a great way to finish a great evening.

Oh my god, another whisky!

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