There probably aren’t enough superlatives to describe today. Not only did I attend a rather fabulous masterclass (more about that on the blog very soon), but I also met up with some friends – new and old- and tried some of the best whisky around.
I met Dave and Kat from Whisky Discovery outside the show, caught up with Dave’s experience from the Sunday edition of the show, avoided the London rain and went inside to register. My first stop was with Compass Box as I was keen to try their latest whisky, a blend bottled exclusively for Selfridges and limited to a 1000 bottles. Celine and Chris told me all about it; This blend is 80% malt, 20% grain and is heavily based upon Clynelish and French oak aged whisky.
This blend is up there among the Compass Box greats – brilliantly made and tasting superb – love it!
Nose: Smoky, sweet and full of hay and grass
Palate: Sweet, before the peat smoke comes through, very floral and spicy
Finish: Long, sweet with a distinctive heather taste
I moved on to the SMWS stand and had a chat with the lovely Georgie (SMWS ambassador tweeting from BellesWhisky). She introduced me to 116.17 – a 25 year old Yoichi matured in sherry casks.
116.17 [Yoichi 25]
Nose: Sweet, floral, fresh and lively. It was followed by the merest hint of smoke
Palate: The sherry influence comes storming through – it is very fresh and zingy and contains massive helpings of strawberry and other red fruit
Finish: Long and sweet
After catching up with Dave and Kat again, we bumped into Colin Dunn and James Hill from Diageo and spend a splendid 45 minutes working our way thorough some of the rarest aspects of their newly launched Special Releases.
Brora 35 [48.1%]
A belter of a whisky – grab one if you can. Just brilliant!
Nose: Dirty lemon, floral and blossom. It contains a whiff of smoke before autumn meadows take over. Extremely light
Palate: Slightly smokier than the nose, a little tarry and fragrant. Fabulous
Finish: a reasonably quick fade, but an utterly stunning whisky
Lagavulin 21 [52%]
This was probably the stand out whisky from the new releases – subtler than the 16 year old but manages to be divine while retaining the traditional Lagavulin characteristics.
Nose: Smoky and sweet. There is plenty of tobacco amongst the sherry notes
Palate: Very deep and complex. Big hit of coal smoke before liquorice takes over in swathes.
Finish: Long, sweet and smoky. This is a whisky to spend the weekend with – it fills the mouth and does not fade quickly
Port Ellen 32 [52.5%]
The most expensive and most sought after of the Special Releases. It is incredibly good and rightly deserves its plaudits. However you can almost get two bottles of Lagavulin 21 for the price of this – it’s a tough call!
Nose: Grassy and soft. Reminds me of summer at the Oa in Islay with the wind rushing past on the hottest of days.
Palate: Initially soft and light before a rush of aniseed. White pepper follows before you continue to be hit by fabulousness
Finish: Quite dry and long, this isn’t a dram to be rushed and it benefits from time in the glass. If you can find it to taste then you will not be disappointed.
The next half hour was spend in the company of Balvenie and trying the whisky that Andrew liberated from the warehouse in Speyside – think of it as a Whisky Show Tun 1401 bottling (light, honeyed and complex. It was sweet and soft on the palate with some liquorice thrown in for good measure). It was crafted from 6 casks; 2 from 1975, 1 each from 1974, 1972, 1970 and 1963.
I then visited Zoran and sampled the Yamazaki Puncheon (light and full of vanilla and toffee flavours), Yamazaki Bourbon (vanilla and creamy – an absolute belter of a whisky) and the Yamazaki Sherry (rich beyond belief – a real favourite) before visiting Gordon and MacPhail and drinking a 1959 Glenlivet and a 1969 Benromach – both whiskies that if they were the only thing you tried all day would make the trip worthwhile.
I met Alwynne (of Miss Whisky fame) at the Number One Drinks stand where Ed gave us both an education in Japanese whisky. First up where two almost identical vatted Karuizawas. They were exactly the same whisky only one bottle was at 48%, the other at 55%. Had we tasted them blind I don’t think I would have identified them as the same spirit. The Karuizawa 48% was a floral delight while the Karuizawa 55% version was very earthy and dark with pronounced toffee and fudge flavours coming through.
Next up were two show bottlings, both again from Karuizawa. The first was a 1982 bourbon single cask watered down to 46%. It was unlike anything I have tried before – despite the strength, the flavours were intensified due to the height of the distillery in the Japanese alps – effectively the whisky has spent it’s years maturating in a cloud. The second Karuizawa was from a single sherry cask distilled in 1984 and Ed’s notes sum it up really – Bang, bang, bang. Cracking!
I managed to make it back upstairs again before the show ended to grab a sample of the Talisker 30 (lemony, pepper, chillies, smoke) before a second cheeky dram of Brora 35 ended the show in style.
I didn’t meet half the people I wanted to, see all of the stands I wanted to, but those I did meet and the whiskies I tried made it an almighty day out. It is already in the diary for next year and is one of the stand out days in the whisky calendar. Nowhere else will you find such a range of whisky and enthusiasts and I was delighted to be a part of it.
Huge, huge thanks to all at the Whisky Exchange and thanks to all the people I met and for the the spirits I tried!