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Wednesday 14 October 2009

Special One (or Two, or even Three)

Below is a picture of what new make spirit looks like when it comes off the still:

What do you see? Na-da, nil, nothing. New make is clear. It's got no colour. Of course, most of you who love whisky will already know this, but it's amazing the number of people who have no idea that their favourite dram runs off the still as a clear liquid.

This evening I find myself in a glamorous situation; 11.30pm, Tues evening, Oxford Street, McDonalds. (editor's note...please understand that I cannot condone Joel's dreadful eating habits.... he will be severely punished, by being made to drink £3.99 Highland Stag...Neil)

My order: a quarter-pounder meal. That's the burger, fries and a drink. I order BBQ sauce as an extra.
When it arrives over the counter, on the packaging the following is written:

"Next time you're tucking into your favourite McDonald's burger, you can enjoy every mouthful that bit more, knowing that it is made from only whole cuts of 100% beef with just a pinch of seasoning added after cooking. Bite in and enjoy."

McDonalds go to a great deal of effort in store to assure the diner that their burger is

"100% beef with just a pinch of seasoning added".


But what's this I notice: a gherkin! Some tomato sauce. Onions! And mustard! Honestly, after that lot has been slathered over it, who gives a flying f**k about the beef?!? Wagye or Kobe, if it's flash fried, smothered in sauce, pickles, onions and slapped between two buns that resemble candyfloss more than bread, who cares if it's "100% beef"?

Tonight visited a tasting for Diageo’s annual “Special Releases”:

Benrinnes 23 Year Old
Brora 30 Year Old
Caol Ila 10 Year Old (Unpeated)
Lagavulin 12 Year Old
Mannochmore 18 Year Old
Pittyvaich 20 Year Old
Port Ellen 30 Year Old
Talisker 25 Year Old
Talisker 30 Year Old

9 premium drams to savour, assess and note in 90 mins. Diageo: you’ve thrown down the gauntlet and we’re going to pick it up!

After a very brief period of deliberation, we decided that the drams should be divided up in to three lots:

Lot 1:
Mannochmore 18 Year Old
Pittyvaich 20 Year Old
Benrinnes 23 Year Old

Lot 2:
Brora 30 Year Old
Talisker 25 Year Old
Talisker 30 Year Old

Lot 3:
Port Ellen 30 Year Old
Lagavulin 12 Year Old
Caol Ila 10 Year Old (Unpeated)

So we kick off with Mannochomore:

The literature tell us:

“Mix of re-charred ex-sherry bodega European Oak with re-charred ex-Bourbon and new American Oak casks that had also held sherry, filled in 1993 after a short initial ageing in normal refill casks."


Remember that burger? How good was the beef? Who knows! There was so much going on with the sauce, the pickle the cheese and the onions that the quality of the beef didn’t matter... but the burger was good. Really good. The package worked. As a whole, the interaction between beef, sauce, pickle and cheese was a mouth watering explosion. There is reason why they sell a shed load of these meal-deals world-wide; the mix works.

So what of these casks? Sounds a bit too much for me. Let’s find out:

Mannochmore – 18 Year Old – 1990 / 2009 – 2,604 (individually numbered) – 54.9% Vol –70 cl

Nose: This really is complex: mint, oak, dried leaves, fruit cake. Everything you would expect from such a mix of casks.

Palate: Cured dark red meats (salted beef; my Nordic friends should know what I mean), Apricots, orange. Duck with Orange sauce. Drying. Medicinal. Ginger.

Finish: Lots of wood spice, bitter orange peel. Coffee.

Overall: A great start. A real mix, but a mix done well. No need to shout about the beef here; shout loud about the gherkins, the mustard, the onions! Very well mixed. But read on!

Next up for is Pittyvaich:

Pittyvaich – 20 Year Old – 1989 / 2009 – 6,000 (individually numbered) – 57.5% Vol – 70 cl

Nose: Copper coins, Orange Creme (the like which you get in Quality Street), Grass.

Palate: You would never have this pegged as 20 years old! So much energy, zest and life. Sweet (Nice biscuits), red fruit compote.

Finish: loads of metallic notes of zinc and aluminium. Very long.

Overall: 20 years old! Where did the life come from!? A solid dram with lot of personality.

To end this first section, we moved on to the Benrinnes:

Benrinnes – 23 Year Old – 6,000 (individually numbered) – 58.8% Vol – 70 cl

Nose: Hazelnut chocolate spread, Ferrero Rocher, Cherry Cola, Cedar oil.

Palate: Dates, figs and spearmint. European Oak? Where did all these fruits come from? Something you normally get on a European Oak cask. But with a rounded note of spice.

Finish: Sandlewood and oak. Lovely and dry.

Overall: Take Neil's Yard and build a distillery in it; job done. Stay tuned for our overall fav.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at Lot 2: the Taliskers and Brora.