The Whisky Tasting Club

VIP Tasting 2nd Nov 2010

Tonight was a mini press launch for Dom’s new book ‘The World’s Best Whiskies: 750 unmissable drams from Tain to Tokyo’ involving Andrew Nelstrop from the St. George’s distillery, Marcin Miller from the number one drinks company and several chaps from Archant.  In front of them was a row of empty glasses and several bottles of world whiskies that many had clearly never heard of, let alone drunk, including a Mackmyra Special (fabulous) and a Millstone French Oak reserve (equally fabulous).  Others included a South African grain, a Breton blend and an odd-smelling Swiss Santis single malt.

The consensus was that Dom’s book was a superb achievement and all whiskies were more than palatable, even the smoky Swiss one whose incense-laden nose reminded us of a Catholic Mass or perhaps a High Anglican church service (luckily, without the dose of guilt).  Either way, it was good support to the evening’s headline act – our VIP tasting.

Ballantine's Christmas Reserve

Having lost all but one of the press ‘pack’, we embarked upon a 6 whisky extravaganza (4 fewer than usual but time was short).  As usual, Dom excelled himself with his whiskies. First up was a:

BALLANTINE’S CHRISTMAS RESERVE (40% abv) which apparently is going to be made available every year, albeit briefly.  This was a very pleasant introduction; incredibly smooth with real complexity, lots of fruit, a touch of cinnamon and a hint of peat in the background.  The one down-side was the slightly light nose and very short finish.

The overall impression was that this was rather good. As to whether this represents value for money, I have no idea as I can’t find out how much it’s going for.

Miyagikyo 1989

Next was a MIYAGIKYO 1989 21 year old single malt (50% abv).

A good deal more depth on the nose than the Ballantine’s with a considerable dollop of peat.

Taste-wise there was loads of fruit and peat with sherbet, menthol and blackcurrant.  This was a big hit with the five of us.

We rarely have a Japanese that’s anything other than brilliant and this was right up there with them.

Eagle Rare 17

And then, it got even better. Forgive me if this sounds like another luvvy-fest with everything being “soopah dahling”, but this was a VIP tasting and the standard is exceptionally high.

Number three was an EAGLE RARE 17 year old (45% abv).

On the nose you have a soft hickory with lots of sweet wood.  On the palate there is a lovely soft vanilla and fruit with the merest ‘bite’.

Like the Ballantine’s we thought this ended rather abruptly, but, despite going for £87.95 at the Whisky Exchange,  there isn’t one of us who wouldn’t kill their own grandmother for a bottle of this (if she wasn’t already dead, that is).

Aberlour a'bunadh

Next comes a nasty surprise. An ABERLOUR A’BUNADH BATCH UNKNOWN (60%).

It’s fair to say that having included this whisky in our wood tasting, we are all big fans, but each batch is a very different beast. Most are brilliant but, alas, not all…

The first thing I thought of while nosing this was soy sauce, then salt, then sulphur.  Something of an alliterative nose, then.  Taste-wise, lots of liquorice, sherry, coffee and….sulphur.

This is the problem with sherry finished whiskies, a rogue cask can simply blitz the true sherry character and leave you with a sulphur-stained palate.

Verdict = “Not overly keen.  NEXT….”

Sazerac 18

…comes the star of the show in my eyes.  A SAZERAC RYE 18 (45%).

Many of us decided we would be happy just to sit and nose this.  Between us we decided that its signature aromas were “old handbags, leather, floral and dusty”.

If living proof were needed that you can’t do justice to a whisky with words alone, there you have it.  This was simply stunning and if anyone thinks that rye whiskies have to be aggressive, then try this. On the palate you had enough bite to remind you that this was a rye whisky with a healthy dose of melon.

Again, I don’t think the words exist to articulate how good this is, and at £87.95 at the Whisky Exchange, it’s time to bump off any other grandmothers you have kicking around the place.

World whisky of the year?  You betcha.

Caol Ila 25

Or is it?  Dom saved his personal favourite until last, a CAOL ILA 25 (OFFICIAL BOTTLING – 59.4%).

Surprisingly for such an old Islay malt, this had lots of peat present, plus oil, liquorice, fruit, citrus and aniseed.

In short, you’re not going to boot this out of bed for lacking in peat and complexity.  Dom thinks it’s better than the Sazerac but I’m afraid my heart was already well and truly stolen before my lips touched the Caol Ila.

At £135, this ain’t cheap but for a 25 year old Islay it’s still good value.  Having said that, with that money I could buy a bottle of Sazerac and a Lagavulin 16. ‘nuff said.


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