Glen Garioch Drambassador: Mystery Dram

Well aren’t I lucky?! I got an email the other day telling me that I had been chosen to be a Glen Garioch ‘Drambassador’. “What is that?” I hear you cry. In answer to your question, it means that I have been given a unique opportunity, along with only 19 others, to sample some of their new, gorgeous, unreleased single malt whisky. Did I mention how lucky I was?! What I forgot to mention was that I don’t know anything about this liquid, apart from its ABV. Oh… and there’s one more thing. If my tasting notes match those of Rachel Barrie (Glen Garioch’s Master Blender) then I might be lucky enough to join her for a trip to the distillery. I couldn’t think of anything better.

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unnamed If you follow me on twitter (@mattveira), then you may know how much I enjoy a drop of Glen Garioch. I was lucky enough to come across them in the last few years and I’ve enjoyed a number of their expressions since – especially the 12 year old, 1995 and 1986 vintages. So when a snazzy gift box arrived on my doorstep, I was intrigued to say that least. On opening the chest of goodies, I discovered not only a sample of the mystery dram, but some pairing items (jar of jam and a bar of dark chocolate studded with crystallised ginger) and a scroll containing a number of clues, set to help me on this treacherous task.

 

I spent some time investing some of these clues, mostly having little luck. It wasn’t until I started tasting the dram, that ideas started forming. Let’s start with the gorgeous little drams tasting notes:

unnamed-2Colour: Beautiful dark golden amber, with a slight red/pink haze

Nose: Glen Garioch profile obvious here with a slight spice and grassy note with some veiled sweetness. Fresh, fragrant and sweet. Manuka honey before the fruit hits – blackcurrant, plums, berries and toffee apples. Nicely sweet, with a slight sour note too. Grassy/heathery notes making more of an appearance with some vanilla ice cream. Some oakiness leaps out before the chocolate comes to play – reminiscent of fruit & nut. Later, there is a heavier oak and spice with flashes of fudge, raisins and menthol right at the end. This is nicely complex whilst retaining its balanced quality.

Palate: Rich, sweet and relatively thick, coating the mouth nicely. Fruits at the forefront with strong blackcurrant and sweet berries; a slight fruit cake quality here. Similar to the nose, the spice grows filling the mouth beautifully, balanced with some woodiness. The rich chocolate really starts weaving in and out of the oakiness beautifully with some powerful nuttiness. Moderately peppery, with a hint of ginger (helped by the crystallised ginger), and touch of bitter tannins. The initial creamy sweetness gives way to a slight sour acidity with tangy apples. Finally, an oily/silky mouthfeel with a smidgen of mint and citrus astringency leaving the mouth feeling pretty fresh/clean.
Finish: Long, spicy, velvety and warming. I find it quite smooth and creaming with very few rough edges. An oaky and nutty character continues throughout, even flashes of liquorice and orange. Moderately dry, but overwhelmingly lovely.
Comments: A wonderfully crafted whisky. Interesting, individual and intriguing. For me it hit the spot, providing the smooth character I enjoy, coupled with a beguiling interchangeable disposition. A chameleon of a whisky. If I were to guess an age, I would go for 14/15 years.

 

The clues we were given:

  1. The entire batch of this expression was distilled one summers day when Scotland took part in a global sporting event. The country where this event took place is closely linked to our tasting notes.
  2. Our whisky is a perfect marriage of two regions and you may find our whisky’s robust structure and complex flavours remind you of something else.
  3. The casks were previously stored in a cave 100km from the Atlantic Ocean.
  4. The oak shares its name with a breed of cattle.

Clue 1
One of my other loves, away from the whisky and music worlds, is sport. So i scoured my brain, noting down each ‘global sporting event’: Olympics, Rugby World Cup, Commonwealth Games, Football World Cup?! I realised quite quickly that the Rugby World Cup is usually held during the winter, so that was one down. Scotland don’t compete in The Olympics on their own either, leaving me with two remaining ideas. My initial thought was The Commonwealth Games, coinciding with Scotland hosting later this year. Manchester, Kuala Lumpur, Canada and New Zealand were all possibilities, with NZ (great wine producing nation) being my favourite. Annoyingly, I discovered that they held it in January. 1998_FIFA_World_Cup_logo.svg I decided to go down the final route and look at the Football World Cup. Scotland qualified for the ’90 WC in Italy and the ’98 WC in France (I didn’t think it could have been earlier than 1990!) Remembering that the ’98 French World Cup was held during June & July (I remember watching it), coupled the fact that there is no 1998 Vintage in the Glen Garioch range made me prick up my ears. I might be on to something.

 

Clue 2
A perfect marriage between two regions, initially made me think of two whisky regions. It wasn’t until I thought that the French connection could mean that the casks could be from another region? If this is the case, France not only has a plethora of wine regions but copious spirits too; Brandy, Armagnac, Cognac etc… sadly I’m no expert in any of these either. But this could explain some of the rich complexity and interesting notes to the whisky.

 

Clue 3
Cognac_Map_Total3 This was when my four years of degree research payed off – ie Wikipedia helped out. I narrowed it down to two choices:

  • The Bordeaux region of France is precisely 100km to Soulac-sur-Mer right on the French coast
  • The town of Cognac is around 100km to the famed La Rochelle on the French coast.

My C in French GCSE finally helped me like Mrs Smith said it would, and I remembered that “cave” in French mean “cellar”. Great!

Clue 4
heifers AUGUST 2011 183 Although I know my cattle really well *coughcough*, I’m sadly not at the age for Countryfile etc just yet! I discovered that Limousin is not only a region of France known for its oak AND breed of cattle, but Furthermore, this French Oak is particularly favoured by many including Rémy Martin (known for Cognac) for a number of years.
The chocolate, ginger and jam helped bring some of the tasting notes to mind. The chocolate matched the rich sweetness of this this whisky, but I didn’t think that France was well known for its chocolate or ginger people (oh dear). I was certain that the jam was blackcurrant, but every now and then would get a plum like note. I know that blackcurrants grow abundantly in Burgundy, especially Cassis; and discovered that Greengage (a cultivator of the European Plum), sometimes known as a sugar plum was bred in Moissac, France. We seem to be on a roll now….

 

For a few days I grappled with all this…. I was torn… maybe I still am! I wasn’t sure whether this whisky was aged/finished in Cognac casks due to the rich complexity involved; or Bordeaux red wine casks, due to certain tannins, blackcurrant notes and dark the red/pink colour. There are certain characteristics that remind me of a wine cask matured Bowmore I own somewhere in my cupboard. However, due to the richness and flavours reminiscent of certain brandies I’ve tasted, I won’t go with the red wine casks (watch me slap myself later!)

 

Conclusion: I believe that this mystery dram is a 48% 1998 Vintage, making it a strapping 15 year-old (maybe even 16, depending on the release date), aged in Cognac casks, with the use of Limousin oak. Furthermore, as I was torn between Bordeaux/Cognac, I will guess that they may have started life as Bordeaux casks before they were used to age the Coagnac. Moreover, meaning that these quality casks would have spent time in not only the Bordeaux region, but that of Gascony too; another marriage of two regions!

What a great experience this was. The whisky was sublime, challenging and exciting. The task…. pretty much the same. I may have less hair after this challenge, but it was definitely worth it. I also may be miles off with all of my guesses, but I don’t care. Glen Garioch have produced another cracker and I’m eager to discover the true identity and story behind what will turn out to be a very popular expression. Thank you to Glen Garioch for choosing me and organising this exiting task. I hope this isn’t the end of my Drambassador role. Good luck to all the other 19 #GGDrambassador’s – it’s been exciting to say the least!

2013 Review

For some 2013 was a tough year. I’ve seen family and friends go through some difficult times and I hope that 2014 will be good to those that didn’t have it so well over the last 12 months. For me, 2013 was a good one as years go. Work went along nicely without too much of a glitch. I started playing more music, finally started this blog and we bought/moved into our first house.

The move took more out of me than I expected. I didn’t realise how much there was to do and my past times/hobbies such as whisky, golf & sport took a back seat. Luckily that didn’t stop me from trying some special whiskies along the way. Some of which I’ll highlight below. These aren’t necessarily my “favourite” whiskies of the year, just particular bottles that poked their heads above the crowd and made me take notice.

machir

Kilchoman Machir Bay
On the 3rd January 2013, I walked into The Whiski Rooms in Edinburgh, saw a bottle of the Machir Bay behind the bar & ordered a glass. Seeing as it was a mix of three, four & five year old whisky I didn’t know what I was expecting… But what I got was a punch of young, explosive but not overbearing peaty goodness. Simply a well produced, sherry-finished, peaty whisky.

Considering its youth, it sits on the tongue nicely with some intricate flavours. I found the finish long & delicate with an incredible complexity for its “age”. It’s an exciting young whisky that I enjoyed so much… I ordered one the next day. This really is a solid expression from the artisan ragamuffins at Kilchoman and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a different Islay.

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Bruichladdich The Laddie 10
I received a bottle of this from my brothers last Christmas. They obviously love their big brother to bits! Now I was lucky enough to try an incredible 1986 19yo bottling of Bruichladdich recently [But that will come in another post], the style of whisky it seems Bruichladdich are trying to bring back with this Laddie 10. This marks a new era for this distillery and shows of all the exciting things to come. It’s non chill filtered, no colouring & bottled at 46%, plus it lovely stuff.

Smashes round your mouth boldly, with all the sea salt, iodine, sweetness and hint of peat smoke (un-peated?!) you could ask for. It became one of my favourite bottles of the year rather quickly. If you don’t have one, do yourself a favour a buy it. For a smidgen over £30 it’s a cracker.

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Port Charlotte An Turas Mor
This was my first Port Charlotte and I was pretty excited to see how it was. As you can see above, I love Bruichladdich and I’m also a fan of strongly peated whiskies… Enter Port Charlotte. My good twitter friend Tom Thomson (@ifotou) from Toms whisky reviews sent me a sample of this back in March/April and I devoured it in record time.

It is a multi vintage whisky with its name meaning “The Great Journey”. The nose provides the coastal saltiness that Bruichladdich brings, but with an earthier, creamier base. The gentle peat smoke is there too. The palate is incredibly balanced and powerful, whilst retaining a gentle quality. It’s fiery and spicy with a combination of smoke, ash and BBQ.

This really excited me and I can’t wait to see what they do with this Port Charlotte brand. You can’t get bottles of this anymore… But if you see one, I’ll give you good money for it!

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Glen Garioch 1986
In June I received an email from Morisson Bowmores master blender Rachel Barrie (@TheLadyBlender) inviting me to take part in a lovely little tweet tasting of Glen Garioch for fathers day. We had a great time tasting the 12 year old, 1986, 1995 and (what we later found out was) the new virgin oak. I enjoyed each expression for different reasons & it increased my appreciation of this underrated distillery. It was this ’86 however that stuck out for me.

Most of us found peaches, malt and ginger on the nose. I also noted some toffee and a wisp of smoke in the background (interesting – noting the year). On the palate it was sweet, full bodied and fresh. Some ripe fruit, slight earthiness and even some gentle smoke in there too.

This was eloquent, easily drinkable and enjoyable (I’m all about the alliteration). Glen Garioch has produced an intricate and refined whisky right here. If it was an ’87 (my birth year), I would have snapped up a few bottles.

laph
Laphroaig 15 Signatory (The Whisky Exchange)
I stumbled across this corker of a dram on the 29th October. You may be wondering how I remembered that particular date? It was my birthday… And what a dram to celebrate with. My lovely wife took me up to London for the day and one of her lovely “gifts” was to let me look round as many whisky shops as I liked. We ended up at The Whisky Exchange and I was like a child in a sweet shop. I was encouraged/escorted/helped by Sam who gave me a pretty generous amount of special samples to taste (too many to remember/list), but this Laphroaig was the winner by a mile.

On the nose classically Laphroaig – peat smoke, medical notes, sea salt and gentle spice. The palate gives some earthiness, sweetness, sherry and spice. This is then followed with warm smoke, chocolate and fruit. The cask strength gives this a soft but lingering finish.

I would have walked away with a bottle (or three) if it wasn’t for the fact that it was £100. My wife was in a generous mood…. But I wanted to keep her that way!! I’m still trying to find away of getting this bottle, maybe even a bottle share at some point. I’ll be surprised if there’s any left though, as this is a slap in the face peat/sherry beast!

bunna
Bunnahabhain 23 (Abbey Whisky)
I had only heard good things about Abbey Whisky’s bottlings. That’s why I was incredibly lucky to get on their tweet tasting run by the Whisky Wires Steve Rush (@thewhiskywire). For this tasting we tasted a Caperdonich 17, this Bunnahabhain 23 and a Ben Nevis 16 – the first three in their rare cask series. All fantastic. We also got to try a blind dram, which later turned out to be a ’93 single cask Glendronach. I’ll leave all that for another blog post.

All four whiskies in this tasting were great, but I kept coming back to this Bunna. Its nose, palate and finish were all stunning providing a huge complexity of flavours. The delicate nose is fruity, briney and smooth with some chocolate and a hint of peat smoke there. I could have nosed it all day. The palate is gentle and creamy before a build up of beautiful fruity flavours kick in. Some honey, cinnamon and vanilla hang about with hints of brine and smoke linger in the background. I didn’t want this to end.

In layman’s terms…. I liked it. A lot! Although I already have a Bunna 23 from The Whisky Broker, this one from Abbey Whisky is at the top of my wish list for 2014 and I better be quick as there is a limited supply.

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Flaming Heart Compass Box
If you follow me on twitter (I can only apologise), then you may have seen me tweet about a visit to Milroys of Soho whilst I was in London back in December. I timed this visit to perfection as I discovered Chris from Compass Box in there, armed with their core range of quality whiskies.

My first encounter with Compass Box’s GKS was great, as you can read here, but this was expression was even better. The Flaming Heart has a great nose, quite vegetal with touches of sea salt, pepper and refined coastal peat followed by some oiliness and soot. It improves with the palate. A lovely mix of fruit, brine, salt and zest. It’s very smoky too, with a beautiful warm peaty finish.

Suffice to say, I loved all their whiskies and would implore you to try them all too.

 

 

Some other ‘Honourable Mentions’
– Ardbeg Day
– Caol Ila 21 Old & Rare
– Kavalan Soloist
– Glen Garioch ‘86
– Invergorden Clan Denny 44yo
– Blair Athol 15 Old & Rare
– Laphroaig 18
– Caperdonich 17 (Abbey Whisky)

 

Here’s to a wonderful 2014!