Ok so I haven’t updated in nearly a week and there is a good reason for this, I have been busy with quite some extensive ‘research’. Anyway now that I have recovered from said ‘research’ there will be lots to write about. I just spent a heady and joyful weekend at Whisky Fringe in Edinburgh, lots of fun, familiar faces and great drams. In fact I spent a large portion of the weekend filling my rucksack with samples of the weird and wonderful so expect many new and interesting tasting notes in the coming days and weeks. However before we get stuck into the froth of whisky fringe there is the small matter of the official launch of the new Arran 14yo that I attended at Oran Mor in Glasgow last wednesday.
It was a hot day and Oran Mor on a wednesday evening can usually be quite a cool respite for the aficionado of whisky and beer. It has become quite a staple of west end chic in recent times with its wooden panelling, ancient church interior and cask laden bar. However on this day it was heaving with the crush of Glasgow and Edinburgh’s usual whisky suspects. Obviously the promise of free drams and canapes was just too much for many to resist, me included. The drams on offer were from a small, pin sized cask that had been drawn from the warehouse earlier that day and made its journey from Arran to the bar by ferry, car and ultimately, by horse and carriage up Byres Road. The whisky was the new Arran 14yo reduced to approximately 46%, I found it very tasty but I decided to wait till I could garner a sample from the general release batch. Luckily I would not have to wait too long for that to happen.
Arran 14yo. OB. 70cl. 46%. 2010.
Colour: light gold
Nose: immediately there is lots of honey and some classic vanilla, bourbony fudge notes. This malt is starting to show some delicate signs of age, very noticeable in comparison to earlier standard bottlings. The vatting is mainly fresh bourbon barrels with some refill wood and a small proportion of sherry and the bourbon dominance really shows here. However the good news is that there are no signs of overt wood technology at play, there is a lot of sweetness and bourbon character but it is clean and honest wood that speaks. No funny business thankfully. After a minute or so some notes of damp sackcloth and dunnage appear, these seem to be very common aromas in Arran. Lots of fresh pear fruit and something slightly varnishy and resinous at the back. Its not globally very complex but like many Arrans it has no obvious flaws and is quite pretty and charming in an unassuming way.
Palate: Some sawdust at first then baked apples and custard with freshly grated nutmeg. Some hints of morello cherries, olive oil and quite a lean saltiness, almost like a sliver of pancetta. More honey and vanilla, quite concise with the nose. Towards the swallow there is a little minerality and something slightly drying, it even displays a delicate waxiness, still quite polished.
Finish: Returns to the sawdust of the palate and has some granite like earthiness as well. The finish fades very nicely, good length.
Comments: Its quite a nicely composed malt I think. It has all the Arran hallmarks of freshness and delicate island character but I still really wish they wouldn’t rely so heavily on first fill bourbon, it just ends up tasting a bit too modern for my liking. Anyway its a worthy addition to the range and its always worth remembering what an epic amount of effort that is involved in nurturing a spirit to this kind of age from scratch. Well done Arran!
From the sunny evening delight of Oran Mor to the headrush of an Edinburgh in the midst and grip of yet another festival, in which whisky was once again about to play a serious role. I was fortunate enough to have been asked by Susan Colville of the excellent Wemyss Malts to lend a hand on her stand for the weekend, seeing as this meant free entry to whisky fringe I was only too happy to oblige.
I had never been to whisky fringe before, sadly my recent summers have all too frequently been spent out of the country, so I was pretty excited to finally make it along. Even from the more generic perspective of being behind a stand pouring drams you could still feel that this was a very laid back festival, more about fun rather than enforced whisky geekery or the occasionally stalinist whisky live approach. It was nice to just enjoy the slightly reckless hubbub rather than feel like you were missing everything. As much as I love festivals like Limburg or Oostende there is always an overwhelming sense of frustration that there are just so many amazing, rare and wonderful whiskies at these festivals that you can never try them all. It can be daunting and annoying in equal measure. The fringe on the other hand feels like an event and a set of drams you can get a handle on, I was fortunate enough to have tried most of what was on offer before so I felt free to enjoy the more unusual and newer releases at a more leisurely pace. Like all festivals it had its frantic and flushed faced moments but in general my impression was of friends enjoying an opportunity to catch up, certainly amongst the reps and ambassadors who all seemed to be on fine form and often quite relaxed themselves, not failing to join in the revelry as well as dish it out.
For me it was exactly what a festival should be in terms of enjoyment, it was fun, it was easy and it was well organised. I would happily go back another year as a punter but who knows where I’ll be by this time next year. It wasn’t the best stocked festival or the most richly rewarding but sadly the whisky festivals we have here in Scotland will probably never be this, it was however a ‘great wee festival’ exuding exactly the sort of charm and care free attitude that so many of the European festivals will just never have. It was a grand wee weekend all in all and the gin and tonics we poured as our half time orange special ‘drams’ on the Weymss stand were well received by several over-drammed connoisseurs, ones like this one…
Clynelish 1982/2010 28yo. Berry Bros. 70cl. 46%. Exclusive for Royal Mile Whiskies.
Nose: One of these uber fruity, waxy, flinty, mineraly early eighties Clynelishes that bears a striking resemblance to its early seventies forbears. A beautifully polished, delicately spiced and fruity nose. Perhaps not as rich as some Clynelish can be but its so subtle and delicate, more honey and salt develops after a while. Its surprisingly similar to some of the great 71/72′s. Very fragrant and coastal, a beautiful nose.
Palate: Lots of wax and tropical fruit, some rich toasty maltiness with a great subtly smoky dryness. Some very delicate phenols in the background. Flowery white fruit character with more of that great coastal flavour, this really is very coastal, the saltiness is surprisingly dominant. Very old school, very highland and very fresh, this really is my kind of dram.
Finish: Long, creamy, honied, some gentle vanilla, a phenolic whiff and bags of coastal freshness. Just delicious.
Comments: I love Clynelish and this is a belter. It has everything that is good about the distillery’s character and it balances it all with beautiful poise. A dangerously drinkable atlantic belter. Well done Berry Borthers yet again!
Dalmore 1990/2009. 19yo ‘Tropical Spice’. Weymss Malts. 70cl. 59.4%. Refill Sherry Butt. 767 bottles.
Colour: Mahogany. Suspiciously dark for a refill butt.
Nose: Immediately very concentrated, all on red fruits, plum and damson jam, stewed fruits, bags of classic but very clean sherry character. This smells like a very good cask. Something quite dusty and robust about the nose, a little old school in many ways. A lovely balance between dry and sweet, the sherry is rich and assertive but not overly aggressive, it complements the oily distillate so nicely. Something slightly mentholated and gently spicy as well. Very entertaining nose, surprisingly easy at over 59%. Starts to show some really lovely aged character, rancio, cigar tobacco, leather and something quite meaty. A very sinewy dram. Water makes the nose more meaty and oily, perhaps with less fruit and more rustic character, more tobacco and old parchment aromas.
Palate: Very big thick concentration again, berry compote, fruit eau de vie and something unusual like celery bitters. Very oily and mouthcoating, still incredibly clean sherry, lots of dark chocolate and a faint nuttiness, some jaffa cakes as well. It shows its strength a little more boldly now, lets try with water. Water softens it for sure and unearths some malty and very spicy flavours. More jammy qualities and quite a bit of quince jelly with some mulling spices. This must have been a very active refill, the first fill must have been very short or the cask was rejuvenated somehow.
Finish: Long and warming with something like gunflints, more hessian character, even a little tarry and more meatiness.
Comments: This is one bigass Dalmore. Well worth trying if you get a chance, it knocks the spots off almost all the standard distillery bottlings in this blogger’s opinion. A joy to have such a clean sherried malt for a change.
Many great drams no doubt but spare a thought for the boys from Royal Mile who worked the event and weren’t allowed to dram at all throughout the day. Here they are commendably making amends…