So, it’s been a while….

…this is because it’s taken so long to sober up after the Edinburgh Whisky Solstice.

Yes, the summer is finally upon us, sort of, and with that brings both the Edinburgh Whisky Solstice (20 June) and The Whisky Fringe (7-9 August).

After the disappointment of this year’s Whisky Stramash, I had high hopes for the Whisky Solstice. And it did not disappoint. Even the sun made an appearance to make what would’ve been an incredible day, almost perfect.

The Whisky Lounge and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) once again teamed up to put on an event in Edinburgh, taking a bit of a gamble in the process by making arrangements for an outdoor event in Queen Street Gardens.

It was a gamble that paid off by the bucket load.

For the afternoon we had a member’s tent, the main marquee with a fantastic mix of distilleries and independent bottlers, a BBQ put on by SMWS Queen Street, a bike selling alcoholic/whisky infused ice-cream and bars selling cool refreshing beer. All in the stunning setting of Queen Street Gardens.

All the exhibitors had a varied and good selection of free drams to try as well as the special white and black drams you could buy tokens for.

I think I can safely say within the first 15 minutes of arrival I’d had more interesting whisky than I did at the whole Stramash, such was the quality and selection on offer, and it didn’t take forever to get a sample.

There were numerous whisky highlights from the day including something very special from Compass Box, a cask strength Peat Monster. As good as this was, the stand out was the 21 year old Springbank.I don’t really need to say anymore than that.

SMWS’ bottling for the occasion was another cracking single cask offering, so much so I took a bottle of it home. A rather tasty 11 year old Clynelish.

SMWS 26.114 Grandma's summer jam receipe

For the evening we had the main marquee with live music, more ice-cream, whisky and a bar. (In the evening the bar wasn’t really needed but was used to very good effect).

If there was one disappointment (if you can call it that), it was a slight lack of atmosphere and people at the evening event. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a huge amount of fun, with an excellent band and plenty of fun to be had. It just needed a few more people and a little more atmosphere. Less blank spots in the memory banks would also help, especially the dancing bits. I’ve seen photos and it’s not a pretty sight.

I’m hoping my (incredibly) drunken ramblings to Jan from SMWS were taken on board for a repeat next year.

So what’s next I here none of you asking…..

This weekend (07/08-09/08) sees Royal Mile Whiskies annual Whisky Fringe take place at Mansfield Traquair in Edinburgh. To say this event is popular would be an understatement it sold out this year in about 5 minutes. Thankfully we got tickets and will be attending again this year.

After a disastrous attempts at a live tweet from it last year, we had some whisky then gave up trying, we will be trying again this year, hopefully with a few more folk lined up to join in and tweet as they sample some whisky.

Like all my prospective plans this will fall flat on its face within 10mins of starting but we’ll try our best to do some tweeting.

An incredible surprise….

I had a message from SMWS Queen Street on Monday saying they’d had a letter delivered that was addressed to me, from New York. I know all of one person in the US of A, but they’d not have contacted me through SMWS.

So rather than wait patiently until after work I went along at lunchtime to pick it up. I’m so glad I didn’t wait!

A few months ago two teachers from New York were visiting Edinburgh for a conference at Edinburgh Uni. One of them enjoyed a dram and had had a recommendation to try out SMWS. They just so happened to visit when I was in doing “research”.

After sampling a few, they wanted to buy a bottle, which is reserved for members only. So being the only member standing at the bar, I offered to purchase the bottle through my account so they could have a memento of their visit to SMWS.

I never thought anything more to it until I received a letter thanking me. I’m rarely stuck for words, but when I read the letter I was:

picture of letter from Holly in New York

It just goes to show, small gestures go a long way even when they are to complete strangers you meet in passing from thousands of miles away.

Just to finish off….

A very quick shout out has to go to Rob and Sofia from Camden Brewery who with the help of the guys at Spit/Fire put on an incredible evening of fantastic beer, more lamb to eat than I have ever seen and beer/brewing based chat from guys that actually know what they’re talking about. Both John from Be3rcast and myself had a great night.

If you haven’t tried any beer from the Camden Brewery, I’d recommend you try it. Some truly incredible beers.

Just need to hope Rob gets a twitter account soon.

Until the next time….

Sláinte

Stuart

Whisky Tasting or Golf?

Usually it’s not as simple a question to answer as one may think, although on this occasion it was….

Robert Graham (the independent bottler not the fashion designer) arranged a private tasting on Thursday the 28th of May at their Cannongate store in Edinburgh to launch some of their new whiskies. We (EH10WS) were lucky enough to be part of the small number of people invited along to the tasting.

So along I went with fellow whisky lovers Niall (EH10WS) and Tom who runs the Tom’s Whisky Reviews website. The other member of EH10WS, Stuart, for reasons unbeknown to mankind decided to play golf instead.

First dram of the evening was the Dancing Stag Ben Nevis 18 year old, which has just won Bronze in International Spirits Challenge 2015. The nose of this dram packs a punch in a fantastic way, honey and heather aroma with a hint of soft tinned fruits. The flavour is very syrupy, with Werther’s originals/travel sweets mixing through added with a subtle peppery spice, the finish was medium to long which remained sweet with more fruits, I found the more you tasted of this dram the more complex it becomes.

This was a fantastic dram to start the night and I can see way it won bronze at  the International Spirits Challenge.

Second was the Bunnahabhain 25 year old from the Robert Graham Treasurer range, I’ve never come across a whisky with such a shy nose, faint hint of peat with hint of damp wood, this was hiding what was to come up next. Full metal jacket of leather, polished wood engulfs the mouth wrapped with sweet fruits and citrus. The finish was long, oaky, slightly drying and very satisfying. Niall and I were totally overwhelmed with this dram and it was so very yummy.

The next two drams are new into Robert Graham and this is them being opened for the first time.

So third up was Benrinnes 19 year old again from the Treasurer range, the nose reminded me of the growth of spring after a April shower added with apple and  pears. The taste was smooth, well balanced and fresh which reminded people of pick n mix sweets. The finish was short to medium in length but again balanced. This whisky is very balanced from start to finish and i can see the contents of the bottle being finished quicker than expected.

Last up was a 30 year old grain whisky from Invergordon, as with all grain whisky’s I’ve tasted the nose is acetone with the hint of  coconut glue and a bit of boot polish. The taste has the classic intense grain notes, super sweet, nutty and brown bread with a kick of warmth with minimal burn. I found the finished to be short with floral sweetness and woodenness to it. I’m not a huge fan of grain whisky at this point of my journey into whisky but a number of the other people at the tatsing really enjoyed this dram and I was informed that it’s a bit of a bargain price for a 30 year old grain.

So a quick recap the Ben Nevis was all about the nose, the Bunnahabhain all about the taste, the Benrinnes was a perfect balance between the nose and taste and the Invergordon just grows on you.

Big thanks go to the staff at Robert Graham (@WhiskyCanongate) for inviting us and being an excellent host and for providing a great venue.

Just in case you are wondering how Stuart got on at the golf, he lost, all whilst he got battered by high winds, heavy rain and had miserable time of it in general.

So next time you have a choice between golf or tasting whisky go for the latter as the whisky gods are far more powerful than the golfing gods.

Dram on

David

2 June 2015

I love a big sausage…

…was the quote of the evening from the lovely Nicole, who I had the pleasure of accompanying to The Vaults for last weeks tasting.

Sausage, Beer and Whisky Tasting – 17 February 2015 – SMWS The Vault, Edinburgh

The full quote went something like…

“Chocolate and sausages are my two favourite foods and I love a big sausage.”

I must point out however that this was after a few beers and 4 whiskies and we were beginning to feel the effects of both just a little bit. We had just sampled Crombies Chocolate and Chilli sausages and that started the whole conversation going.

Hosted by society ambassador Ryan McCafferty, we were treated to 5 excellent whiskies, 3 beers (2 were very good, 1 not as good) and a selection of Crombies butchers sausages.  Each beer, whisky and sausage was paired together, each pairing selected especially to enhance the flavour profile of each.

So the ingredients for the evening…

The Beers The Sausages The Whisky
Vedett Extra White Honey Mustard 37.60 – Oranges, spices & London honey
Innis & Gunn Rum Finish Whisky Hog & Thyme 9.88 – A Heart Starter
Schlenkerla Smokebeer Innis & Gunn (main course) 4.202 – Salt & Pepper
Chocolate & Chilli 76.118 – We love whisky
127.42 – Peat Freak heaven

When you put all these ingredients together, you end up with…

The Pairings
Vedett Extra White & 37.60
Honey Mustard & 76.118
Whisky Hog & Thyme & 4.202
Innis & Gunn Rum Finish & Innis & Gunn (main course)
Chocolate & Chili & 9.88
Schlenkerla Smokebeer & 127.42

Rather than provide a full description of everything,  I’ll just run (briefly) through my 3 pairing highlights for the evening.

Pairing 1 – Vedett Extra White & 37.60

This pairing was the perfect introduction to the evening, a fantastic light and fruity Belgian Wheat beer paired with a sweet and spicy Speyside whisky.

I’ve kept my distance from Belgian beers for quite a while after years of drinking Leffe and Hoegaarden by the bucket load, (for me they are like rocket fuel). Whilst initially slightly hesitant about what could possibly happen, I was happy to spot the beer was only 4.7% (ABV).

I find some Belgian beers can be quite heavy to drink, maybe not as much as a stout or 80/-, but still quite heavy. So I was pleasantly surprised with the Vedett on the first taste. Whilst retaining all the flavour and character of some of the more well-known Belgian beers, a citrusy floral taste, it was much lighter and more like a light summer ale than the Belgian beers that I’d been used to.

The lightness and delicacy of the beer served only to open up the palate to an incredible first whisky.

I like Speyside whisky and have found a few absolute beauties in the last few months; this is most definitely one of them, a 29 year old, re-fill ex-bourbon hogshead from Cragganmore coming in at 52.4% (ABV).

The initial burst of spice really woke the palate before the sweetness came through. Two of us at the table likened it to lemon and orange Opal Fruits (Starbursts), that sweet, chewy mouth-watering flavour and texture that leaves you wanting more.

A perfect pairing to start off the evening and it has to be said a very difficult one to beat, especially with the whisky.

Pairing 3 – Whisky Hog & Thyme & 4.202

The second sample of Crombies sausage to try was one of my favourites. The hog and thyme on their own would be a fantastic combination, but add in a dash of SMWS whisky to the mix and you have an incredible taste profile.

Crombies produce an extensive range of specialist sausages and in my opinion this is one of the best. If it were to be served on a roll with some Dijon mustard, it would be absolute taste heaven.

That is until you add a 17 year old, 54.6% (ABV), single cask Highland Park.

I’m not the biggest fan of Highland Park; I’ve never found them that interesting. I prefer a smoky whisky from Islay. But this was just incredible!

Rather than try and explain it in my own words and make little to no sense, below is the society tasting notes for it (and they are very accurate, even the Dr Pepper according to Nicole):

We found ourselves in a garden shed on the Atlantic coast. The salty sea breeze impregnated everything – work bench, wooden shelves, compost, window flower boxes, used paint tins and in the corner an old leather couch where you can find rest whilst enjoying smoking a pipe. The taste neat had all that raggedness, oiliness and saltiness with the smooth finish of a sweet, well hoped Porter beer. Water added aromas of a camp stove with Earl Grey tea brewing and strawberry jam filled doughnuts, and in the taste mackerel pate on a salty cracker washed down with Dr Pepper.

A great pairing yet still not my favourite of the evening. This was an incredible whisky that has managed to convince me to try a few more from Highland Park.

Before I move onto my favourite pairing, I’m going to give an honourable mention to the 4th pairing of the night. Both the whisky and the sausage deserve a mention of their own.

The fourth whisky of the night was an incredible 29 year old refill ex-sherry butt from the Glen Grant distillery. Everything you’d expect from a nearly 30 year old sherry cask Speyside whisky.

The final sausage sample of the evening was the cause of the conversation that provided this week’s title. It was a chocolate and chilli sausage, and as it turns out, chocolate and sausage are two of my evenings companion’s most favourite foods. I got the impression chocolate may be the more favoured of the two, especially the large Easter egg variety, but it was definitely the comment about “the sausage” that appealed to my childish sense of humour.

Pairing 6 – Schlenkerla Smokebeer & 127.42

The final pairing of the evening was my favourite by some margin.

If you like heavily peated whisky and all things smoky, you won’t fail to enjoy this pairing. If, on the other hand, you prefer your whisky without any peatiness, this might not be for you.

Germany provides us with some of the best beers you can hope to drink. Islay gives us some of the best whisky you can hope to drink. When you pair two together that complement each other so brilliantly, it’s difficult to put into words exactly how good it actually is.

The beer was an incredible Bavarian Smokebeer, from the Schlenkerla brewery. I’ve never had a Smokebeer before, but I will be having one again.

Schlenkerla Smokebeer has a red ale look to it, maybe a bit darker, more a ruby brown with a creamy tan head. First nosing of this and you could almost swear there was an opened pack of Smokey Bacon Walkers crisps near buy, I kid you not. There is a light sweetness to the taste but the thing that really stands out is the incredible smoky flavours. I am a fan!

The final whisky was something very special. Aptly named, Peat Freak Heaven, this was to me perfection in a glass or as I tweeted at the time, the Holy Grail of whisky. 12 years old, 63.0% (ABV) and from the Port Charlotte distillery. I don’t really need to say any more. I honestly can’t do any justice to how good this was so all I will say is get yourself to The Vaults or Queen Street and try it.

I’ve attended a few tastings at SMWS over the last year and a half and of all those, this one is my favourite to date. The combination of beer, sausage and whisky, plus excellent company created a great evening.

Big thanks go to Ryan McCafferty (@RyanMcCaffterty) for being an excellent host and The Vaults (@smwsTheVaults) for providing a great venue.

Finally, a big thank you to Nicole, for organising everything, putting up with me once again and being excellent company for the evening.

Stuart

23 February 2015

Gone in 60 minutes….

….40 minutes to be more exact.

Ardbeg Committee Tasting – 9 February 2015 – The Whiski Rooms, Edinburgh

I began my whisky tasting journey a few years ago in the small wine room at the back of Drinkmongers in Brunstfield. More recently it has been enjoying the excellent hospitality (food and whisky) of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) at both Queen Street and The Vaults.

Until this tasting I have not been at one that has lasted less than at least an hour and a half.

So, an event that had all the promise of an excellent evening with one of the most respected master distillers in scotch malt whisky, was instead a lesson in speed drinking whisky with someone from the marketing department. And if I’m brutally honest a bit of a let-down.

Don’t get me wrong, I like my Islay whisky, I like my Ardbeg, but I’d prefer not to take such swift guided tour through 6 expressions Ardbeg have bottled over the years.

The Whiski Room on the Mound proved a good enough venue, maybe a little cramp for the number in attendance, but provided a friendly and comfortable environment for such a short period of time.

(I may over emphasise how short this tasting lasted)

The tasting began at 7pm and started with a 20 minute introduction to Ardbeg, including a brief history of the distillery (which celebrates its 200th birthday this year) by Hamish Torrie, Ardbeg’s marketing manager and also the Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at The Glenmorangie Company. So not just someone from the marketing department after all.

Whilst it wasn’t Dr Bill Lumsden, who we were expecting, we were (very quickly) guided by a gentleman that knew a lot and then some about all things Ardbeg.

A little unfortunately, the PA system tried to do its best to interrupt everything said by Mr Torrie, by providing almost constant feedback. But, that didn’t detract from the information about the whisky and the distillery.

The next 40 minutes passes in somewhat of a whisky fuelled blur.

What now follows is an approximate timeline of events:

7.00pm – We are introduced by one of the global brand ambassadors for Ardbeg to our host for the evening, Hamish Torrie.

7.01pm – Mr Torrie provides an excellent and informative introduction to Ardbeg.

7.20pm – We start with the standard 10 year old, the mainstay of the current Ardbeg line. Not one of my favourites, pretty standard and not very interesting, but drinkable and the only place to start at an Ardbeg tasting. The quick fire madness has officially begun.

7.27pm – Having coasted over the 10 year old (not a bad thing in my opinion) we moved onto something significantly more interesting. Another one of the main expression currently bottled, Uigedail. This is one of the best standard bottling’s from any distillery anywhere and one I never tire off.

7.35pm – Corryvreckan time. The strongest of the Ardbeg’s and ill placed in the tasting line up. This is a powerful dram, very good and one I enjoyed more than previous tastings, so we’re definitely on the right track.

15 minutes in and 3 drams down. This is now where the order of the whisky takes its toll on proceedings.

7.40pm – we move onto Auriverdes the Ardbeg day special bottling from 2014. To say this was bland and tasteless is probably wrong, but to put it after Corryvreckan was an error in the line-up. Needless to say I didn’t think much of this, but it did serve to clean the palate for what was next.

7.45pm – Ardbeg Ardbeg Day, not something I’d tasted before and would very happily taste it again.

45 minutes in 5 whisky’s drunk in 25 minutes, one left to go and plus some snacks to enjoy.

7.53 – The final whisky of the evening and it was a cracker 1992 single cask and one I’d really like to try again, which is very unlikely to happen.

8.00pm – All the whisky is finished and the platters of haggis balls, smoked salmon and (the highlight of the evening) haggis spring rolls. Maybe it was the 6 drams in under 40 minutes or maybe they were that good, regardless I could’ve eaten a lot more.

I can say with hand on hearth this was not my most favoured tasting of all time. Without any shadow of a doubt, it was most definitely the quickest. And for me whisky it not something that should to be drunk quickly, it should be savoured and enjoyed. The order of the whisky, in my mind was wrong and probably didn’t help my enjoyment of the night (or my headache the following morning).

It wasn’t a bad night, just disappointing when it had promised so much from one of the most intriguing distilleries in Scotland.

Stuart