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Wednesday 1 December 2010

The Glen Love It

Thank goodness for double glazing!

My marker for winter drawing in is the need to turn on the central heating. Had it not been for good cavity wall insulation and thick, vacuous, see-through* panes of double-glazed glass, which daily provide me with a real-life version of East Enders as I gaze out on London life, I would have had the heaters blaring out weeks ago. But this week, with plummeting temperatures and snow falling all around, I finally succumbed to pushing the “on” button, to have my various cockles warmed.

Opening the airing cupboard to retrieve my selection of “big jumpers”, hidden away since the snow melted in March, I’m reminded of sunnier times in the year and a short film flicks through my mind, typically rose-tinted and jolly. But amongst the nostalgia are some genuine highlights, one of which is of a fabulous trip to Speyside, to the opening of the new still house at The Glenlivet.

Last night we held our first 'official' tasting, in association with The Glenlivet, which provided us with an opportunity to give our invited guests some winter memories of their own. The venue for this 'liquid alliance' was one of the lavishly decorated upstairs rooms at the well known London restaurant and jazz club Boisdales of Belgravia.

Awaking to a blanket of snow across London, the conditions for our tasting were the polar opposite (pun very much intended) of the sun-drenched Speyside trip back in June. However, our 20 hardy attendees were not to be deterred from the prospect of six whiskies from The Glenlivet range and we had just person one drop out, struggling to make his way from a snow-bound Oxfordshire countryside into the Big Smoke.

On the menu for the evening were some whiskies we’d not had the pleasure of trying before, with particular highlights being the oldest and the youngest in the line up; The Glenlivet 12 Year Old First Fill (travel retail only) and The Glenlivet 25 Year Old. The rest of the selection was as follows: 15 Year Old French Oak, Nadurra Triumph, 18 Year Old and a Mystery Whisky...... ooooohhhhh! (you gotta love audience participation!!)

The Mystery Whisky was in fact one that we have already reviewed, The Founders Reserve, but tonight was about providing our esteemed (and highly knowledgable) guests with an opportunity to share in our tastings and hopefully bank a “highlight of 2010”, as we did with our trip to Speyside earlier in the year. Thankfully, the lucky competition winners seemed to enjoy the night, with an eclectic mix of people, proving our long-held view that whisky is all about the spirit within the spirit, meeting new people and enjoying great company.

But we weren’t going to let our guests off scot-free (or Scotch free, even). Oh, no! is all about the work ethic and in this life, you don’t get anything for free... it was the job of the assembled group to help us tweet some tasting notes on each whisky, which we then sent flying out in to the digital ether. Not quite wikileaks, but it was jolly good fun and threw up some very interesting tasting notes (most noticeably “Gary Lineker”, but more on that later) which hopefully add an extra dimension to our thoughts on these drams, below.

The evening started with a scene-setting introduction from Phil Huckle, UK Brand Ambassador for The Glenlivet, as he expanded on the history of the distillery and the use of the term “Glenlivet”. So popular was whisky from The Glenlivet that distillers from the area would use the name Glenlivet solely for their own single malt, leading to a court case in the 1800’s where The Glenlivet was granted the right to be the only distillery to use the name Glenlivet in isolation, relegating its neighbours to the use of Glenlivet as an additional marque on their products.

As the snow tumbled down outside, it was time to warm ourselves with the first dram of the evening:

The Glenlivet - 12 Year Old First Fill – Travel Retail Only – 1ltr – 40% ABV

Nose: Great wafts of spiced cooking apple and ripe bananas, toasted pine nuts and clear apple juice.

Palate: Matured in first fill American Oak, this leads to a palate of fresh pine, those bananas again but this time more as banana bread, honey and white pear. A “juicy” mouth feel.

Finish: Medium to short, with a hint of spice, this is a session whisky and once opened, throw the cork far away as you won’t need it again!

Overall: Here are our thoughts from the tasting panel for the evening:Ripe bananas, coconut and toffee, vanilla, crème brulee and almond spice. The ripe bananas was a particular talking point and really stood out on the nose.

The second dram of the evening was the 15 Year Old French Oak. Matured in American Oak and finished in Limousin casks, more commonly used in the Cognac industry, this whisky highlighted the influence European Oak has on spirit, adding a greater weight, depth and additional complexity from the 12 Year Old First Fill. The tasting notes from our guests included "well-fed xmas cake, pre-fired xmas pudding, dates, caramel, panna cotta, nutmeg and brandy butter", which about sums up this whisky, at 40% ABV, perfectly. Give yourself a round of applause!

Next up was a whisky that we hold in high regard here at HQ. So much so, that it has made the final of our Best in Glass Award for this year (result to be announced on Dec 10th 2010).

The Glenlivet – Nadurra Triumph – 1991 – 48% (non chill filtered)

Just to save any confusion, there are 3 releases of Nadurra: The Triumph,bottled in March 2010 at 48%, a Duty Free edition at 43% and a cask strength (various ABV’s depending on batch) available in high street retailers.

Nose: Hot buttered popcorn is the first thing that flies out of the glass at you, backed with heather and sweet apple juice. A hint of grapefruit juice hits the back of the nose, which I’ve attributed to the higher ABV) and there is just a touch of red fruit right at the back (a tiny portion of this version of the Nadurra has spent time in European Oak, unlike the other two releases which are 100% ex-American Oak barrels).

Palate: Neat, this retains the hot buttered popcorn and the wheat and oak elements dance around like the perfect couple on your tongue, developing the red fruits over time, initially growing out of light apples, vanilla and honey. With water, liquorice emerges and a drying nature, increased wood activity, come out and a hint of ginger.

Finish: Short, gingerbread and spices. With water the finish is easier, less spices with a greater hint of baked apples.

Overall: here is what our panel thought "buttered popcorn, tropical fruits, ginger, sherries coconut, fruit salad chews, tang

Onwards we carried to the next dram, The Glenlivet 18 Year Old. A classic whisky which is always going to carry a weight of expectation with it, due to its popularity world-wide and was the whisky of the night which provided us with the best, most unusal tasting note of the evening... here is what the panel thought "pear drops, blackberry lockets, toffee, wholemeal toast with nutella, aniseed, treacle, orange peel, Gary Lineker"

Gary Lineker?”, we hear you cry! “WTF?”

The gent who supplied this note gave an explanation Well, it just does what you expect it to. 9 times out of 10, this will put the ball in the net.Fair point!

It’s nearly Christmas and the goodwill seems to extend to distillers and shops around this time too, as you can pick this whisky up in Waitrose for less than £30. In fact, £28.99 is their current retail for this. Bonkers.

As the evening drew to a close, we had two final whiskies to get through. As we’ve already done notes on The Founders Reserve (panel notes on Twitter "dusty coco, coffee, brandy butter, vanilla, dark choc orange, real liquorice, purple quality street, fig jam”), this just leaves the 25 Year Old to go:

The Glenlivet – 25 Year Old – 1985 – 43%

Nose: Everything you expect from an old whisky finished in Oloroso Sherry barrels; plums, rich Christmas pudding, old books and furniture polish, all topped off with walnuts and soaked raisins. A wonderfully rich and filling nose.

Palate: Classy, with cinnamon, ginger, rooibosh tea, nutmeg and fruit cake. Weighty mouth feel and a depth of flavour that surpasses the other drams for the evening. Exactly what an “old” whisky should do.

Finish: Slightly drying, sweet honey and Demerara sugar, with a hint of sweet coffee.

Overall: Here are the thoughts of the panel: “sweet cured bacon, stewed plums, boiled fruits, furniture polish, flat doc pepper, bonfire toffee, crab apple jelly" The final note there, crab apple jelly, got a rousing round of applause and proved one of the more popular tasting notes for the evening.

As the night drew to a close, with the snow still falling, there was just enough time to retire to Boisdale’s famous roof terrace for a cigar and a dram. Thank you to everyone who came along, braving some awful weather to spend the evening helping us taste some excellent drams. It was fantastic to finally meet some of you as well as to see some familiar faces from previous whisky events.

As they say in my part of South London, “Biguppayaself, Blud”.

*one could insert an “ex-girlfriend joke” here, but I’ll refrain after the stick I took from one ex’s friend over a similar opportunity not passed up, recently. I think her Christmas present this year will be reasonably easy: a pinch of salt