The Midlands Whisky Festival held at the historic Stourbridge Town Hall offered a gem of a masterclass! Diageo (20 years + Special Releases). Of course, we had to go…
‘This was our third masterclass with the dynamic Diageo Brand Ambassador Colin Dunn. We had enjoyed our previous classes with him and were hopeful of another inspiring hour of whisky and anecdotes. Colin is a charismatic and engaging host, full of stories and whisky lore; he had the whole room hanging on his every word. Such is his ability to weave a rich tapestry of whisky history, his own life experience and the sensations of the very drams in front of us into one seemless thread, it is was if time stood still and there was no other existence outside that room.
A look at the whiskies had our hearts skipping at the possibilities of flavours and scents. Many were new to us, and our eyes danced greedily over the drams sat invitingly in the glasses before us. We were in for a serious treat!
First up was the 2011 Special Release of Rosebank 21 yo. Triple distilled and bottled at 53.8%. It’s a privilege to drink such history in a glass, the distillery closed its stills in 1993. A lovely gentle dram, floral on the nose with hints of lemon cheesecake, pear drops and grassy meadow. A pleasant gentle heat on the tongue accompanied with vanilla and citric notes. A lovely start to the class, but was soon overshadowed by some robust drams which followed.
Next up was the mouth watering Port Dundas 20 yo (2011). A superb grain whisky and the first time it’s been included in Diageo’s Special Release series. The nose on this whisky is sumptuous; rum, raisin, mince pies and orange rind. It is superbly rich and dark in colour, influenced by the years spent in American oak, heavily charred European oak and 1st fill American oak Bourbon casks. Bottled at 57.4%, it packs a punch, but the liquorice tang and thick viscous mouth feel is delicious. Colin then conjured up some Bournville dark chocolate and the two together, when the chocolate had melted in to sticky paste was absolutely divine, like popping a chocolate liqueur into your mouth on Christmas afternoon.
Then Colin took us to Islay, his spiritual home, and particularly to the shores of Port Askaig near where Caol Ila has been producing whisky since 1864. Our tasting was of the 2011 Special Release of Caol Ila Unpeated 12 yo bottled at 64%. The nose was fresh and clean set against the richness of the Port Dundas with briny seaweed scents. There was toffee popcorn too and on the tongue we got lovely citric notes of lemon meringue and a subtle peppery tang. Some of the more sensitive noses among us picked up a slight peatiness but at 5ppm, this is not your usual Caol Ila!
For our nest dram we stayed on the Isle of Islay and took in a whisky whose reputation and lore precedes it in any tasting. We were about to taste the 11th Release of Port Ellen, distilled in 1979 and bottled after 32 years at 53.9%. Only 2988 bottles have been released worldwide. With around only 400 bottles available to UK whisky enthusiasts and well out of our price range, this would certainly be our only chance to savour this dram! The nose held a lovely warming smokiness, there was sea breeze and the damp whiff of dry grass in light rain. The palate held the same briny flavour beautifully balanced with gentle citrus notes some peppery heat.
Johnnie Walker Platinum Label was up next , but at 40% was sadly overshadowed by it’s more powerful and robust classmates. This is a new addition to the Johnnie Walker family and we’d like to try this again in another context as I think it would stand out far more than it did here. Some honey and baked pear on the nose.
We moved on to the luxurious and rich Knockando 25 yo. Matured in Oloroso sherry butts and apparently watered down until it was runny enough, it has been bottled at 43%. A lovely sherried Speyside with sweet and fruity plum wine and rum soaked raisin on the nose. A gorgeous light mahogany colour and lighter on the tongue than some sherried whiskies I’ve tried, this was a delicate tender kiss rather than a full on snog!
With time pressing on, and Colin in full swing the Laguvulin 12 yo Special Release (57.5%) was the last in this extraordinary line up! Feeling truly spoilt, we nosed our final offering. Sweet sticky wood smoke, this is all you want from this iconic Islay malt! Big and peaty on the tongue, with huge mouth feel. What a way to end out tasting, and Jon only made one note… “Fabulous!”
It was fantastic to attend another masterclass with Colin, a ‘moment maker’, unforgetable, inspiring, and uniquely part of our ‘whiskyfabric’! The whiskies we tried in this masterclass were among Diageo’s 2011 Special Releases, and if you’re lucky you might be able to find a bottle or two knocking about somewhere!
Special thanks should also go to Andrew Purslow (@Ardbaggie) and the Nickolls and Perks team who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to deliver a super class!