Springbank 28yo (1974) : Day 23 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calendar

Having visited Springbank distillery in the summer of 2014, I have come to love more and more of their special liquid. What’s even more fascinating though is the whisky produced in their stills back in the 70’s and 80’s. Even now, Springbank feels like a traditional distillery. By that I mean, everything there seems classic, aged and how it would have been done 30, 40 or 50 years ago. They are a friendly bunch and they are without a doubt up their as one of the strongest distilleries (you very rarely get a week whisky… let along a NAS!). So when I was offered a sample of this 28yo Springbank from Phil Storry, I was intrigued to see what it offered.

Springbank 28yo ‘Chieftains’ (46%)

DSC_0065N: Waxy, white pepper, wood shavings, crayola crayons and apples. Pretty malty with hints of polished wood. There is a smidgen of peat hidden in there somewhere. But after some time apricot jam and wax dominated. I found this difficulty complex. Not necessarily a fun one to nose.

P: Quite spicy. Some strong oaky notes with a dull sweetness like week old fizzy drink.. I found it quite earthy throughout the tasting. Metallic, waxy and weirdly vibrant considering its age. A certain char taste reminded me of elements of Ardbeg Alligator.

F: Medium. Cinnamon, dirty peat, smoked kippers, crayons and the remains of burnt wood. Quite bitter and drying right at the very end.

Comments: I think the bottle was open for a while, but it was still very interesting. Not only old, but weirdly complex, constantly changing without the minute hand. I wasn’t sure at first as it was a bit of a struggle, but after giving it time, it became more enjoyable and layered. Great to try. 90 (mostly down to it’s aged quality).

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Thank you Phil for all your special whiskies. Without you, this calendar would not have had the weird and wacky edge! Please go and visit Phil’s site here. He regularly has reviews of the latest SMWS bottlings and to be honest… he knows his stuff!

Highland Park 25yo (2004) : Day 16 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calendar

We’re going to stay with the 25 year olds and move from Islay up to The Highlands. Highland Park was never a distillery that grabbed me. When I first got into whisky I tasted their 12 year old at a whisky shop whilst on holiday in Scotland and I found it brash, spirity and unappealing. Three years later, I bought a bottle of this 12 year old help my education, and it was one of the worst bottles I ever purchased. I am hoping that there was something wrong with that bottle, it was sulphured, off and simply disappointing. I didn’t enjoy it one bit and never actually finished it.

I mentioned the fact that I was not a Highland Park fan to some of my friends from the whisky fabric, and yet again it was the man from France, Franck Debernardi that persuaded me to try a greater range of their spirit, sending this little surprise to encourage me. Since then I have tried a plethora of OBs and single casks, and my perceptions of this distillery have definitely changed.

Highland Park 25yo (50.7%)

hlpob.25yov1 N: Stunning nose with so much going on right from the word go and a real thickness of complexity. Forrest fruits coupled with a floral character, whilst no being overly fresh. Woody, old waxed wooden furniture with some fresh polish. Vanilla and hazelnut chocolate with some menthol and mint towards the end. Water brings the gentle sherry into play with a splash of sea breeze towards the end.

P: A spirity arrival. Sherried fruits, christmas and coffee cake with some burnt toast. Fizzy on the tongue like refreshers, with the alcohol quite active for 50%. A real creamy texture with dollops on chocolate orange and vanilla ice cream. Manuka honey, lemon sherbets and bold apples towards the end.

F: Very long. Slightly sweet , zesty, dry and woody. I got some salt and pepper towards the end also.

Comments: This was a thinker with some huge flavours. Very easily the best Highland Park I’ve had in the pleasure of trying, offering so much complexity and balance throughout, showing its age beautifully. Solid 90.

Thank you Franck, you have turned me into a HP lover.

Tomatin 30yo: Day 4 of #Whiskyfabric Advent Calendar

Tomatin is one of those distilleries that slipped my radar when I first got into single malts. This was a huge mistake as they produce some fantastic whisky. Over the past year I have been pointed towards some lovely expressions from a number of #whiskyfabric friends including a certain Ben Cops. A blogger who writes very regular reviews on Benswhisky.com, Ben has opened my eyes to a number of new distilleries, is incredibly persuasive when it comes to bottle shares and an all round good chap. We don’t meet up enough, but when we do, he is always a bad influence good fun. Not to forget he is a generous sharer of his fabulous whisky collection (I don’t know how he has space in his study!) This sample was given to me a number of months ago and has been sitting with a few others, waiting to be enjoyed and reviewed, so here we go.

Tomatin 30yo (46%)
IMG_0017N: A really full and rounded nose which noses stronger than the ABV suggests. Sweet and waxy to start. I get sour apple Hubba Bubba chewing gum straight away with huge juicy fruits, in fact very fruity without being overbearing. Apples, pears, pineapple and mangos. Old fashioned sweets such as pear drops, marshmallows and gummy bears. After some time in the glass, lots of honey and a herbal note towards the end. Quite an enticing nose this one. Enjoyable.

P: Oaky…. Very oaky in fact. Fresh and vibrant on the tongue with freshly cut grass and fresh fruits again; Bananas, apples and mangos. Lots of penny sweets, particularly Fruit Salad sweets. Victoria sponge cake with vanilla icing sugar. Hint of honey again.

F: Long, oaky finish with a soft fizzle of spice. Well balanced. Fruits still hanging on with some rich tea biscuits too.

Comments: Robust and fresh fruit bomb. Nice and vibrant for a 30yo, I would have guessed at it being a 21yo. Sweetness leads this one, but doesn’t dominate. 88.

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Thanks again to Mr Cops for the sample. Go check out his site!

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!