Tasting: The Midlands

Tasting: The Midlands

Held at: Regional Wines, Wellington

Presenter: Daniel Mclaren Moon

Offerings:      Aberfeldy Gordon & McPhail Connoisseurs’ Choice, 14yo, 46% abv

Blair Athol Connoisseur’s Choice, 9yo, 46% abv

Glenturret Sherry Cask Edition, 43%

Deanston 18yo (the mystery)

Deanston Old Malt Cask 21yo 50% abv

Glengoyne Cask Strength 59.1%

Edradour Straight From The Cask 10yo, 58.8% abv

Format: Blind tasting, 6 of the 7 bottles are known, but not which glass each is in.

*******

Where are the Scottish Midlands, you ask?  And well you might.

According to Wikipedia, the Scottish Midlands (or Central Belt) is the triangle defined by the M8, M80 motorway and M9 motorways stretching from Greenock and Glasgow in the west to Edinburgh in the east.

I hope that makes things clearer, but it might not.

Whisky drinkers in New Zealand would probably refer to it as the Southern Highlands.

It’s not an area that I’ve had a lot of sampling from until now.  Apart from having a couple of Edradour whiskies in the past it would be fair to say that this would be my first real introduction to the area.  But there is an interesting array of distilleries operating in the region, and some of the whiskies coming from them are very attractive.

Usually the blind tastings at Regional Wines follow the format of nosing all the offerings first and inviting tasters to give their views.  It is only after that nosing round that the whiskies are tasted, with more comment invited.

However, at this tasting the known bottles were in two quite distinct groups.  The first group of three were in the standard strength range of 43 to 46% abv.  The mystery also fell into this group.

The second group of three were all cask strength at 50% and above.

To save the tasting from being unbalanced the presenter made the choice to taste in two flights, with the lower four being nosed and tasted first.  The second flight of three were also nosed and tasted in isolation.

My notes and scoring:

Aberfeldy Gordon & McPhail Connoisseurs’ Choice, 14 year old, 46% abv, First fill sherry.

Nose: Canvas tent, leather. Score 7.8

Taste: Peppery, but nice, Fruit

Finish: Medium/long

Overall Score: 8.5.

Blair Athol Connoisseurs Choice, 9 year old, 46% Refill sherry butt.

Nose: one matchhead.  Score 7.4

Taste: smoky. Not to my personal taste.

Overall Score 7.4

Glenturret Sherry Cask Edition, 46% abv

Nose: Dirty cookies.  Score 7.0

Taste: Fruit (from the sherry cask)

Overall score 7.8

Deanston 18 yo, 46.3%

Nose: Wood wool, tobacco.  Score 7.8

Taste: Citrus peel, peppery

Overall score: 7.6

Deanston Old Malt Cask, 21 year old, 50% abv

Nose: Lemon peel, honey, slighty soapy, very pleasant.  Score 8.4

Taste: Honey again, fruit.  A very nice drop, indeed.

Overall score: 9.1

Glengoyne Cask Strength 59.1% abv, non-coloured, non-chill filtered

Nose: strong!, smell of an old rubber ball

Taste: Sweet, honey and wax

Overall score: 7.9

 Edradour Straight From The Cask 58.8% abv, Sherry butt

Nose: Hessian sacking, very sherry.

Colour: 1.8

Taste: Wood, leather, a bit of tannin at the end

Overall score: 9.2

 

One of the interesting side bars of a blind tasting is to see how many of the drams you can guess correctly.  In the past money has changed hands on this aspect of the evening – not a lot of money: the ante is usually $2 per person – but it can be extremely satisfying to pick up the cost of tomorrow morning’s coffee from your fellow tasters.

So, how many of the seven did I get right?  A rather embarrassing three.

In my rather thin defence, the gamblers all had the same score so there was no winner on the day this time.

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Recent Opening: Amrut Spectrum

Recent Opening : Amrut Spectrum

I always feel a little bit guilty when I open a bottle that one of only 1,000 released.  It seems almost criminal to consume such a rare animal that only a few have seen or will get the chance to sample.

But there you go.  We all have to make sacrifices in the interests of knowledge, and I’m quite prepared to lay my lofty sentiments on the line!

The reality is that various recent family events have worked to empty the open bottles in the cabinet and the stocks need replenishing from the cellar.  The Amrut Spectrum has been hiding away for maybe a couple of years, and the magnificent black box it comes in was just a little bit too tall for the shelf where the unopened bottles sit awaiting invitation.

So the Amrut’s time had come to be introduced to an eagerly waiting public – me.

I’ve tried quite a few of Amrut Distilleries expressions over the last ten or so years since they first started arriving in New Zealand.  Some, like the beautifully orange-flavoured Naarangi and the rare Kadhambam are quite spectacular, and the cask strength single malt is a good standard dram.  The peated version I’m not quite such a fan of, but that’s OK.

But I think the Spectrum is in a very different league!  It’s not just the box lined in royal blue velvet that is magnificent – the contents are a very big step up from anything else from Amrut that I’ve tasted.

Technical details (from the writing on the box and the bottle):  700mls, 50% abv.  No identifiable age statement.

Initially matured in ex-bourbon barrel, then in a custom-built barrel made from five varieties of oak – new American, French and Spanish oaks, ex-oloroso stave and ex PX stave.:

Colour: 1.8.  Very, very dark, darker than Glenfarclas 105 and about the same as Aberlour A’Bunadh.  There is a slight pinkish-red tinge at the edges which is reminiscent of a port finish, but I suspect it comes from the sherry staves.

Nose: Spicy, brown sugar, strong Christmas cake with brandy.  Maple syrup.  Nose score: 9.

Palette: Round and full.  The whisky tastes just like it noses, with the rich Christmas cake coming through strongly.  There is a very slight hint of vanilla, probably coming from the initial bourbon barrel, and there is pepper on the tongue.  The finish is long (and delightful!).

Overall impression:  I had heard good stories about the Spectrum from those who had been lucky enough to try it at a tasting.

But Wow!  That was not what I was expecting at all!  Quite an amazing top quality dram, well worth its advance publicity!  It may have to be put in a quiet back corner of the cabinet where hopefully others on the prowl may overlook it and I can just have it myself.

Sadly, knowing my family, that’s not likely to happen.  So I’ll just have to keep my eyes open for the next expression!

Overall score: 9.3

Tasting Notes

Tasting Note explanation:

I mark on the 1-10 system for both nose and palette where over 9 is exceptional, 8-9 is great, 7-8 is OK, 6-7 is so-so and lower than 5 is “why bother?”.

In my world, a mark of 10 is not achievable because by definition it cannot be beaten and giving that mark would not leave room for something even better to turn up next week – which I continually hope it might!

Colour marking is based on the Whisky Magazine’s colour chart of 0.0 (light, “gin clear”) to 2.0 (dark, “treacle”)

The Tasting Experience

The Tasting Experience

I like whisky tastings.

That’s not true.

I LOVE whisky tastings.

I stalk websites looking for whisky tastings.  And when I find one, all life stops until I’ve managed to get myself a booking to it!

I’ve been going to tastings now for about 12 years, and in all that time I really can’t remember a bad one.

They’re places for bonhomie, for laughter, for meeting old friends and making new ones, for learning, for bad taste jokes and sometimes even worse taste descriptions.  For discovering what’s good and what’s not so good, what you’d like to add to your collection next or what really should have not been put in bottles.

I’ve heard of a whisky tasting where the offerings were so average that the tasters all clubbed together, went downstairs and collectively bought a different bottle to take the taste away.  For the record, the bottle they bought was a Bowmore Legend – and it was subsequently declared the top dram of the night!  Apparently by a clear margin.

I went to a tasting a couple of years ago in Edinburgh.  The event was called a Stramash, which I understand is Scottish for a disturbance or racket – a fair description, really.  I went because it was my birthday, because we happened to be in Edinburgh at the time, and because my wife lovingly bought me a ticket to it for my birthday present.

It was held at the Surgeon’s Hall on a lovely warm, sunny, late spring day.  I went on my own, so I knew no-one there.

By the time the queue of whisky fans had reached the gate I was good friends with a couple of likely and chatty lads from Rothes. Two hours, a lot of samples, and a curry and rice dish later we had become life-long friends.  They were great company for the afternoon.

I wish I could remember their names.

Over my tasting life there I have been to three or four tastings that will go down in the records of Memorable Whisky Tastings.  One in particular was of a degree that set the all-time benchmark.  That mark is unlikely to ever be beaten but if it is I would surely want to be there!

Three of us came out of that tasting together: only one if us noticed that it was raining beyond belief.   It wasn’t me.

I think every form of tasting has its pluses and minuses.  In the early days, when I first started going to tastings, I knew nothing about whisky other than I generally liked the taste.

I found it best to know in advance what whisky I was drinking.  The presenter would explain what each whisky was about – where it came from, what casks it had been matured in, for how long, what effect the cask had on the spirit, what the “style” was.  I tried to soak all the knowledge up – not surprisingly, some of it got lost in a haze of fumes but some bits have stuck.

With more experience now, the “mystery” event has its interest.  You know the whiskies but not which glass they’re in.  Nosing through all the glasses, everyone calling out their impressions.  Some of the comments are predictable, some are brilliant, some rather disturbing (“it tastes like licking a cricket bat”.  Really?  How do you know that? What life experience got you there?).  “Smells like my granny’s laundry” – way too much information, my friend!  Some are less inspiring, like “smells like baby sick”.  I think a count of match-heads is a good barometer of peaty-ness on the nose.

Then tasting through – does the pallet reflect the nose?  Bourbon or Sherry influence?  Strong upfront peat or late developer?  Christmas cake or vanilla/caramel ice-cream?

I also like vertical tastings, where the tasting is a range of six or seven expressions from one distillery.  I went to a Glenmorangie vertical tasting a while back: it was very interesting to experience side-by-side the range of whiskies available from that distillery.

I usually go tastings with two good friends.  We’ve been doing it for a while now.  Our whisky tastes are not necessarily the same, but they are similar and we generally like (and dislike) the same things.  And we tend to buy different things for the home supplies, so that there is always a variety to re-test when official tastings get hard to find.

Ah, the sacrifices we make in the interests of scientific research!

First Steps

The idea started when the Big Cheese decided that a “review” of the workplace was needed.

It didn’t seem important that the Big Cheese didn’t know anything whatsoever about how things functioned, what was connected to what, what impacted which.  A review was needed.

The review resulted in my job being declared “disestablished”.

What a wonderful language English is.  There are so many euphemisms available to us now that weren’t there 30 years ago.  “Disestablished”, “restructure”, “realignment”, “redeploying” , “resource” – all means the same thing: “not wanted”.

The upshot was that I faced applying for a job I didn’t really want, working in a place where the atmosphere had taken less than 24 hours to turn from happy, friendly and supportive to toxic.

It’s happened to pretty much all of us since the fashion for re-structures started around 30 years ago –  you find yourself wondering what you’re going to do.  Do you want another version of the same job?  Can you be bothered dusting off and re-polishing a curriculum vitae that hasn’t seen the light of day for 10 years or more?

Or is it time for a massive change of direction?

I have a few savings.  Not a huge amount but enough to provide living with a small government-funded income.  I don’t really have a lot of high-cost needs, if you don’t count international wanderlust or assisting the whisky industry to maintain its lifestyle.

Maybe it’s a sign that it’s time to leave the workforce rat-race.

But what to do?

I told my wife that I could become a house-husband.  She was still laughing three days later, although the laughter had started to have a slightly hysterical edge.

I could practice my old job as an independent contractor, working from the house.  Nah, that doesn’t really appeal.  Too competitive a market, and I’m sick of doing that type of work.

I need contact with people and the outside world: “Hi, Tom.  How’s the kids?  What are you doing on the weekend?”  I need mind exercise.  I enjoy writing: could I become A Writer?

We have a friend whose success I’m rather jealous of.  He had long harboured a desire to write and he couldn’t find a job that he wanted.  So he started to write.  He wrote a book.  A very good book.  And he sold it!  It’s now been printed in several languages (including American) in hard-back and paper-back versions.  And it’s being turned into a movie, with proper Big Time Stars!  Wow!

I won’t fool myself that I’m in that realm.  At all.  But with increasing age come experiences, observations and views of the world – the funny, the bizarre, the horrendous, the interesting, the nostalgic stuff that has long gone and will never return.

I have interest in whisky, people, music (especially from the 60s and 70s), cars and a whole lot of other stuff.

Why couldn’t I do some writing and see where that might go?

Blogging seemed to be a good starting point.  No great capital outlay.  Get a website together to post your deepest (and maybe sometimes shallowest) thoughts on.  Write stuff, post it, sit back and see what happens.

Now, here’s the start of the learning curve.

I know computers.  I’ve been using them since the late 1980s, when all your programmes were held on little blue plastic things called floppy disks.

And I know websites, because I visit heaps of them daily to find stuff out – where to go, how to get there, what to see/buy/eat when you’re there.  It must be simple to have a website, because all the world seems to have one these days.  They must have learned how from somewhere.

Thank heaven for search engines!  You can find absolutely anything these days, if you type in the right words.

In the last few weeks I have found out what a domain name is and how to reserve it, what a server address is and how to get your domain name on it, how to make an attractive website on your new domain so people can search for it on your domain name on your server so they can read what pearls of wisdom you’ve written this week.

There are brilliant videos on the web that give step by step instructions that a fool can follow.  Which is just as well, because one is!

So now I own a domain.  Housed on a server.  With a website which, if you’re reading this, is obviously searchable.  Yay!

So this is the start of my New Life.  Not that everything has been thrown out, but there no longer is a formal “job” with a nice salary.  Now I look at things around me with a whole different eye.  Observing people, looking at trees, sampling whiskies, experiencing Things, sampling more whisky.

And then I sit at the kitchen table in the sun with my laptop and write about the things I’ve seen and the thoughts that I’ve had and the whiskies I have sampled.

And I hope that you read them.  And if you read them, I hope you enjoy them.