Whisky Squad #40 – It’s a Kind of Magic
In a step closer to being almost up to date I present Whisky Squad #40. Helpfully I couldn’t make #39, an excellent night charting the develop of Glenfiddich since the 1960s with Jamie Milne and a bunch of old bottlings of whisky, due to an appointment with a beer festival, but #40 was one that I was certain not to miss – an evening of whisky from round the world presented by Dominic Roskrow.
There are a couple of reasons why I made certain that I could turn up – 1) I really like trying new whisky and Dom has some excellent contacts from some more out of the way distilleries, and 2) Dom got me to help out with his most recent book and thus I owe him many many beers. I didn’t get to buy Dom a beer before he had to jet off back to the whisky capital of the UK (the Norwich metropolitan area) but he did bring along some interesting drams.
The plan for the evening was simple – Dom would reveal the six countries where the six whiskies came from and we could then guess after we’d tried each one, with Dom telling us which whisky it was before moving on. If we wanted we could do some scoring, with 5 points for the first whisky, 4 for the second and so on until the penultimate whisky – the last whisky got no points as it should be a fairly easy guess even after six drams. To remove any expectation of my incredible ability to identify whiskies blind I scored 5 points – I guessed the second and penultimate drams. I did guess exactly what the second was, but as I wrote about it for 1001 Whiskies it was lucky I did…
The country choices were Ireland, Japan, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan and Wales…
First up was a rather pale dram with a nose of baked beans, sweet grain, lemon peel, light cream, lemon barley sugar and some light floral notes. To taste it had spiced cream, spent coffee grounds, sharp zesty wood, cinnamon, a chilli tingle and some young spirit notes underneath it all. It finished quite hot with lemon zest and a touch of tannic apple skin. A spot of water took the edge off the heat, bringing out some spiced apple and a bit of window putty. I guessed Spain for this one and was, as expected, wrong – it was Ireland: Writer’s Tears. This is a no age statement whiskey bottled by a guy called Bernard Walsh, also behind ‘Hot Irishman’, producers of the little known Irishman 70. According to the website Writers Tears is a blend of pure/single pot still whiskey and single malt whisky, with the pot still probably coming from Midleton and the malt most likely coming from Bushmill’s (especially in the future, now that Cooley are keeping their whiskey to themselves). On the bottle it said ‘Pure Pot Still’ suggesting that the the single malt part has either been removed since the website went up or added since Dom acquired a bottle. Annoyingly it’s a whiskey that is hard to find – it’s one that we had on the books at work ready for it to arrive, but which never did.
Second was a rather pink whisky, which tipped me off quite quickly as to what it was. On the nose it had milky coffee, dark chocolate and plums. On the palate it was sweet and spicy, with black pepper, cream, plum jam and brown sugar. It finished with more jam and sugared raisins. I correctly guessed that this was the Welsh entry in the evening – Penderyn Portwood 41, bottled at the distillery’s slightly non-standard ABV of 41%. This was the second batch, with the initial run only being sold in France and at the distillery – I was sent a sample while writing about Penderyn for 1001 Whiskies and rather liked it. This second release isn’t quite as tasty as the previous one, but it is getting a wider release, with specialist whisky shops now able to order it in.
The next whisky had a tropical fruit nose, with gummi chews, vanilla cream, fresh cut grass, green chilli, pine, apple skin and a touch of grapefruit. To taste it had sweet cream, sharp fruit, crunchy apple and freshly crushed grain, finishing with spicy cream and mandarin oranges. I guessed Taiwan, but it was about as far from there as it could be – Spain: DYC Colección Barricas 10 year old. DYC is short for Distilerías y Crianza – distilling and maturing – and is one of the two producers of whisky in Spain. It’s a huge distillery (with double the capacity of Glenfiddich) and the standard release is an incredibly cheap blend called, predictably, DYC. The distillery has about a 50% market share in Spain but as far as I know it doesn’t regularly get beyond its home borders.
Number four had a nose of blackberry, raspberry, black liquorice, blackcurrant and liquorice sweets, damp bark, poky alcohol, walnut bread and old wood sweetness. To taste it had brown sugar, crushed fruit, sweet apple, apple pie with cinnamon and lots of alcohol heat. It finished with pie crust, brown sugar and lots of spice. Water calms things down, revealing big spiced apple and creamy vanilla. I guessed Sweden, it was Taiwan – King Car. This is the whisky from Kavalan that is named for their parent company, and I’ve written about the distillery and their drams before. This is one of their more recent releases, but is still not available yet in the UK. I’ve heard various tales as to why the predicted appearance in Europe hasn’t happened yet, but in general the line is that it will be Real Soon Now. I hope so – their single cask releases seem to go from strength to strength and it’s making me jealous of those on the other side of the world.
The penultimate whisky was one that I also guessed correctly, but as I only had Sweden and Japan to choose between it was slightly easier than it might have been. On the nose it had juniper, twigs, gravy browning, damp earth, talcum powder, a light soapy note, a hint of glue and Shreddies. To taste there were berries, damson jam, sweet cream, spiced vanilla sauce and some young spirit. It finished with gravel, spice and cream. I guessed Sweden, it was Sweden. Yay! To be exact, it was Mackmyra Special:06, the 6th release in their range of quirky whiskies. It’s subtitled Sommeräng, meaning Summer Meadow, and is a vatting of bourbon and sherry cask matured whisky – no cloudberries or madness in this release, unlike some of the other Specials. They’ve recently opened a new distillery thanks to their increasing popularity and hopefully we’ll see more of their whisky outside of Sweden soon.
The last whisky of the night was from Japan, but unfortunately there were no points for guessing that. On the nose it had High Juice orange squash, glue, damp wood, brown sugar, marzipan, cinnamon pastries and a touch of forest floor rancio. On the palate it had an array of woody notes – dusty beams, tannic resiny sawdust, polished wood – along with sweet toffee and some floral notes. It finished with sweet spice and curls of resin heavy planed wood. The label came off to show that it was Nikka Taketsuru 17, a blended malt whisky from the various distilleries in the Nikka stable that has won a variety of awards over the years, including World’s Best Blended Malt Whisky at the 2012 World Whisky Awards. Dom had meant to pick up a different Japanese whisky, but grabbed the wrong bottle giving us a bit of a treat to finish the night.
Many thanks for Dom for leading the session – he said a lot more about many more things than are shown above and my notebook is rather full of tidbits of information that I didn’t know (you can find the stuff he told us about distillation laws in a recent post on his blog) – and to the Sohowhisky Club for letting us take over a chunk of their space.
Irish Pot Still Whiskey, 40%. No clue on price…
Penderyn Portwood 41
Welsh Single Malt Whisky, 41%. Also no clue…
DYC Colección Barricas 10 years old
Spanish Single Malt Whisky, 40%. Still no idea…
Taiwanese Single Malt Whisky, 46%. Nope…
Mackmyra Special:06 – Sommeräng
Swedish Single Malt Whisky, 46.8%. ~£70
Nikka Taketsuru 17 year old
Japanese Blended Malt Whisky, 43%. ~£75