My first proper tasting in Edinburgh at the Tolbooth Tavern on the Royal Mile, courtesy of Cadenhead.
“It’s not for whisky nazis” I’m reminded; it’s for open minded lovers of a good dram, where all are equal and (apart from maybe wrongly identifying a blind sample) there is no wrong answer. My kind of people.
It was a good mix of folk from guys who have been steeped in the stuff for years, one lad who had barely touched the whisky before the new year (and has jumped into it with commendable gusto), and a trio of Dutch tourists looking for an authentically Scottish experience before flying home.
Cadenhead’s manager, Mark, is a wonderful blether about whisky, the man’s passion is obvious – just don’t slag-off of sherry casks, like many out there he’s a fiend for sherry finish.
I always enjoy a tasting when the whisky knowledge of the participants range from encyclopedic to little more than identifying it as “not vodka.” What’s more, it’s blind, so the conversations are much more interesting and lively without any preconception of what’s in the glass.
So, we tucked into the first dram.
It had a sweet leathery nose with orange peel and a slight dusty dry edge. The palate was pretty straight forward; soft, salty and dry, and a bit like green weeds on a hot beach pebble. There wasn’t much length to it, but it would make a great session dram.
My initial thoughts were leaning towards Johnnie Walker Black Label, others picked up Dimple like characteristics. Mark asked for a show of hands, is it Scotch? Unanimously: yes. Wrong. It was in fact Whisky Breton from France! Bottled at 40%, not overly complex, but I’d happily have another if it was offered.
On to number two.
The nose was spicy, acidic like cider vinegar, orange juice and lemon peel; the palate was a wee bit like fried oatmeal, creamy custard, the oranges were more concetrated with a touch of spice.
Like the Whisky Breton the length was lacking and didn’t have any overiding characteristics, so we figured this was another blend.
It was Johnnie Walker Green Label (15 years old). I can honestly say I was very surprised. It didn’t have any of the the characteristics I associate with the brand (kind of wondering if it was slightly oxidised?). It’s disappointing as this always struck me a whisky you would want to like – good marketing I suppose.
Number three. Grain!
That sweet shop, foam bananas just leaps out of the glass! Sweet marzipan and desicated coconut, slightly floral and green too.
Scottish grain whisky is very much overshadowed by malt, which is a shame, because if you find a good one you really won’t regret it. Earlier in the week I had a dram from this distillery, and it stands head and shoulders above many other grains. It’s The North British from Edinburgh.
Every time I have a good Scotch grain it’s a wonderful reminder of the great spirits that you can’t typically buy off the shelf. The North British is a key constituent of some of the most well known blended whiskies, and it’s such a shame that more of it doesn’t get bottled by the distilery rather than relying on the indy bottlers to keep us exposed to this great stuff. This is Signatory 1997, by the way.
Now, I’m not one to judge a book by its cover, but number four is the colour of deeply polished dark wood that makes me think that there may be quite a heavy sherry influence going on.
On the nose you can literally smell sharp nutty sherry; deep, rich oranges, dark chocolate, figs, black cherries and even zesy fresh orange juice. The palate is toasty wood, digestive biscuits and a hint of cinnamon. There’s no messing around here, with Caperdonich Connoisseurs Choice from Gordon & MacPhail, distilled in 1972, bottled in 2011. Very tasty, but if you offered me a second dram I might say no. That being said, out of 12 people I think I was the only one who wasn’t impressed, but that’s just me.
…And so the finale. This guy didn’t just launch itself out of the glass; it full-on grabs you by the ears and gives you a great big slap.
TCP, smokey bacon, cinamon, orange peel, and a salty edge of parmesan cheese.
It was well rounded with decent length, and turned out to be Cadenhead’s own shop cask Islay giving you a pungent 60.2% kick.
It definitely stood out against the rest, but only because it was such a beast! If you like big, smokey, peaty monsters then this is for you. It’s lovely, but not for the faint hearted.
The advantage of being bottled at such high strength is that you have so much room for manoeuvre when you want to add water. Perfect for the aficionados playground and ideal for the adventurous amateur.
All-in-all, a great tasting, looking forward to the next one.