Whiskey Live

I spent most of yesterday afternoon at Whisky Live, the big whisky tasting event, enjoying a great, great many free samples. I was, as they say, very, very drunk. But not so drunk that I didn’t keep track of the really interesting new whiskies that I tried. So I figured I’d write it up here, as an excuse to bore the tits off the lot of you, and as an aide-memoire for myself.

First off, the blends. The ones from John, Mark and Robbo were interesting, if a little lacking in punch, but I’ve got to admire the effort that they put into helping everyone figure out which of their malts was likely to work best of them – they’d certainly be worth considering if you’re looking to get a broad sense of the range of flavours out there. But in terms of the best blend I tried, it’s got to be one of the Compass Box premium blends. I particularly liked the “Juveniles”, which was a very well rounded and flavoursome drink. And I should make special mention of “Orangerie”, a limited edition seasonal whisky they make at Christmas infused with orange peel and spices, which tastes marvellous, but smells even better. They haven’t sold out yet, so I’ve got a bottle on order…

And before I get stuck into the single malts, I should talk about the bourbons. There were several distillers over from the States, and it was nice to get a chance to sample a range of different bourbons (and briefly, a corn liqour that was – well, there was a lot of corn in taste…). The standout bottles that I tried were the Old Rip Van Winkle 15 year old (the 10 and 20 were good too, but the 10 was a bit too sharp, the 20 maybe a hair too smooth, while the 15 combined the best of both) and most of all the Elijah Craig single barrel 18 year old which was just marvellous. I decided to buy a bourbon to take home, rather than a whisky as I’ve got a decent amount of different whisky in the house at the moment. I’d have preferred to get the Craig, but the shop had sold out, so that’ll have to wait for another time. So I had to suffer the hardship of the Van Winkle 15. Woe is me.

Right then: the single malts. For novelty’s sake, I tried a Japanese whisky – the Nikka 10 year-old single cask Yoichi, which was ok, especially with a bit of water, but not really terrbily remarkable. I’m not sure what I’d been expecting, but it was just quite ordinary. I also tried a few Irish whiskeys I’d never had before – the Jameson’s 12 year old which was very pleasant, with a really nice rich cream finish, and nothing like the normal Jameson’s that you see most places, and a Connemara 12 year old which was interesting, and a cask strength from the same distillery that was just marvellous.

And we come at last to scottish single malts, and I find to my amusment that despite the fact that there were more of them there than anything else, I’ve only noted down five new ones to make sure I get my hands on.

First off, the Dalmore 30 – a really nice, warm bunch of flavours. Looking at the website, I am worried by the fact that it’s listed as only available in the US, which is, I assume, some sick karmic revenge for the fact that they can’t get the Glenfiddich 21, but I can always order it on-line. The Dalmore Cigar Malt was pretty nice, too. Speaking briefly of the Glenfiddich, aside from to say (as I have before) that the 21 is a really special dram, I did also get a chance to try their 12 year-old Caoran Reserve, which is another really interesting drink, finished, as it is in barrels that were previously used to make Islay malts.

Which leads me like to an unusual turn of events: I found and Islay malt that I like – I normally find Islay malts to be too medicinal for my tastes, and would tend to agree with Iain Banks comments about how some of them can be so far from what I think of as a whisky taste that they might as well be a different drink. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the one I like is a Bruichladdich – the Islay malt that’s got a repuation for being completely unlike the rest of the whiskies on the island. Either way, the 15 year old that they do was a very pleasant discovery. The 10 was nice too, but not something I’d rush to buy.

Next, a couple of Glenlivets. I like a quite heavily sherried dram, so while I thought the 18 was nice, and very smooth, I was most impressed by the 21, which takes the sweet notes and smoothness of the 18, and adds a fuller flavour, a bit more power in the mouth, as it were. Again, I’m not sure I’d be racing out to buy the 18, but the 21 was gorgeous.

And lastly, we got a preview of a new limited-edition Jura malt that should be released soon, the Jura 1984, named for Orwell (and to celebrate his centenary) who wrote the book while living on the island. I could pile superlative on superlative for this one – of everything I tried yesterday, this was head and shoulders about the rest, and may well be my new favourite whisky. A unique and brilliant drink, and I will be buying a couple of bottles if I possibly can.

Next year, I’m doing both days of the show, because despite that fact that I tried something like 30 new drinks there, I didn’t get round everything I wanted to (and even if I had, I think it might have killed me – I was skeptical when my colleague said he reckoned he drank about a bottle’s worth of whisky each day, but I’ve just done the sums, and erm, yes, it’d seem that he was right), and would seriously urge anyone reading this with even a passing interest in whisky to think about doing at least one day of it next year.

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