Mike and I had a day spare recently so we decided to visit ‘that London’ and follow our own whisky trail, discovering some of the best whisky shops in the city and ultimately aiming to finish up at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society for a few drams. In total we fitted in 4 whisky shops, 1 pub, and 1 SMWS bar (with a lunch stop in the fabulous Borough Market for the most amazing salt beef sandwich in the land. Fact.)
First up was The Whisky Exhange in Vinopolis. We popped in briefly and had a look around this Aladdin’s cave of a shop; it may be smallish but the walls are packed high with a fabulous range of whisky (although this is only a fraction of their stock – phone ahead if you want anything in particular so they can make sure it is there!) and there are a few casks in the corner containing whisky that is actually maturing so you can pop in and keep buying an evolving spirit – brilliant! After coffee and lunch we hopped north of the river, visited Berry Bros and Rudd and sought out their whisky selection at the back of the shop. They have a nice little range with a great supply of their own whisky if you are looking for something that little bit different while in town. We then ventured to Picadilly and opposite the Ritz hotel is the newest offering from The Whisky Shop – a shiny flagship store containing the whole of the Dalmore Constallation series, a wide selection of whisky and a man playing a piano! It was here that we had our first two drams of the day – and they were lovely!
Benriach 1995 17YO [The Whisky Shop exclusive] 53.1%
This Benriach was selected by Darren Leitch of The Whisky Shop and is put together from a mere 4 casks of 17 year old whisky that has spent its life maturing in virgin oak. Bottled at cask strength and retailling at £74.99 it is certainly worth considering next time you pass the shop.
Nose: Very nice to begin with, reminiscent of sweet liquorice combined with bananas. Rich and woody, although not too overpowering. A slight touch of varnish too
Palate: Lots of peppery heat and chilli spice which tempered to release more fudge and liquorice notes. With water the dram softened to reveal ‘edgy’ orchard fruits (ask Mike!), vanilla and more caramel and toffee
Finish: A combination of fudge and spice with a bitter coffee tang. Final notes are of sweet candy which leaves you wanting more
Bowmore 1990 21YO [Douglas Laing’s Old & Rare – The Whisky Shop exclusive] 49.6%
This Bowmore was delicious. Its not a cheap whisky coming in at just under £180 but we loved the complexity of peat entwining with the depth of eathiness that was present. This would be a special occassion whisky.
Nose: The nose is incredibly well balanced; a gentle mix of floral scents and grassy / heathery notes. We also detected a touch of fresh mint among some brooding smoke
Palate: This began with a burst of tobacco, some gentle heat and peppermint. We also noticed some cigar smoke in the depths of the glass which became more pronounced as water was added
Finish: Long and smokey
Next up was a brief stop in the heart of Mayfair at the very up market Hedonism Wines. What a shop this is – worth popping in just to see the range of wines and whiskies that are on offer; we could have spent hours examining the rare bottles but we wanted to visit Greville Street and meet Billy (aka @Cowfish for Twitter folk) at The SMWS so we headed east back to Farringdon.
We tried 6 excellent whiskies whilst at the society and were impressed with the recommedations from Chris and the staff (thanks guys!) and we had a lovely catch up with Billy who entertained us with stories from the Victoria Whisky Festival that he had recently returned from. So, onto the whisky:
SMWS 66.36 [Ardmore 10] 58.2%
This was a top dram; it was recommended by both John and Chris and we were told that there were only two bottles left in London. It was a lovely sherried whisky that went down extremely well.
Nose: A delightful mix of chocolate, spicy chorizo and BBQ ribs in this meaty dram. Further investigation revealed a touch of wood glue among the spent BBQ smoke and ashy notes. A huge nose
Palate: Very chewy and warming with a lot more of the burnt BBQ sausage
Finish: Warming, sweet and meaty
SMWS 53.168 [Caol Ila 18] 59.3%
We’re massive fans of this underated distillery and this whisky did not disappoint. Its 18 years in sherry casks was well spent and it did not overpower this beast of a whisky.
Nose: Massive; a cracking combination of smoke, sea salt, plasters and tcp. We also found (hidden away) touches of orange oils and peel and were reminded of the freshly ‘wetted’ pebbles
Palate: The coal smoke continues to build and is met with burnt heather and heathland before the coastal salt of a windswept beach rushes back in.
Finish: Long and full of smoke (Chris, our friend and self confessed whisky novice described it as ‘sorting the men out from the boys!’)
SMWS 4.167 [Highland Park 16] 54.7%
A 16 year old whisky from the Orkney Islands that was fresh, contained hints of pear and one that we’d happily have on our shelf at home.
Nose: Freshly buttered scones and thick double cream. A little smoke and brine before some quite rich and decadent vanilla ice cream.
Palate: Overiding notes of pepper and smoke from this chewy whisky, combined with some citrus and tropical fruits
Finish: Fresh and cleansing
We also made some brief notes on the other drams we tried, so for completeness and incase you are looking for inspiration next time you visit here they are:
SMWS 1.165 [Glenfarclas 10 58.4%] – Full of vanilla fudge, coffee cake, pecan nuts and lemon drizzle cake
SMWS G5.8 [Invergordon 19 64.2%] – Think bananas, pine notes, chinese spiced pork and black jack sweets. We bought this whisky; it was divine – expect to see a full indepth review on the blog soon!
SMWS 29.121 [Laphroaig 20 55.1%] – Hessian, deep rich peat, surprisingly creamy and charred cured meats
We managed to sneak a pint in at the Euston Tap (first time I’ve managed to find it (!) but well worth a visit if you have a spare 20-30 minutes at Euston. Overall a great day out, fantastic to catch up with friends and enjoy some good whisky.