Loc: East Calder, West Lothian, Sco...
Well for the last time this year and also this decade we had ourselves a tasting. This time thanks to a big booking before the drams were finalised we actually tried all drams blind. Nobody knew any of the drams they were going to try. Some make the effort to avoid discovering what the drams are so as to have a completely open mind about whats in the glass, others may only come if they know what they're going to get.
Due to the weather and probably Christmas 'pressure' our sell out only saw 19 actually attending.
Our first dram tempted me from when I first heard of it. But many whiskies sound promising on paper and without the service of trying before you buy being offered confidence in a purchase has to be high. Luckily thanks to a 'special' charity tasting hosted by Arthur Motley of Royal Mile Whiskies I didn't have to take a gamble with this one. Japanese whisky has for some years stopped being a novelty and has proven to be more than a fad. With some world beating single malts bottled perhaps the blends have yet to make as big an impression. Having used 21yo Hibiki to great effect a number of years ago I was pleased to serve this latest extension to the range- 12yo 43%. For me the dram is very accomplished and most enjoyable. Its medium body and rich fruitiness could easily be mistaken for a malt. The grain element, when detected, is very complimentary, I wonder the ratio. A twist in the story is some unusual casks playing a part in the wood policy. Ex-plum liquour casks are used and their effect although no overt surely add to the pleasing mix of influences. With the 30yo addition to the range costing £100s of pounds most of us will just have to dream about the places greatly aged Japanese blends will take us.
Another point of interest about this bottling is the fact it was released in Europe months ahead of it being available in Japan. A signpost of the significance exports now mean to the Japanese industry, the US for that matter too. However the feedback from the room fell a bit short of my own appreciation: 39% of posible marks in not a disaster but nor is it particularly complimentary. The scoring was- 11222233555668 demonstrating a fair spread of thoughts mainly at the lower end. Comments were- 'non-caterisable', 'comfortable, drinkable', 'Bostick glue nose', 'Hannibal- leader of the pack', 'pretty standard episode of shooting stars- great', 'Airfix glue, seaweed, prefer the oatcake', 'Japanese Cheech and Chong without smoke- harmony', (hibiki means harmony by the way), 'very subtle' and 'liked this, good blend'.
Next was yet another lost still. Cadenheads Littlemill 18yo Bourbon hogshead. This again the next in a parcel of the same batch. Having tried the 11yo, 14yo and 16yo they seem to be getting better and better. A bit odd on the nose- you'd never expect the flavour developing the way it does. The light notes quickly subside to be replaced by a growing ball of sweet pastries with lemon leading to more exotic touches leaving a lingering custard cream. An almost European whisky element seems to prevade throughout but water dulls most of the drama. It must be mentioned though that previous experience with the parcel tends to split opinion as for some the rather hard to pigeon hole flavours seem a good bit outwith a fair few drammer's comfort zone. 45% shows the descenters have the day. 01124455556777. 'very up front', 'The Van- full of tricks', 'too sharp, woody with water', 'a bit of a trojan horse- nose doesn't prepare you for the unusual palate, lingering finish- nice one', 'cheese complexity'.
This distillery was at one time the oldest established in Scotland (1772 I think), what a shame after so long it should perish. Having a shaky reputation amongst single malt consumers examples like this are a better memory. Owned by the same company that has Glen Scotia and Loch Lomond there certainly seems to be a family resemblence with these west coasters.
Next was a rather unusual beast. Penderyn lightly peared Welsh single malt. Having had some pretty positive experiences with Penderyn a peated angle was something to be anticipated. However the peat seems to have given up before entering the ring and battle is between all manner of weird and wonderful fruits and woods. Having bought this bottle two years ago I've waited for the right time to stick it in a line up. It's absence to date has as much to do with so many other experiments waiting for a spot as lack of confidence in a warm (or even tepid) response. 19% shows my doubts were not unfounded. 01111112222344 is a poor performance and the lack of a single score over 50% condems this to the unanimously unredeemed pile. 'boring, like grappa', 'must have bought the peat from Arthur Daly', 'Howlin' Mad Murdoch', 'like being forced to wash dishes twice because their dirty', 'incredible Hulk (Eric Bona one) attempte to be brutal but comes over bland', 'not a lot happening but wouldn't chuck it out of bed on a cold night', 'Banana spliff'.
Onwards and upwards: a Glenfiddich 32yo single cask. On the nose considerable age is evident. Musty sweet pear drops come across invitingly and as with all good noses there isn't a compulsion to get to the palate, rather the drawing out of the pleasure sustains itself. This is one of a genuine handful of drams I've repeated at these tastings. The first time must have been more than 4 years ago and the opportunity to pass it around again was just too tempting. William Grant have responded to the growing ranges offered by it's competitors with issues of many special bottlings but have remained somewhat restrained in going for broke with the likes of wood finishing. This example is definetly old school and like the veteran it is brings a moment of calm after the first 3 comparitively unconventional drams. Despite last minute jitters about it's inclusion due to a hint of staleness due to time in wood this one turned out to be the favourite of the nught with a very high 77% of total possible points. 2567888888888.59 shows only one score below par (not Par Caldenby). 'yummy mummy', 'Faceman- good looking and attractive', 'wonderful'.
Penultimately this summer's initial release of Hazelburn 12yo 46%. Distilled 3 times at Springbank distillery and totally unpeated this is heavily influenced by sherry casks. An impressive dark shade makes you wonder what this would have been like before dilution. A teasing nose offers nuts and spices in-between nose nips. Initial tastes allude to Campbeltown but with a degree of discretion despite the big oak. Like last week's Madiera wood Springbank the presence on the palate and the fantastically long finish more than delivers any expectations. As the dram opens up in the glass a sweetness begins to emerge. another 70+ score (73) reflects success and for me this is the best thing the distillery has done this year. 4466667888899. What will next year's bottling bring? 'perfect harmony', 'the whisky that keeps on going', 'Amy the woman, good but soon forgotten'.
And so to the last dram. If only I had thought it out! This was the last dram of the decade. It had to be peaty, strong but over all the best. Did I seize the moment? No I did not. Mind you I discounted everything in the shop either because it had been used recently or was untested. A trip to Royal Mile Whiskies drew a blank despite valiant efforts of the fine staff, the Bow Bar turned up a blank too. Taking last week's triumph with the Cadenheads Ardbeg I remembered having accidently put two bottles of the same single cask of Cadenheads 11yo Ardbeg into my collection. Dating from 2005 and from a Bourbon hogshead I couldn't specifically remember it but none of these bottlings have proven less than impressive. Typically lightfooted on the tongue the wood and coal smoke dance merrily to a sweet tune leaving another welcome trace on the tastebuds well after the swallow. Water softens the effect but doesn't dilute beyond integrity. 68% 22666677778889. 'In yer face Islay, I can go home happy', 'Leaving Las Vegas- smoke, high, smoke, high, etc, etc,...', 'Mr T, lots of bling'.
So there you have it. With the festive season coming to its main celebration and a new year about to unravel I hope your god (if any) goes with you (to quote a certain Irish comedian of my youth) and wish you and yours best at a time of year which can both focus and obscure it's whole point. Its been a typical year of ups and downs and a decade of triumphs and trials, I imagine the next won't be much different. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Have a special dram and share it.