18 thirsty whisky enthusiasts. 6 whiskies. 1 slightly-nervous-but-super-excited host.
Yes, it was me hosting my very first whisky tasting evening!
And of course, to the people who made the evening in more ways than one. Here’s to many more!
The Origin Story
Guy loves whisky. Guy has friends who love whisky. Guy organises whisky party. Hopefully every month 🙂
Things are of course a bit more nuanced than that. For me, it’s quite personal.
That knotted feeling in the gut. The immediate grasp of terror. The onset of stammering. Some tell tales of mouths turning dry as parchment, or the inexplicable embarrassment of sweaty palms.
Do you get it as well?
That feeling when someone asks you to select a bottle of whisky or wine at a dinner party. Or when asked a bottle recommendation as a gift for their boss or some person of import in their life.
I imagine scenes of frowns, furrowed brows and mild bewilderment at the dinner table (“He ordered a merlot? I thought the man civilised!”) or careers devastated (“oh wow thanks, what a lovely bottle. Tesco has a great selection these days don’t they?”).
Thankfully, these days it is more nods of approval (a good Malbec or Margaux goes a long way) and pleasantly surprised giftees (if you are ever stuck for a Christmas present under £35 for a Scot who you know likes whisky but not quite sure what type of whisky and want to be seen to have put in a bit more effort than a waltz through the aisles of Tesco’s… I would suggest a Glenfarclas 10. The red packaging is quite festive, and the whisky’s pretty decent!)
That’s partly why I have chosen whisky as a cause. I live for that spark. That glimmer in their eyes, marking the precise moment they discovered their next indulgent passion in an unassuming but fateful dram of whisky.
I do occasionally ask for the odd bottle of merlot. Please don’t think any less of me.
Explorers at Heart
We can all get a bit snobbish when it comes to good whisky.
Thankfully, I have had the pleasure of encountering plenty of people in the whisky scene offline and online that are super-friendly and always willing to share their whiskies and their experiences.
So it is with this spirit in mind that I set out to create a space where the ethos is discovery, and to do so in a convivial and informal setting.
The Venue – Lobos Soho
We couldn’t have had it in a better location, really.
Lobos Soho sits pretty much in the heart of Soho, and we had our own pretty little private bar for the evening.
The food was absolutely stunning. The star of the menu would definitely be the chuletón (think sirloin) and iberico pork selection, both of which were simply divine.
Beef and pork grilled on the outside, juicy on the inside, well seasoned and served with the customary chimichurri sauce on the side. Yes, you could actually have pork done medium rare if the chef knows what he’s doing, and boy does he.
The Whisky Line Up
So… what to pick for an evening?
I think the best and most accurate comment I received regarding the selection was “this is a really mixed bag”. Best comment because this was indeed what I set out to achieve.
I knew there were a few peatheads in the crowd, so an Ardbeg was quite simply a must and was my very first pick of the lot. Easy start – Ardbeg is after all a stalwart of many-a-tasting.
But what next? Well… in the spirit of discovery, I wanted a little bit of everything!
- An unknown but curiously named Speysider to start
- A blend from one of the best in that business, and also an indie bottling to boot. Also happens to be the oldest of the lot
- Straight on to something young and sprightly from one of the newest Highland distilleries, with a nod to sherry casks
- A sneaky bourbon which happens to be my current favourite
But I felt I needed something more to really anchor the selection. And this was how I settled on the Mortlach; and it of course had to be the classic Flora and Fauna bottling which is sadly no more (gee… thanks Diageo).
Deerstalker 12yo Highland Single Malt (43%)
First off was the delicate but afore-mentioned curiously named Speysider.
A bit of sleuthing was required.
First off, a perusal of the bottle revealed a few things.
- It is a 43% 10 year old
- It had Hedges and Butler Ltd on the front, and also what curiously looks like Portuguese at the bottom.
- It says it’s a Single Highland Malt, but not other clues as to its provenance other than that is a Scotch.
A quick search online revealed some interesting facts.
- The Deerstalker brand was trademarked as early as 1880 by the fellows who used to occupy the current-SMWS headquarters. So it’s got a hefty history!
- From 1985 it was marketed as a blend, which this is clearly not
- It was then sold as a single malt in 1991, so this establishes a point in time
- Aberfoyle and Knight (now with the slightly-Acme-like name Aberko) incorporated in 1994 and bought the brand at some point after that. You can actually find similar bottles online but with the Aberfoyle and Knight wording, instead of H&B!!
- On the Aberko website it says the Deerstalker is a 12 year old 46% ncf whisky from an undisclosed distillery in the Haugh of Cromdale. A quick Google search then revealed there is only one distillery there… and it is of Balmenach in Speyside!
My best guess would be that this is an early 90s bottling of a Balmenach.
A splash of spirit thinner on the nose and palate, followed by a gentle sweet floral scent. A little green banana sweetness, playful nibble at the back of the throat and a slight bitter finish before it all goes away. medium #meh
Cadenhead Creations Light Creamy Vanilla 23yo (51.6%)
Scotland’s oldest independent bottlers also know a thing or two about blending whiskies. This is batch 2 of their Light Creamy Vanilla creation. If the 17 year old version of this blend is of a similar composition to the 23 year old, then this is an Ardmore, Auchroisk, Caperdonich, and Clynelish blend with an lnvergordon base.
Mouthfeel has that characteristic smoothness of a superb blend. Great balance, with the vanilla peeking playfully between the honey and crunchy grain. mid #meh
Wolfburn Aurora (NAS 46%)
Tell me… would a ‘3 year old’ statement on this bottle have changed your mind about buying it? If it was standing alongside other whiskies and all you have to judge it by is the packaging, then I would say… very likely.
And so we wade into the whole NAS debate. For a new distillery, keeping the age statement off the label would level out the playing field slightly, admittedly.
Anyone not giving this one a try would be missing out on a sneak peak of a future gem, in my humble opinion.
I was a bit ambivalent toward the Aurora when I first encountered it at the London Whisky Show in 2016, scoring it a high #meh, and preferring instead the standard bourbon-casked single malt.
The night’s tasting gave me a chance to re-evaluate my opinion.
Huge character. Incredible tingly hot-spiciness in the mouth and jaw, with umami-sweet flavours and nose. The sherry is hinted-at, which is expected given its young age. high #meh
Although this bottle did not top anyone’s list, it definitely performed very well. “Great promise” was the consensus, and I have to agree.
You might say #meh is a bit harsh… but if you looked at my all-time list, this whisky scored higher for me than a Johnnie XR21 and the Ardbeg Alligator… read from that what you will.
Mortlach 16yo Flora and Fauna (43%)
Yes, that’s a speed pourer on top of a Mortlach. I am a tad bit mortified, but it was the only way to get whiskies out quickly to the thirsty horde. And with this bad boy, we definitely needed it.
Let me just put it out there now.
This was far and away the everyone’s favourite whisky. It was the only bottle to overcome day one shyness and end up empty on the night. Everyone loved it.
Absolutely stupendous. Effortless sherry sweetness presented in a well rounded and smooth whisky. Peeking past the sherry, some old world spice and sprinkled blackcurrent cordial. high #good
I don’t understand why Diageo have decided to discontinue this bottling. Good news on the auction market if you had a few bottles on your shelf, eh?
Smooth Ambler Old Scout 10yo (Batch 57, 26 Jul 2016, 50%)
Another revisit, this time to one of my favourite bourbons.
Look at that deep red colour. The slim bottle with the slender neck, peaking over every other bottle in the set.
The only bourbon of the night, it suffered the ignominy of all American bourbons… a comparison to Jack Daniels.
I do not know which batch was the sample I tried from, but I had really high hopes for this going into the tasting. It unfortunately fell a little from its lofty perch.
Pappy-esque herbal brandy on the nose and initial taste, with smoky charred cinnamon. Addition of water makes it eye-wateringly harsh, a bit of air and its followed by the searched-for grilled sugarcane flavour with a buzz. low #good
That’s the thing about small batch bourbon and whiskies… it’s all batch dependent.
Ardbeg Ardbog (52.1%)
Is this fake Ardbeg?
Hilarious… I wonder how many times people have said this about this 2013 bottling.
Joking aside, this is a mighty whisky indeed. I wanted to find a whisky that wasn’t as grab-you-by-the-throat Ardbeg peaty, so I searched for something a little different. This bottle did not disappoint.
A complex melange of creamy oily salty peaty flavours with hints of vanilla and sweetness. The mighty Ardbeg roar has been tamed, producing a very smooth and confident blend. mid #good
This whisky also fared very well, almost ending up empty despite our resident Peat Head Photographer (PHP)’s efforts. I think it was social decorum that held back an all out riot and scramble for the final three fingers left.
Guests were asked to pick their top three from their six to give a more balanced view of proceedings.
The Mortlach 16yo Flora and Fauna came out tops in terms of votes, with the Ardbog a very close second. And most surprisingly, the Deerstalker came third!
Perhaps being the first tasting of the night gave it a slight advantage? Let’s see!
Cadenhead, Wolfburn and Smooth Ambler also gave chase with a handful of votes each, so all in all a commendable evening.
What are your thoughts?