The Whisky Tasting Club The Whisky Tasting Club

Here at the Whisky Tasting Club, we aim to bring you great whisky at affordable prices. Hopefully, over the past five years we’ve been doing that, but now we want to raise the bar a little and bring you increasingly interesting, in some cases older and more expensive whiskies, but still at affordable prices to you. Part of the WTC plan was to allow customers to try smaller samples of whiskies they might not have wanted to risk buying themselves.

Our nine year association with Dominic has allowed us to try some whiskies that, as poor academics, we could never have hoped to be able to afford ourselves or, in some cases, even find. Of course, some whiskies that command high prices either because of their age and/or rarity are a bitter disappointment (sometimes literally), and although it’s tempting to think that older is better, all whiskies have their limit as to how long they can remain in the oak and improve. In the case of the lighter-bodied Lowland whiskies, that limit is generally about 21 years whereas the more full-bodied spirits from Speyside and the Highlands can last a lot longer in the wood, typically up to 40 or 50 years. In fact, the oldest official release from a Scottish distillery is 70 years (Mortlach - Speyside). Of course, the quality of the barrels plays a massive part; many say this is the main determinant of the quality of the whisky. If you put good spirit into bad barrels, you get bad whisky. Simple as that.

Given the above, it’s worth doing a little research before you buy a bottle of something expensive or rare because the quality (or compatibility with your tastebuds) is far from guaranteed. And by research, I mean drink. I once eagerly poured a glass of a single cask whisky from a much-loved but now deceased distillery only to find it has been matured in possibly the worst cask ever to find its way into the system. I may as well have drunk a glass of whisked up rotten eggs, so bad was it. Where a distillery was destined for closure, it may have been tempting to use any old cask that came along to mature its spirit. I should point out that most bottlings from now dead distilleries are great but the wood policy in the 1980s (when a lot of distilleries went to the wall) wasn’t always as good as it could have been. We will try and bring you more of these selections in the future to give you a chance to try more premium and rare whiskes so you can buy with confidence.

What we have done is to choose some premium whiskies from Pat’s personal collection that we have tried and loved. From the Lowlands comes a previous (Diageo) incarnation of Bladnoch, now sadly closed. From Norfolk is a recent 6 year-old unpeated malt from the English Whisky Company which shows just what this distillery is consistently capable of. From Taiwan is the award-winning and frankly mind-blowing Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask Strength. From Islay is one of the best Laphroaigs of recent times (for me, at least) – the Cairdeas Port Wood Edition, and from a number of locations is Compass Box’s Flaming Heart (version 2), probably the best Compass Box ever, and that’s saying something.

Compass Box Flaming Heart v2.

This was Compass Box’s second release of Flaming Heart (there have been a further two versions since) and it instantly achieved cult status among us all, hence why we stockpiled quite a few bottles. It comprises whiskies from different regions of Scotland including, we think, Clynelish and Laphroaig, but possibly some Glen Elgin and Dailuaine, too. The result, as Dom says, is a combination of blackcurrant and strawberry jam and a steam engine festival. More recent versions have been much more heavily-peated and this much lighter and more balanced version is far more interesting, we think.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Port Ellen ferry. Oil and smoke. Lemon. Intense.
Palate: Rootsy, then smoky, with a big fruit compote fightback. A syrupy contest between smoke and plummy fruits.

Retails for around £95

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Bladnoch Flora and Fauna 10 year old

This “Flora and Fauna” range was part of Diageo’s attempt to make available a wider range of malts, by releasing whisky from distilleries that had never (or rarely) bottled official single malts. As this bottling demonstrated, Bladnoch was capable of some sublime whisky. Bottles of this can still be found for around £85 online. Bladnoch was mothballed by Diageo, only to be revived by Ulsterman Raymond Armstrong. Alas, even he couldn’t keep it going and it is now closed yet again, for how long is anyone’s guess. Where’s a Russian oligarch when you need one?

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Marmalade on buttered toast. Creamy. Oranges and lemons.
Palate: Tangy and chewy. Licorice. Moist fruitcake. A citrussy buzz that fades gradually, leaving a buttercream and almond finish.

Retails for around £75

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English Whisky Company Chapter 14

Although it might be tempting to think we only include this because it’s the closest distillery to us, we include it because its whisky is phenomenally good and getting better. When ex-brewer David Fitt took over from distilling legend Iain Henderson (whose daughter was studying at the nearby university of East Anglia when the distillery opened), his task looked a rather unenviable one. How, with no distilling experience, do you follow someone who has been in charge of, amongst others, Laphroaig and Edradour? The answer is, in his own way. This expression is just under 7 years old, probably the equivalent to a 10 year old scotch. Wow!

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Green bananas and red fruit. Creamy. Peppery. Herbal. Hint of grapefruit and apple skins.
Palate: Soft. Gently oaked. Creamy toffee. Minty. Oranges. Vanilla.

Retails for around £75

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Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition

Laphroaig release an annual version of their “Cairdeas” whiskies (“Friendship” in gaelic), and this was the offering for 2013. Well, we weren’t going to turn down the opportunity to try Laphroaig matured in port casks, were we….. This was matured in both bourbon casks and port pipes and the result is a lovely interweaving of the typical Laphroaig peat and the soft Turkish delight qualities of the port. Although some wine finishes can be grim, it’s rare to come across a bad port finish, although apparently port casks can be unpredictable, so maybe it’s that the bad ones never make it to market.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Sweet peat. Plum jam. Sour red fruits. Ashy. Menthol.
Palate: Sweet and rich and eventually mouth-puckeringly dry. Dry peat kept in the background by a macaroon and red fruit avalanche. Caraway seed and macadamia nuts on the finish.

Retails for around £100

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Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask

Kavalan hails from Taiwan, not exactly a hotbed of whisky distilling. However, their whiskies have been achieved multiple awards and the distillery itself named the best Asian-Pacific Spirits Producer three times in a row. Credit must go to the master blender Ian Chang and whisky consultant Dr Jim Swan who have worked together since the distillery was set up in 2005. This expression won double gold at the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Given its high strength, you might wish to add a dash of water, but only after you’ve tried it neat, of course.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Huge sherry. Varnish. Dried fruit. Nuts. Marzipan. Vanilla.
Palate: The cleanest sherry. Camp coffee. Very drying. Increasing wood spice with coconut and a vanilla of startling clarity towards the finish.

Retails for around £100

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