A tasting, islands apart…

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.

arran-rowan-treeIt’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-redder-stillBruichladdich 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.