Friday, October 08, 2010

A David Stirk Tasting Is No Laughing Matter

One of the hits of last year, David Stirk returned to Glasgow’s Whisky Club with another Magnificent Seven whiskies. We like David; he’s from Southern Scotland (Yorkshire) and brings a real honesty to tasting nights. He also brings some of the worst jokes ever heard, with the groan factor rising as the end of the evening approaches.
Most of all, though, he brings some great drams, and Tuesday’s tasting at the Metropolitan was no exception.
First up was a Glentauchers 11, bottled at 45% and one of 381 bottles from the cask. Glentauchers is relatively unknown malt, since most of it goes into Ballantine’s. From a second fill American hogshead, it displayed that classic vanilla and oak, with a chalky dryness.
Another 11 year old, this time from Glen Ord, was our second sup. One of 295 bottles, this was finished in a European oak for nine months. The Euroak (sorry) acts much more quickly on the whisky, and therefore needs to be treated carefully.

David demonstrated the proper way to store and pour whiskies with the next dram - plastic containers and water jugs! The Glen Keith cask strength (54.1%) looked just like chip shop vinegar, but thankfully tasted of very fine whisky.
A 1980 Tamdhu was next, again cask strength at 52.8% from a refill ex-Bourbon hogshead, and each dram just seemed to be better than the one before (That often happens at tastings, though)>
Into David’s Exclusive range and a beguiling Linkwood 1991 18yo. Bottled at 50.8% and again finished in Euro oak, I got polish, leather armchairs, Airfix glue – all good in my view!
The nose is rich, crammed full of mixed fruits, sweet oak and vanilla and a hint of aniseed. The palate is also sweet and oaky with lots of different fruit flavours from orange-liqueur to tropical fruit. The finish is short but fruity with a long oaky aftertaste.
A pleasant interlude was the interruption of proceedings by John Darling, who arrived with a tray of sandwiches left over from a do he was at. John’s fast becoming the Food Meister of the Club; at the last Round the Barrel we had Arran whisky cake, baked by Vicky, his wife. The sandwiches worked well with one of the best drams of the evening for me, a peaty, smoky Ardmore 10, sitting at 54.6% and recasked in an ex-Clynelish cask for six weeks. Amazing.
The final dram was even better. A dram bottled in 1966, when it felt the end of the world was near, this Tomintoul from a first fill sherry cask was simply immense. We were only the second club to have tasted this masterpiece, so some gentle crowing about 1966 was a fair price to pay. The cask spent its entire life at Tomintoul and at around £175 a bottle, it found a number of fans in club members.
Treasurer Ian Black was again keen to flash the cash and his bargaining powers mean there will be a pleasant reprise of Mr Stirk’s whiskies at a future Round the Barrel evening.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Calm Before The Storm

A two-tone Round the Barrel to bring September to an end. A fairly sedate start with a change of plan. Our initial idea for a bourbon night - with real, live bourbons and a selection of bourbon cask malts, took a late hit when bourbon-meister Andrew Bell called off with an attack of Islay cold.

In their stead we sampled a 20 year old Bladnoch, a 10 year old Speyside specially bottled for the Bon Accord, and two Tullibardines from our recent trip - a 15 year old sherry and an 18 year old port.

Joining us for the second part was Curt Robinson from Calgary, Alberta, who runs a whisky blogging website  and has interviewed Ralfy and Mark for it, but also real people like Mickey Heads. He was coming to the end of a tour of Scotland, especially Islay, and chilled out with us before flying home the next day. Hope the head wasn't too bad Curt!

The second part of the evening was an altogether more rewarding affair. With the exception of Big Peat and the 26 year old Caol Ila, the remains of the previous week's Douglas Laing tasting were brought to the barrel. I raved about them last week, but the people who weren't there were equally as enthusiastic at the quality of the drams on offer.

Apart from Kurt, we had two other new faces - Elspeth who came with Eddie,(below) and Roddy,(above) who dispenses wisdom at Oddbins in Crow Road. Roddy joined on the night. We're not sure if we scared Elspeth off, but she seemed to enjoy the drams on the night.

The final star of the evening wasn't even a whisky. Your humble treasurer is spending the week basking in the glow of Channel Four's Come Dine With Me. This TV colossus was seen in action in his kitchen, destroying one batch of tatties, before getting caught making one dish stretch into two. 

Last night he was mobbed by star-struck TV groupies (well, Adam actually) who couldn't believe he could get so close to the big man. Where's the Security when you need it?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Six Stunning Scotches - And Big Peat

Busy few weeks whisky-wise, but now I’ve got a chance to catch up. First on the list is Ralfy’s departure from these shores for the Isle of Man and a wee bothy from where his acclaimed vlogs will henceforth emanate.
There was a great turn up Round the Barrel for his farewell, and it coincided with a ‘Tache Tribute to Richard Paterson, who is celebrating 40 years in the whisky business.
There were a few speeches, a few drams and a wee presentation to the Chanty Wrassler, who responded in good style, crediting Glasgow’s Whisky Club with untold power and influence.

The Richard Paterson tribute, where we all donned fake moustache for a group photie, so delighted the great man, that he donated a bottle of Whyte and Mackay 40 year old to a future RtB night.
Next up was a wee double-distillery trip that attracted 10 hardy souls. We headed across to the Kingdom of Fife and took a guided tour round the delightful Daftmill Distillery.
Headed by Francis Cuthbert, who began the venture with brother Ian, and set in the heart of Fife, they use their own barley, grown at Daftmill Farm, and sparkling water from their own artesian well.
They also run it as distilleries of yore did, waiting till the harvest is in (and the tatties are howked) before using spare barley for malting.
It’s a working farm, so tours are limited to the quieter periods of farm life (if there are any). Call ahead if you fancy going.

As a reward for the trek you can sometimes share a dram with Francis. The bourbon is full of classic American Cream Soda, Butterkist popcorn, while the sherry is simply immense, with a finish that goes on and on.
Francis insists he’ll bottle whisky “when it’s ready”. We reckoned it was ready on Saturday!

We then dashed across country to Tullibardine, where we undertook the Connoisseur’s Tour. Led by our genial guide, Gavin, we got to explore many bits and bobs of this distillery, before sampling, straight from the casks, a handful of decent drams
Last bit of business was the Douglas Laing tasting with Jan Beckers at Uisge Beatha. Some confusion over emails and dates resulted in a low turn out of 10 – 11 if you count Jan (which we do), but it was an utterly magical evening.
We sat round one long bench in the candlelight (which made even Mr Black strangely attractive) and sampled a Magnificent Seven whiskies, each one better than the one before.

Here’s the list
  1. A Clan Denny 45 year old single grain from Girvan. An astonishing dram for such an old whisky, liquid Bounty Bar, Jan called it, sweet chocolate and coconut and still pretty big at 46.3?
  2. A Provenance Benrinnes. A new one on me, and more shame for having previously overlooked it. Fresh, citrus, with a nose of autumn woodland, this 1997 whisky was 46%.
  3. An Old Malt Cask Braes of Glenlivet 20. Another new one for me, this was bottled at 50% and was just scrumptious
  4. A remarkable Highland Park, bottled at 11 years old. This had more depth of character than the official 12YO. Smokier and peatier than the OB, it comes in at 46%
  5. An Old Malt Cask Ardmore 12. Again sitting at 50%, this came from a refill hoggie and opened my eyes to a spicy Highland/Speysider than I’m determined to taste again. It brought out the romantic in Peter – “a seductive siren” he called it!
  6. The affable Big Peat. A soaraway success when it was introduced last year, the first batch of this 46 percenter sold out in eight to 10 days. We tasted batch 7 and although it has a PPM of 22 “and a bit” said Jan. it’s nowhere near as scary ass the label makes out.
  7. And for me the absolute standout of an evening of absolute standouts – a 26-year-old Caol Ila that was sweet, gentle, far, far better than anything out of the OB warehouses.
  8. A simply stunning evening. “It’s what I joined Glasgow’s Whisky Club for,” said Shawn, and there was no-one who would disagree.

I’ve asked Jan to host another evening early in the New Year when hopefully many more souls can experience a night of absolute bliss.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tam's Drams : Open For Business

 Opening night at Tam's Drams brought out the crowds - a lot of them suspiciously like Glasgow's Whisky Club on tour. Tam Gardiner, who's been a club member for the past three years, has realised a long-held dream to run his own whisky shop. A keen collector, Tam's own haul of whisky provided a big talking point at the opening. His Collectors Corner is stuffed with old drams, rare drams, eye-wateringly expensive drams. One day I'll pluck up the courage.
 Since most of the big boys in whisky don't want to know the smaller, independent outlets, Tam chose to be independent, and go independent. He's getting great support from Glasgow's own Douglas Laing, Duncan Taylor, Wemyss Malts and Springbank. Arran and Bruichladdich, newly moved into new HQ off Blythswood Square, are also generous suppliers.
 Your humble chairman has been helping Tam out in the shop, photographing the stock for Tam's up and coming website - - and Tam has been doing nothing to reduce Toshie's waist line by introducing him to the wide variety of food shops dotted along this up and coming stretch of Finnieston.
Business was brisk on the opening night and a number of bargains were spotted. Tam was a generous host, doling out drams, sandwiches and funny wrap things. When things settle down, he's planning some tasting events. We should get him along to the club one night. I promise there will be no heckling!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

When the drams flow smoothly

 By guest blog editor Alester Phillips

Nestled in the heart of Speyside is Josie’s Well, a source of mineral rich water, and a key component of The Glenlivet. I am sure you will all know by now that a name is not just a name when it comes to whisky. The name is meaning, it is history, and as Chivas Brothers International Brand Ambassador, Alex Robertson is keen to point out, provenance – that thing that defines the origins of a whisky. The Glenlivet is not just a name, “Livet” means “Smooth Flowing One” – and that is definitely not just a name when presented with a range to sample from The Glen of the Smooth Flowing One.
Alex and Chivas Brothers don’t mess about when they do a tasting - it’s all about presentation. In the upstairs dining room of Metropolitan in Glasgow’s Merchant City we have white table cloths, individual “The Glenlivet Signature” tasting books, and a projector with beautiful images of the distillery and its surroundings, oh and lumps of wood and a slice of a barrel.
Neatly laid out in front of us (for the first half of the tasting) were six glasses each containing the one of the core Glenlivet range – 12yo, 15yo French Oak, 16yo cask strength Nadurra, 18yo, 21yo and 25yo.
The 12 is a good place to start, easy, light, and the 15 French Oak is a hit-or-miss, some like the influence of the a couple of years in Limosin oak, some don’t. Next up was the Nadurra, 53.6% and full of flavour and I know that some people are of the opinion that whiskies should be bottles at full strength as standard. As we worked through the rest of the range, up to the 25 which was rich, smooth, so easy to drink - and what should be expected from a classic Speyside which has been maturing for all that time-   it becomes clear that The Glenlivet signature range is not for everyone, some people love it, others are just unexcited by it.
Part two was the exciting (informal) bit, and even Alex seemed excited that we were about to get our eager paws on some cask samples that are not destined for general consumption.
Laid out at the top table from Alex’s magic bag were eight bottles to which members gravitated, like flies to… a fine Speyside Dram. So, there were Glenlivets – 5yo first fill sherry butt which some thought was a bit like Aberlour A’Bunadh, and should be bottled as standard, it was that tasty. Then there were first fill American casks aged 8, 14, 18 and 21 – the 21yo was seriously good.
There was even a drop of cask strength Miltonduff kicking about and the 17yo Alt A'Bhaine, bottled at 62.8% was really something, and a great dram to finish a grand night.
I'm sure most, if not all who attended will agree that the second half was the real treat, and there were things on the table that we could only wish would find their way into a bottle for a reasonable price!
Naturally, the conversation turned to caramel (as it inevitably does), but there was no drama, just a lot of good drams.

Nice to see Alex again, too. As a founder member of Glasgow's Whisky Club, he set us out on the path we're on now. I hope he's impressed by what he sees.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The One That Started It All

Glenfiddich was the dram that started it all. The single malt revolution began in the fifties and sixties when William Grant & Sons expanded their production of the drink, and introduced advertising campaigns, a visitors' centre and from 1961 packaged the Scotch in distinctive triangular bottles. For many young men (and it was mostly men then) setting out on their lifelong whisky journey. Glenfiddich was the dram of choice. It was revolutionary.

At the Glenfiddich tasting held in Uisque Beatha brand development manager Andrew Torrance and Jamie Milne, the UK Brand Ambassador, took us through half a dozen of the range.
Andrew asked first for club members to describe Glenfiddich. Accessible, approachable, simple were among the terms used and reinforced members' views that, even if it is the best selling single malt in the world, it probably got there by the strength of marketing rather than any complexity of the malt.
We tried the 12, 18, 21, 15 and Rich Oak, in that order and finished with what many felt was the dram of the night - a cask strength seven year old which proved age isn't everything. At 59.4% this seemed to me to be the sort of stuff Glenfiddich should be producing.
The new run-finished 21-year-old met with a mixed response. Some liked it, others thought it was the least best(!) dram of the night. Club secretary Andy  felt that the range was stronger than he remembered but there was nothing that struck him as fantastic or one that he would consider buying. He added: “The Rich Oak was a great dram and stood out from the range but again I doubt I’ll be buying a bottle. I am very interested in the future non-coloured and non chill-filtered releases as I feel that this is the way forward for the brand but they still have a lot of work to do.”
 Jarkko mentioned the malt was revolutionary when it was introduced to the world and it seemed to me, at least, that perhaps Glenfiddich has been playing safe since then. The range is good, with the older the better, but perhaps we need more of the single casks.

Mark agrees. He said: “They are still too heavily into mass-market appeal and need to get more one-offs and experiments into the marketplace. But it sounds like they might be heading that way with the limited release coming out this year. They need to come out of their comfort zone without doing a Bruichladdich.”
Having said all that, of course, taste is highly subjective and the venerable Glenfiddich is still the top award-winning whisky across the globe in blind tastings. It pumps out excellent, straightforward whiskies, which are carefully made. And it remains the world’s favourite single malt Scotch whisky. So that’s us telt!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Taste the Difference

Interesting day at Auchentoshan for Mark, Mr Black and myself on the day of July’s club night. We were there for a media visit and to hear about plans for Morrison Bowmore in the years to come.
After a whirlwind tour with Ian McCallum we had a briefing with Mike Keiler, who revealed plans are definitely afoot for a microbrewery on the Auchie site.
Last year’s Festival Ale was a huge success, but the amount of work it took has ruled it out for this year. Instead the distillery has outsourced it, having it made to its own recipe.
Things are progressing well for this year’s open day on August 28. Tickets from We tried this year’s Festival Bottling, a 1998 Fino cask, and it was delicious. The first 200 will be sold for £50 each on the open day.
Mike also revealed that in October Bowmore would be holding a dedicated Open Day, to be followed in Spring of next year by GlenGarioch.
Anyway, on to the club night, which again followed the more structured formula of last month’s.
We had a handful of Northern Highlands – Old Pulteney 12, Clynelish 14, Raymond’s Bladnoch bottling of a 20-year-old Balblair, an Ardmore 25 year old and a Bladnoch bottling of a 20-year-old Glen Ord.
We split the room into three and there was a highly interesting division of opinions, as there should for such a highly personal subject of taste.
Some loved the Ardmore, some put it at the bottom of the pile. Some hated the Glen Ord at first nosing, then came back to it as the evening progressed and it slowly released its secrets. One soul described the Glen Ord as “challenging” but said it was “a good debate whisky.”
Star of the night, by two groups to one, was the Balblair, with the Ardmore second. As I said, however, one group put the Ardmore at the bottom! That’s the beauty of whisky – different things for different folks and it makes for a lively debate.