The way we’d usually run a Whisky Squad session would be to pick a theme, and then select a few whiskies connected with that theme to sample for the evening. Caught up as we were with preparation for the end of year Christmas Dinner, however, we didn’t realise that there would be such demand for the regular Thursday night session as well, and so to keep things interesting we craftily decided that “Whisky Surprise” would make an excellent theme – participants could bring along their own bottle to share, be it something interesting, or something they just wanted to get rid of. And boy, did we wind up with a remarkable evening’s whisky…
One thing we hadn’t fully anticipated was that we might get 8 whiskies along for the evening – making for a slightly more robust tasting session than usual. But as always the Whisky Squad were eager and willing to get involved and amongst it to explore the range & diversity in front of them.
First cab off the rank was SMWS bottling 127.3 – “Beach BBQ For Older Boy Scouts”. The nose gave up alcoholic marzipan, honey, parmesan cheese, a little pine and some aloe vera, and when reduced also reminded us of water crackers. The palate was an oily saltwater affair, with notes of cinnamon and ginger coming through later. As always, the great shame of SMWS bottlings is that if you find one that you really like, there’s a good chance it’ll have sold out, and in this case there were only 235 bottles ever made. Quite a perky 8 year old.
Next, we made our way into another SMWS bottling – 71.33 (“Chutney on hot wood”). Reaction to the aroma was widespread and instant, and we arrived at “newly laid carpet” to describe the chemically volatile fragrance that greeted us, followed by perfume, and then thickening to maple syrup. Swirling it around my mouth, the first adjective I came up with was “dry”, and it gave orangey, marmaladey flavours. Darren suggested it was also reminiscent of weissbier. Actually, Darren suggests a lot of things – I sometimes wish it were possible to have a palate transplant with that man just to see what in the hell is going on in there…
The 3rd bottle we attempted was yet another SMWS offering – this time 123.5, “Feisty but Fun”. Typically I haven’t taken much notice of the colour of the whiskies we drink, because the Whisky Squad room can be a little dark, however this drink was quite a lot more pink than usual. We thought there were plenty of sweet smells – vanilla, caramel, plum wine sauce, BBQ sauce, and a hint of drywipe marker. Flavour-wise there were orangey custard cream biscuits (I can’t tell from my notes whether we meant just the cream bit, or the entire biscuit), and hard toffee. There were 800 bottles of this, as the whisky was aged in a port pipe, but they all seem to have disappeared. I guess we’ll never find the answer to that biscuit question now.
The numbering system took a left turn here, as Whisky Squad first-timer Martin had arrived a little late and surprised us with a bottle after we’d already cast the order. So on we moved to whisky 3a. Smelling of sawdust, cherry, sulphur and wax, everyone was a little stumped. That’s not to say that anyone guessed what the others were either, but this one certainly had characteristics that we hadn’t seen thus far in the evening. The only flavour note I appear to have written was “diesel/oily”, which probably doesn’t encompass the full nuance of the spirit, but being the 4th whisky in, this is the sort of thing that’s bound to start happening. It turned out to be a Blackadder bottled Tullibardine 16 year old.
Coming back now to number 4, the chemically aromas leapt to mind, with a couple of suggestions of Loctite and nail polish. Additionally, lipstick, pina colada, turkish delight, and pineapple made appearances. We picked lemon flavours out, and with water things got more complicated, giving a stalky, chewy feel and revealing butter flavours and rum & raisin icecream. This bottle was another SMWS bottling – 119.12 (“Chewy & cheek sucking”), which we learned was a 16 year old Yamazaki aged in Mizunara oak.
Whisky number 5, being the 6th whisky, comes with even more concise notes: the nose giving biscuit, orange, and custard cream. On the palate my notes say “rum, easy, fig, raisin”. Being a Berry’s Own Selection 1982 Glenlivet that had lived inside a sherry cask, that almost seems like pointless little by way of description, only that it’s also accompanied with the highly subjective and not at all useful (although still entirely honest) tasting note: “MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!”.
Whisky 6 was in a distinctively shaped bottle, although not the elegant SMWS shape we’d become accustomed to seeing already this evening. Another pink whisky, with a nose giving up strawberry flavour, sweet pork and stollen cake. The mouthfeel was described as hollow, and came accompanied with a tasting note of “Washing up liquid with BBQ Sauce”. A salty flavour came through, also likened to a dirty syrah, and an overall note of “shoes off in the plane”. The whisky was Bruichladdich’s 3-wine-barrel aged 19 year old, “Black Arts”.
Finally we made our way into the most intriguing whisky of the evening – a bottle of which nobody had ever heard, the Finlaggan Old Reserve, an Islay of uncertain provenance. With ailing sensory organs, we arrived at “This whisky smells a bit of rubber and not much”. The taste was slightly more involved, giving us smoky bacon, slightly burnt rice pudding, and bits of farmyard.
So there you have it – a list of whisky which nobody in their right mind could have ever mentally assembled, and a clear lesson as to why you don’t try to run a nice casual, sociable tasting of 8 whiskies within the confines of a 2 hour window. But a top evening nevertheless.