The great thing about cask strength whisky is that it gives you plenty of room for manoeuvre, especially if you’re prepared to take your time over a dram. The second of the Jura Boutique Barrel’s I tried was the Bourbon JO 1995. Bottled at 56.5% it has so much leaping out of the orangey gold liquid nestled at the bottom of the glass.
The Bourbon XU 1999, 55% in strength is boasted as the heavily peated member of the Boutique Barrel collection. Although, for me the term heavily peated means something different as this whisky didn’t give me the expected whack in the face – it was peaty, but nowhere near what I had expected. Despite this it’s a pretty good dram.
Fuzzy heads and strong coffee in the morning aside, membership to Glasgow’s Whisky Club has its benefits.
The great thing about somebody like David Keir of Blavod Wines and Spirits hosting a private tasting is that not only is the chance for some fabulous whisky to drink, but David is brutally honest about the industry as a whole, and last night at Sloan’s bar in Glasgow was no exception.
Crystal chandeliers and candlelight in the first floor ballroom set the mood for enjoying a few drams and an evening of enlightening chat.
We’re an easy crowd, the 22 of us, given that we all love a good dram. David started us with Arran 10 year old. The distillery itself has only been in operation since 1995, and its entry level whisky is an easy drop. It has a complex, and sweet nose. An initial touch of milk chocolate and white pepper, gives way to fresh wood, rich dry herbs and warm sawdust. The palate kept the herbs and wood, tasting a bit like thick tree bark and butterscotch, but had quite a high spirit burn.
It’s a very good whisky, but it was just the warm-up for The Rowan Tree – heavily sherried, 13 years old, and bottled only a few days ago, this was expected to be a treat. It was oily, white pepper and salty dryness, a hint of milk chocolate and green pepper on the long finish. It fell far short of expectations. The sherry influence was too understated which left the whisky feeling a little flat. David seemed disappointed, but not surprised, that it didn’t have a bigger impact on us. He already has a couple of cases for his “pension”, which if I read between the lines, he’s not interested in drinking it but it will make money in the future – only 6000 bottles have been produced, of which a mere 600 are available in the UK.
We were then treated to Bruichladdich Redder Still – 22 years old and finished in Chateau Lafleur Pomerol wine casks – but not before David gave a lengthy and passionate speech about some of the industry’s major players and how current UK political structures would affect whisky, especially with the Budget less than 24 hours away – no matter what, the cost of a bottle is going to go up. It might have seemed like he was picking on Islay, but Bruichladdich and Ardbeg were the fuel for the fire he was about to vent.
Bruichladdich is a small, independent operation doing everything from distilling to bottling themselves. As a result of this there is a tendency for experimentation and a huge number of expressions on release, because they are a law unto themselves, and apparently have a tendency to fall out with those who disagree with them. Last year 27 different bottles hit the shelves, which varied from brilliant to those in the know suspecting they were trying to get rid of a mistake in a pretty package. Then there’s Ardbeg. Part of The Glenmorangie Company, which owned by luxury goods giant LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey), his is almost a contrast to Bruichladdich in that it is sells some of it whiskies for nearly 40% more than it needs to in order to make a healthy profit.
As the thoroughly amusing diatribe subsides we slouch in our chairs and dive into the Redder Still. Its rich ruby red colour is more than matched by the depth of flavour. David is slowly and contently pacing around the room as if to tell us that this is when a distillery gets it more than right. Concentrated morello cherries, fresh pine needles, strawberry jam, and the memory of treating the garden fence with creosote on a hot summer day. Silence befalls the room for several minutes as we are all immersed in sensory heaven.
A relatively low key tasting, but David Keir is an excellent host and extremely knowledgeable. The whisky was good, but not great. The room was generally underwhelmed by the whisky, but what is always appreciated at these things is the honesty of our host – even if it did turn into a bit of a political rant. Sometimes at a public tasting you can be inundated with too much of the corporate line, but that’s the advantage a nice wee tasting with a knowledgeable audience – there’s nowhere to hide, so David didn’t bother. Not the best tasting I’ve ever been to, but still a worthwhile night.
Glasgow’s Whisky Club bears the motto “A dram, not a drama” – which is the very relaxed attutude strictly followed by the jolly faithful. Once a month we meet to enjoy whisky and to talk about, well, anything – and whisky. A quick bio of the members would include (friendly and lovable without a drink in them!) writers, undertakers, newspaper journalists, ballet dancers – and anyone who loves the water of life.
This month’s meeting was a round-the-barrel night and no exception to any other – friendly faces, broad smiles (broader as the night wears on), the occasional warm hug (usually end of the night), and more whisky than you can shake a malt shovel at!
For a very nominal feel members are obliged to enjoy a range of the club’s stock. Among many other things on show was Bunnahabhain 16yo Manzanilla Finish, but before I go on, a wee bit about the distillery:
Bunnahabhain (meaning “mouth of the river”) was established in 1881 near Port Askaig on the North shore of Islay. Malt whiskies from this Hebridean Isle are distinguished by their peaty flavour – while bearing this character, Bunnahabhain is very understated in its peat influence compared to some of the heavy hitters from the south of the island (Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin).
Back to the whisky…
Bottled at cask strength (53.2%) Bunnahabhain 16yo Manzanilla Finish is remarkably smooth for its strength – an influence of the manzanilla sherry cask. Straight away you can see the effect the sherry wood has had on the colour of the whisky which is a deeper, rich, burnt gold compared to usual lighter gold. Rolling it around the glass there is a definite viscous, silky quality to the appearance. The intense nose is rich with a hint of sweetness, fresh sea air, and dried oranges skirting around the edge. The palate explodes with flavour – burnt chocolate, toasted almonds, fruit cake, delicate salty dryness, and just a hint of Christmas spices and a hot fire. It finished with a handful of buttered popcorn, hot smoky bacon in the distance carried on a warm wind, a hint of stewed cherries and slight bitterness on the way down. The texture and sweetness of the dram is delightful with its bracing bitter finish make it very drinkable. Unfortunately it lacks excitement, and the weight of the manzanilla was just too much for the level of peating – the peat was so hard to detect, if I had tried it blind I might not have guessed it was an Islay. Still, it’s a lovely whisky and I would have no problem with a top-up!
After the Bunnahabhain I had one of the best value blends I’ve had in a long time – Adelphi Private Stock, from independent bottler Adelphi, who specialise in bottling rare single cask whiskies. Smooth, a touch of sweetness, chocolate, fresh raspberries, a tiny hint of fresh basil with a nice spicy burn. This is a simple whisky which doesn’t require much contemplation, but for around £16 a bottle it may be some time before I come across such good value in a blend.
There were a good few other whiskies on the barrel but better sense steered me away – it was a school night after all!