An Evening With Dominic Roskrow

I sometimes think to myself: “Why do I like whisky so much?”

The smell? The flavours? The experience? The quality?

I can’t narrow it down to one singular reason. Yet there’s something that will continually enthuse me and keep me smiling. The people.

This can range from friends you share a Saturday night dram with, to drinks writers. The main reason this “review” is one of the later.

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Back in May, I was persuaded by Nigel Crew of Sassenachs Dram Whisky Club to cancel my plans and come along to a joint tasting with Lyn Adams of Guildford Whisky Shop. What made this even more tempting, was the fact that it was being taken by celebrated whisky writer Dominic Roskrow. I’m not going to tell you all about him as that’s what Google is for; but suffice to say, he knows his stuff. He had chosen three world whiskies, with Lyn choosing three from the shops range. They were as follows:

– St.Georges English Malt Whisky – Four Lions (Discovery Road)

– Dutch Rye 7yo (Discovery road)

– Dunedin New Zealand 15yo DoubleWood

– Redbreast 15yo

– Balcones Single Malt

– Kilchoman Machir Bay 2014

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Dominic is a fun and welcoming chap, who is obviously enthused by whisky and the people around it. His background includes journalism, music writer/critic and a move out to New Zealand (we both share a love of this marvellous country). One of his opening lines – “I’m going to say things that are controversial”, certainly brings excitement, and his interesting views on Scotch whisky are met not only met with raised eyebrows, but many nods throughout the room. He discussed different viewpoints of blending, use of colouring (cynical about it, rightly so), politics and the good ol arguments behind Non-Age Statements, or NAS if you will. Even with his terrible German accent (Sorry Dom), the crowd warmed to him instantly, discovering quickly his passion for world whisky. He just couldn’t contain his excitement whilst talking about St.Georges distillery – his “local”.

Although he loves world whisky, this doesn’t stop him enjoying scotch. He spoke fondly about many Scottish distilleries and I have experienced this first hand after sharing and discussing enthusiastically a magnificent 1972 Balvenie with him at The Whisky Exchange Show this year. His argument for why Scotch whisky is the best in the world: Not cutting corners… i.e. the quality oak.

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For me, I have been in tastings where I’ve been told what to do and what to expect. Whereas here, Dominic instantaneously told everyone “You do what you want with whisky, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!” Wise words. He continued to tell us the reason he “…does that he does”, is because he has practiced, not because he is the best taster in the world.

He was engaging and humorous throughout, remaining entertaining all night. His insights into areas such as Irish whisky and conflicts in the whisky world were eye opening, and I came away not only enthused, but educated also. If you get the chance to pop along to one of Dominic’s tastings, I would recommend it. You won’t regret it.

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Here are some quick tasting notes on the whiskies we tried.

St.Georges English Malt Whisky – Four Lions (Discovery Road) (46%)

English Malt Whisky - Four Lions

N: Fragrant and very slightly floral. Buttery softness, some vanilla, maltiness and sweet fudge before quite a bit hit of pineapple. Towards the end I get a hint of dustiness.

P: Nicely smooth. Big malty hit upfront before some gentle woodiness. Sawdust, heather, pineapple and sweet pears. Some light spices balance out the sharpness here.

F: Medium. Liquorice on the upper palate and some raisins lower down too. I look the woody quality here. Quite enjoyable.

Dutch Rye 100% 7yo – Smile (Discovery Road) (46%)

IMG_6320N: Sweet nose. Grain like. Slightly grape-y with some polish/waxy notes. Pretty soft overall with some gentle spices and toffee notes too.

P: Good arrival. Vibrant and exciting. I found some similarities to certain bourbon sweetness. Although pretty sweet, it remains quite dry. Soft toffee, warm spicy tones and even some red liquorice laces.

F: Medium. Slightly dry. Rip fruits including banana. Spices slowly simmer down. This was pretty quaffable.

Dunedin New Zealand 15yo DoubleWood (40%)

Dom discussed the difficulties Willowbank distillery had been having with the naming of this DoubleWood, as you might recognise the name from a certain well brand- here. He also explained that the spirit spent 6 years in American Bourbon barrels, before finishing in French Oak NZ wine barrels, giving its slight pink hue.

IMG_6318N: Quite a light, closed and over ripe nose. With time, I found it a tad thicker with a certain sweetness with dark fruit notes. A slight floral sweetness too.

P: The wine cask jumps out straight away. Far more fruity here with some damp wood and fresh sawdust. Sweet vanilla tones, heavy toffee and slight dry tannic notes.

F: Pretty long. Lots of stewed fruit. Slight savoury/meaty note. Lots of the wood profile comes at the end. Pretty complex and needs time. But overall quite enjoyable.

Redbreast 15yo (46%)

IMG_6319N: Slightly withheld to start with. Dark sweetness, demurrer sugar, sultanas and vanilla pod. Lots of old sweet shop flavours here, especially sherbet fountains. Very fragrant, oily and rich. Similar to certain old grain noses.

P: Light on the palate yet retains the oiliness. Big sweetness followed by some big malt tones. I get some salted meat, especially bacon before some sweet American candy takes over.

F: Medium. Sweetness is there for quite a while. Some sweet apples and light citrus too. This is very drinkable and glides down the throat beautifully. I’m glad I have a bottle already.

Balcones Single Malt (53%)

IMG_6323N: Big bacon and BBQ Ribs notes to start. Not as smokey as other Balcones. Some banana, vanilla and honey before you get the pancetta and peppered notes. Slightly dark and sour too. Pretty creamy character.

P: Warming, brown sugar. Far more fruity than expected. Quite buttery with notes of burnt caramel. I think I get banana bread here.

F: Medium/Long. The wood spices reveal themselves towards the end, with quite a doughy character. Fiery yet relaxed. Another good bottle from this crazy awesome distillery.

Kilchoman Machir Bay 2014 (46%)

Having just finished a bottle of this the previous month, I was well acquainted with this lovely bottling. It actually came out as the favourite dram for the evening with the Dutch Rye and Redbrest 15yo taking runner up spots.

IMG_6321N: Pretty sweet peat here. Soft stewed fruits and vanilla custard take the lead role to begin with. Sweet chocolate floating on a sea of peat. The smoke continually builds, leaving the sweetness to waft around.

P: I could tell this was Kilchoman straight away. Great powerful arrival with some strong burn straight away. Peppery, citrus and oily. Quite a nutty flavour later on once the young vibrant peat subsides.

F: Medium/Long. The peat doesn’t run away, instead dancing upon the tastebuds. Ashy, wood smoke. The sweetness again maintains its course, balanced with the citrus, a hint of chocolate and a slight cereal note too. Considering the age, this is fantastic. In fact, forget the age… it’s fantastic. I cannot wait to see what Kilchoman is like in 5 years time!

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A massive thank you to Nigel and Lyn for putting on this tasting, and of course to Dominic for bringing the fun and insight!

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Whisky Live

Shhh! Don’t tell anyone… But I attended my first ever whisky show the other week. I know it’s bad. It’s taken me this long to get myself in gear. However, I can tell you something else. It will not be my last. I had heard quite a bit about Whisky Live from my numerous twitter/blogging friends, so I made sure I didn’t miss out on this years. Held at the beautiful Honourable Artillery Company (a somewhat hidden gem in London), Whisky Live gives whisky lovers the opportunity to socialise, try lots of new whisky and meet brand ambassadors.

After a fantastic night at the SMWS the night before, and an exciting tour round The London Distillery on Friday; a large rowdy group of us descended upon Whisky Live with Glencairns in hand and a gleam in our eyes.

 

Teeling

Teeling Single Grain, Small Batch Blend & Vintage Reserve 21yo

First port of call was the Teeling Whiskey stand. I’d heard too many good things about this whiskey, so I thought it would be a great start. I met the familiar friendly faced Sam (who gave me my first ever SMWS dram) who represents Teeling. He not only gave me three crackers to try, but also a great knowledge of them all.
Teeling Single Grain: Sweet grainy nose with slight menthol/smoke hint. Incredibly smooth leathery palate, with some grass, sweets & wine on the finish.
Teeling Small Batch Blend: Again quite a sweet grainy nose, but rum finish is apparent upfront. Warming, grassy, slight metallic rum note. Lingers nicely leaving cut grass & raisins. I liked it a lot.
Teeling Vintage Reserve 21yo: A powerful, fruity nose. Really intriguing palate delivering smooth sweetness before dark sour fruits bounce over the tongue. Mysterious & complex, I loved it! Thank you Teeling Whiskey, you’ll be in my cupboard soon.

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Mark Thompson: The Grain Man!

Following the Grain theme, I ventured over to the legends of grain – Girvan – where I met Mark who treated me to four of their delightful grains. And delightful they were.

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Girvan No.4 Apps

Girvan No.4 Apps: Oily, musky, floral nose. Palate was fresher & more vibrant with a slight savoury edge. Lingered nicely with a small hint of smoke on the finish.

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Girvan 25yo

Girvan 25yo: Slightly withheld nose, remaining fresh & vibrant considering age. Vanilla, pear drops, ginger & toffee with some dryness on the finish.

 

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Girvan 30yo

Girvan 30yo: Subtlety floral, musty, fruity & chocolate notes on nose (some corn too?!) Oaky, sweet, sawdust and leafy character. Stays fruity & smooth throughout whilst having a slight zestiness to it. Again pretty vibrant for age.

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Girvan 40yo

Girvan 40yo: Rich and quite spicy on the nose. Pretty creamy. More oak and sherry here. Warming with red berries and hint of sawdust. Nicely aged with lots of sawdust and sherry sweetness. Magnificently mature.

 

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Preparations for the masterclass

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Neil spinning his magic

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was lucky enough to attend two masterclasses on the day, the first being led by three cracking gentlemen: Rob Allanson, Neil Ridley & Joel Harrison (Caskstrength). Providing knowledge and humour, they led us through the previous nights WWA Winners – weren’t we lucky! All interesting whiskies in their own right, showing the vast quality and variety we are lucky to have in the current market.

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WWA Winners

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Nikka Taketsura 17yo

Nikka Taketsura 17yo: Gentle, mossy, spicy, floral, dried fruit and tobacco – complex nose. Dark arrival with oak, cinnamon and liquorice. Fruity, floral characteristics before hidden whisp of smoke appears. Relatively smooth & slightly drying.

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The Lost Distilleries Blend

The Lost Distilleries Blend: Strong but mellows. Grainy, woody & spicy before peat starts to appear. Some leather armchairs too. Floral/citrus notes upfront with coriander and gentle peat balanced with a hint of zest. Very smooth dustiness with hints of peat here and there. Quality!

 

 

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Sullivans Cove

 

Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask: Musty, oaky, bourbon, cereal and almonds on the nose. Quite thin on arrival. Vanilla, honey and spices.Woody, drying and complex. The vanilla continues into the finish with some nuttiness too. Nice, but not my favourite (although it was voted worlds best single malt!)

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Overeem

Oveream: Powerful, sherried & slightly metallic. Fruitcake, caramel and spice. Sweeter on palate, with BBQ and burnt barley. I keep getting cinnamon. Nutty with vague smokey notes. Long finish with dark fruits & spiciness. Some cocoa there too before the sherried fruits take over.

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Balcones Brimstone Resurrection

Balcones Brimstone Resurrection: Very different. Oily, sweet BBQ meat, burnt hay & smoke on nose. Even meatier on palate, with powerful dark dusty flavours coupled with some menthol on the long booming finish. Yikes!

 

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A selfie with Balcones Chip Tate – Legend!

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Balblair tasting

I obviously wasn’t content enough with one masterclass, so I popped along to Balblair’s later that afternoon. We weren’t led as well this time around, but we still got to try some of their nice vintages.

Balblair 2003: Spirity, grassy and floral, really fills the nose. Full on palate with sweet oranges and apricots. Similar to certain new-make. Evaporates quickly leaving apples, wet wood, vanilla and hint of sherry.

Balblair 1997: More tropical fruits on nose with raisins and a sweetness again. More fruity and delicate with some citrus and heather. Vanilla, brown sugar and bourbon notes on finish.
Balblair 1990: Fresher nose, with sherry soaked fruit and sawdust. Dusty, floral, smoothly sherried with very small hints of peat. Long warm finish with lots of depth.
Balblair 1983: Dark fruits, wet wood, toffee and an old sweet shop on the nose. Palate’s less sweet, giving a dry maltiness mixed with a fruity depth. Slightly edgy on finish showing its maturity and smoothness. I love this one.

 

Twas time to move away from the Scotch and try something else, and after chatting with my friend Scott, we decided to head to the Taiwanese distillery Kavalan. All five whiskies we tried were well made, with the Kavalan Classic and Kavalan Port getting some good nods and the KingCar whisky giving me a big juicy, fruity, briny, smile! It was the three ‘Solist’ bottlings that stood out however.

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Kavalan Soloist Bourbon

Kavalan Solist Bourbon: Strong bourbon nose with sour fruits and sawdust. Strong palate giving lots of berries, raisins and some earthiness. I could have drunk it for days.

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Kavalan Solist Sherry

Kavalan Solist Sherry: Big, rich and dark! This is serious sherry on the nose, palate and eye. Holds the tongue with dark fruits, brown sugar and sawdust. Long long finish.

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Kavalan Solist Wine Cask

Kavalan Solist Wine Cask: Cracking nose, subtle yet powerful. Sweet, wet wood, grapes, some tannins and dryness. I just wrote “lovely lovely stuff”.

 

 

 

We decided to try some non distillery bottlings after this, so slid over to That Boutique-y Whisky Company. The delightfully cool Cat Spencer guided us through some of the cracking bottles they had on show. I’ve got a few of TBWC’s bottles, and I can tell you that their awesome comic book bottle labels are just the start!

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TBWC Clynelish

TBWC Clynelish: Strong, meaty, salty and lovely. However, not a typical Clynelish. Some forrest fruits and nuttiness balanced with a whisp of smoke.

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TBWC Caol Ila

TBWC Caol Ila: Classic Caol Ila. Big peat, big smoke, some delicate TCP, earthy and strong. This was like smoking a quality cigar.

 

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TBWC Kilchoman

 

TBWC Kilchoman: Peat-tastic! Slight farmyard peat on nose, with floral notes lurking behind. Doesn’t feel too young (even though it obviously is). Great mix of apples, earthiness, peat and biiig sweet smoke. This was awesome and my favourite of the TBWC bunch!

 

 

Another indie cask strength stand, and our friends over at The Whisky Exchange offering some Elements of Islay. The wonderful Billy and (my good old friend) Andy had some great choices.

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Br5 – Bruichladdich

Br5: Old Bruichladdich nose, salty, briny, earthy with some grass and sultanas. Strong on the palate with apples, grass, bourbon and hint of smoke on the tail. Beautifully balanced with some toffe at the end. This seems like an older laddie to me…. but I could be dreaming.

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Bw3 – Bowmore

 

Bw3: Great nose. Mellow peat, some salt with a slight fragrance to it. Peaty clings to top palate with some ripe fruit (grape & blackcurrent). Nice stuff, seems like a mid-aged Bowmore to me.

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Lp4 – Laphroaig

LP4: Less TCP than other Laphroaigs. Sweet peat, smoke and a very small savoury hint. Smooth palate with peat gliding over the tongue with a earthy quality. The smoke here was spot on. All three bottles showed some real quality.

 

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Chris – Cracking Chap!

We did make it to various other stands, but sadly 6 hours just wasn’t enough time to  visit them all, which is a shame. A big shout out to Chris on the Compass Box stand. As usual, he was delightfully personable and gave some lovely whiskies to sample. [Watch out for an upcoming Compass Box vertical]

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Chris chatting to John Glaser… Mr Compass Box!

Some of the other whiskies I got to try throughout the day: Glencadam 14 Olorosso, Glencadam 18, Compass Box Hedonism, Balcones Baby Blue, Balcones Brimstone, Balcones Number 1 and Nikka 15yo.

 

A wonderful afternoon, trying some marvellous whiskies. Could you ask for more? Oh yes… the fantastic company I had throughout the day. New friends brought together by the love of this magical liquid. A big shout out goes to Scott (@saunders_afc), Tommo (@ifotou), Stevo (@steveprentice), Ben (@ben_copps), Jon (@dvdbloke), Dave (@whiskydisovery), Andy,(@ardbaggie) Dave (@whiskyrepublic), Kat (@whiskydiscovkat), John (LRwhisky), Adrian (@mynameisgone), Stewart/Kirsty (@whiskycorner). Just a selection of the #Whiskyfabric

 

* Thanks goes again to Whisky Live for the pass and for putting on a great event *