As we move seamlessly into Autumn, we're feeling increasingly chipper about the next few months in the run up to Christmas. Whisky it seems is really firing on all cylinders internationally and domestically, thanks to the success of programmes like Mad Men, there is definitely a halo effect surrounding the cool aspect of our favourite spirit.
It's never been busier for whisky tastings either. Caskstrength have been out and about across the UK - and in a couple of cases abroad, meeting folks, drinking and hopefully converting new drinkers to our wicked ways.
Just over a week ago, Both Joel and myself find our in very different climates indeed. Mr Harrison was over on Islay sampling the brand new bottling of Bruichladdich 10yo, whereas I was boarding a ferry to the continent with one third of Master Of Malt (the irrepressible Mr Ben Ellefsen)
Our destination was Maltstock, a genuine whisky festival, set in the wonderful (less-than-rolling) countryside of Nijmegen, Holland. Ben and myself had been asked to present a masterclass on Closed Distilleries and we were raring to go - whiskies, amusing slideshow and the back up plan of a revealing dance, should the talk go badly.
Despite missing our initial ferry, hitting traffic pretty much all the way through Belgium and Holland, we arrived 12 minutes before the talk was due to start, calmly set up and kicked off with a set of 5 cracking bottlings from closed distilleries:
1. Littlemill 1990 (a Murray McDavid 18yo bottling)
2. Glenlochy 1980 (Signatory 30yo bottling)
3. Tamnavulin 1981 (Master Of Malt 16yo bottling) - Yeah, ok so the distillery has re-opened, but it was closed when this was bottled.
4. Caperdonich 1972 (Duncan Taylor 38yo bottling)
And finally, a wonderful Hanyu 23yo.
In anybody's book, that's gotta be a decent lineup, right?
Needless to say that the tasting kicked off, right good an' proper and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun. Hell, I even managed to get a laugh, when comparing the imaginary re-opening of a closed distillery to the feeling of watching the A-Team in your 30's (no matter how much you want it to be, it just isn't the 'same')
A goldmine of Silverseals and one of the tables full of brown booty...
After catching up with Mr Billy Abbott (who was presenting Speciality Drinks' brand new Elements Of Islay range) we visited the 'Gathering' area - a little outdoor quad, surrounded by chairs, benches and, most importantly, four large tables with what can only be described as a burgeoning plethora of sensational whiskies- probably a good 200 different bottlings, generously donated by attendees. Mind Blowing Whiskies. At this point, I hadn't been drinking, but try saying this mouthful of superlatives after a few drams and it probably translates roughly as: plugghenbughsgedgh suughphr whiskies.
I think this is where a distinction must be drawn. In actual fact, not a single person I saw over-indulged in the incredible treasure trove on offer. I was trying to imagine if this sort of set up would work in London, Manchester, Glasgow or for that matter, anywhere in the UK. It just wouldn't.
Anyway, I chose a few different bits and bobs, that immediately caught my attention:
A 1.5L bottle of White Horse, from the early 1980's. Apparently this was purchased for the absolutely incredible price of 30 Euros... Come on! that's insane.
I absolutely adore trying whiskies like this. They taste like time capsules and highlight just how good a lot of these blends actually are... and indeed were. Think a wash of creamy fudge, peat, paraffin lamps, cream soda and sponge cake all colliding with buttery shortcake, caramel sauce and wet cotton wool.
A 1974 Highland Park First Cask Bottling. Slightly tired, but classic old HP smoke and fruit notes, mixing with some sweet marzipan notes.
finally- and thanks to Mr Abbott - a sneak preview of one of the Whisky Show's undoubted forthcoming highlights; A rare Lochside single blend from 1964. Just how does a whisky become this fruity? It is exactly like drinking a glass of tropical fruit juice. Absolutely superb and unique.
But one dram that also caught my eye was an old bottling of Bruichladdich 10yo.
How interesting... Here I am, over in mainland Europe, drinking a very old Bruichladdich 10yo and there is Joel, over on Islay at exactly the same time, drinking a brand new Bruichladdich 10yo.
So here we go... Old vs New.
Bruichladdich 10 Year Old - 40% - Bottled... 90's?? Anyone please feel free to chip in here
Nose: Wow. Very fruity, with delicate smoke swathes and classic Trebor Refreshers sweets. Not what I expected at all.
Palate: Wet cardboard, fruit salad sweets and some sweet maltiness. Very different to the large majority of Bruichladdich bottlings I have tried previously. A faint waft of peat pops in at the end and most welcome it is too.
Finish: Butterscotch notes and sweet shortbread notes.
Overall: Surprising. Very low peating levels have given this an almost unrecognisable character. Sure, the bottle has probably been open a little while, but I enjoyed this. It won't blow every 'laddich fan away, but these old bottlings are worth seeking out if you can find them- purely for interest value. - check out the latest Scotch Whisky Auction, as one is a current lot.
So there we have it, a promising start from the old style bottling. Over to our Islay correspondent for an update on the brand new bottling... Motty, sorry Harrison:
That's right Ridley. You join me on a windswept Saturday afternoon on Islay, spiritual home of whisky and the place where men are men, where bleak is chic and where a 'spade' is most definitely called a 'shiel'.
The Bruichladdich teamsheet today reads like a catalogue of Brazillian rap stars- WMD, 3D3 and Black Arts up front in the formidable 'prong formation', Ugly Betty & Octomore on the wings, the power duo of Rocks and Waves in solid defence, with the recent signing X4+1 in goal. The controversial striker, Port Charlotte remains on the bench and captaining the side today is the powerhouse - (Big) Jimmy McEwan, under the watchful eye of the Turquoise Terrors' veteran coach, Mark 'Never-A-Rainy-Day' Reynier.
A lot has been made of this team and like a mighty falling oak, they're able to change direction in a second. Now, there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a sea are we now afloat and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures. For a new Bruichladdich 10 year old now awaits...
Bruichladdich – 'The Laddie 10 Year Old' – 46% abv
Nose: The light and delicate nose gives off subtle tones of crème brulee, fresh lemon cheese cake dusted with icing sugar and some seaside notes. This is the Islay equivalent of a stick of brighton rock. You hear the seagulls squawking as the aromas hit your nose.
Palate: The first impression is of Scottish tablet with a creamy undertone and some superb sugary notes, which are in no way sickly. Gingerbread and sweet tea are the headline flavours. Very well balanced with some boiled sweets and heathery tones. You know this is an Islay whisky, but not because of the peat. There is a real personality about the palate, but it is not overwhelming; to say this is easy to drink would be an understatement of gigantic proportions.
Finish: The finish is where the wood influence kicks in, with some spices, more vanilla and the gingerbread, carrying on though in a delicate way.
Overall: Well, what can we say? This is seriously one of the best entry-level Islay whiskies on the market and will appeal to those who don'’t have a huge appetite for peat. This whisky could become a flagship bottling not just for Bruichladdich, who need some stability behind their releases, but for the island as a whole.
Big words eh. Try it for yourself and let us know what you think...
Many thanks to Maltstock for putting on such a terrific event and we'll see you again next year. Anyone thinking of running a whisky event should certainly see how its really done. For another view, check out Ben's blog post on the weekend.