Re: P/O/U/R/S tasting March 17th Edinburgh
Here be the write up for the tasting:-
After last tasting's empty seats I was pleased to welcome 28 drammers to Thursday's tasting- especially as none of the whiskies were known to those attending. With Cadenheads having recently bottled I'd hoped for a wealth of choice for the night. However there proved fewer stars than hoped for. Also always with a budget to balance the final line up was only settled on the day of the tasting, always an 'exciting' proposition this- I like to be better prepared than that.
First was a dram which was stuck under my nose due to its ridiculous price as well as it's lineage- Cutty Sark 12yo 40% blend. Having recently tested the 25yo and some time ago the 18yo it also made sense to try this deluxe edition. Being as the brand has just been swapped for the Glenrothes brand between Highland Distillers and Berry Brothers & Rudd I can only surmise a rebranding is imminent as these editions are being sold off at give away prices. This expression costs just £12 retail! (I don't use exclamation marks often but I feel this use is warranted[!]). Having taken a bottle home recently after a 'refreshing' night out with Mrs T I was so impressed with the dram- it had depth and length while the character was complex and just what I was in the mood for- an almost humbling experience. On the night though my moment at home with my feet up was not transferrable to the bustle of a full tasting in the Tollbooth with perhaps an air of expectancy naturally raising the bar. Tasting now the nose is welcoming if not captivating and not immeadiatly recognisable as a blend. The palate quickly shows the grain (presumably handsome helpings of good old North British thanks to the tie in with ownership). A suspicious colour may lead to an assumption of over generous caramel and in turn draw attention to a bitter note hanging around before building at the finish, but this could be paranoia. Overall the dram is like a good standard blend but given the price I'll be happy to buy and drink some more as well as pour it for future tastings. Cutty Sark is an interesting brand with a great story behind it. Even the title is romantic- coming from the Dumbarton built clipper ship which in turn took it's name from a line out of Burns's Tam o' Shanter. All the tales about prohibition and gangsters, rum runners, famous artists and printing errors add to the marketer's dream ticket. Unfortunately performance on the night disappointed with a lowly 34%- 112222333333444444444 'Reet up X 1', 'easy drinking- well done', 'smells like vanilla', 'smells like flower garden', 'nice introductory dram, didn't have it down as a blend', 'initial nose is ok, palate bland, easy to drink though..but hey lifes too short, wheres the meat?'.
Meat it is. The next dram was pretty much the star of the last Cadenheads bottling. A 20yo Rosebank 52.9% only 144 botlles from a sherry cask. I've heard of sherry cask Rosebanks but never seen one let alone tried an example. We only got 18 bottles in the shop- they were gone in four days. A really interesting nose gives plenty- cough syrup, cherries, is that smoke? hints of Bourbon some how, nutty coffee, had I been told this was a sherry cask Amrut then I'd have to believe it. It gives an aura of being even older than 20 years but perhaps the low out turn may indicate a problem cask where an abundance of head space inside the cask speeded some flavours up. One of the Quality Street chocolates from a metal tin but I can't say which one. Doughnuts just out of the frier. If this isn't in my top ten noses come the end of 2011 then there must be some great drams to come this year. On the palate the complete absence of sulphur is a joy. This is as clean a sherry cask as you might dare to hope for. Has this been a touch up job with the contents of a falterring cask being transferred into a supercharger to make it fit for purpose? I just can't read the signs clearly, but really who cares when the result is as enjoyable as this. But a very surprisingly low score of 47% might reflect the strong character went beyond a lot of people's thresholds. There were quite a number of folk there who I couldn't account for their likes/dislikes and experience unlike most night when I can know better those present and their foibles. 0112233444555555666677 'Pretty good', 'wonderful dram, almost my best of the night', 'more chocolate please', 'mon cherie', 'sherry taste but too strong finish', 'reet up X 3', 'obviuos initially, i.e. sherry but palate and finish betrays something far more complex and briney and woody'.
Next another triple distilled dram- Hazelburn Sauterne Wood Expression: 5 years in refill bourbon casks then 3 in fresh Sauterne 9000 bottles. After the success of the port casks Hazelburn at the Christmas tasting this bottling had promise. Given the warm reception the sample bottle got in the shop it was a bit of a no brainer for the tasting although given how weighty the previous one was never mind the fourth dram I had worries the tasting would be top heavy with big wood. Trademark Campbeltown lurks in the glass- plenty dark and rich delights bubbling away. Apparently Dave Broom called this 'Winnie The Pooh's wet dream'. Thats just sick, and very funny. Melted Twix bars in a leather attache case on the nose with chilli chocolate on the palate. Sour sherry like notes are redolent particulrly at the beginning of the long finish. This has class stamped all over it. Another feather in the cap for wood management policies and further evidence, if any is still needed, that age is mostly a distraction. The few other Sauterne maturation/finishes I've tried have been no where near this intense. Perhaps there is a spectrum of character within the world of Sauterne- wine is pretty much a closed book to me although I do like looking at the cover. It interests me a distiller would practice triple distillation, a more expensive option, with a spirit result higher in the purity stakes then stick it in a bold cask. Auchentoshan Triple Wood always seemed an anomally to me. But could it be the type of alcohols and congeners created at this higher strength extracts a different set of flavours from the wood- perhaps a more penetrating effect. Whatever, there seems to be a winning formula as the results are becoming conspicuously consistent. We recently got some new make from the distillery- Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn, for the second time the Hazelburn shone the brightest. Once again I'm frustrated such good spirit exists and mostly goes unappreciated, I wish some of this got bottled. 3344444455555555566 a more fruitfull but still modest 54%. 'Nearly drinkable without water', 'salty!', 'reet up X4', 'silage and sherry- choc orange finish'.
Next was another head turner from the Cadenheads program. A 14yo Heaven Hill Bourbon. A few years ago we had half a dozen self bottled Bourbons on our list- the rate of bottling overtaking consumption. Now we have one and it will probably sell out before too long. There is definatley a greater awareness and appreciation of the big flavours coming out of Kentucky. Imported whiskies in the UK are where the growth in sales lies at the moment. I wonder if the SWA are concerned. Very unfortunately I don't have a sample right now but a full on spicy wood fest is still clear in my mind. Don't look for a spread of subtle character but enjoy the waves of oak and dry dusty pepper. This time the lighter sweeter vanilla is overshadowed by long years in cask, perhaps a higher rye content is also at play. Like many I'm getting more and more from American whiskies and the chance to investigate a whole new world of taste, history, practice and personalities is most welcome. 002222233333444556777 again the challenge might have been too much with a slight 39% and two zeros indicating some people were well out of their comfort zone however a nice spread of scores also shows some were accepting while others caught the breeze. 'I didn't get it was a 14yo Kentucky Bourbon but I did say it could be a very old grain', 'too normal', 'tastes like a poor grappa', 'surprisingly good', 'reet up X 2', 'Bourbon/grain/fruit/wasn't a patch on 23yo cola (?) Bladnoch'.
Finally I needed something peaty and over 25yo to fulfill the P/O/U/R/S promise. I could only be an old Caol Ila given how many pennies were left in the tin. Adelphi had a promising offering but proved too ellusive in the end and with nothing in the Bladnoch shop my old chums at Golden Cask came up trumps with an affordable 26yo at 51%. A first aid box in a farmyard all lightly dusted with icing sugar. Yum. An interesting thought was presented by a regular. I noted he wasn't overly impressed by the recent old Caol Ila night we had proposing Caol Ila is best young, hibernates for a bit then comes back out to play at great age. Any body care to comment? Is Caol Ila better in short or long trousers? Discuss. I can easily see the point when young ones are so complete. Oldies are the best value for Islay but is the difference that significant? Here I'm also noticing a glimpse of the pine/Christmas trees one of Raymond's bottlings had in impressive stocking fulls. 333444455556666667788 we have a winner with 58%. 'This is for me', 'peat/silage/iodine', 'wonderful peaty dram', 'smoky', 'want more', 'reet up X 3'.
All-in-all a poor scoring night, which is a bit bohtersome as I deliberated long and hard about the line-up believing they were all strong, perhaps too strong.