Thursday, 14 May 2015

Cutty Sark Tweet Tasting

Cutty Sark 33yo - 41.7%

In celebration of the launch of their Art Deco inspired 33 year old whisky, Cutty Sark recently teamed up with The Whisky Wire to create a live Twitter tasting of the new release. Following this, in honour of World Cocktail Day, were some era-appropriate whisky cocktails with a twist (I couldn't resist it) prepared by the chaps at the White Lyan Bar, who are to cocktails what Heston Blumenthal is to food.

Now, I have to state for the record that whilst eating, sleeping and (of course) drinking whisky, I'm a complete cocktail dunce. Up until quite recently, I thought a Rusty Nail was a tetanus risk and an Old-Fashioned was an intimate act performed on the back seat of a car. I was glad to find out, therefore, that we were to start the event firmly within whisky territory.

Cutty Sark 33yo - 41.7%

Massive hit of honeyed bourbon wood to start; it really is the major player here. Joining the oak are wax, polish and vanilla, with the pleasant dustiness you sometimes find in older whisky. It's a low ABV whisky, so I dare not add water to this but am pleased to say a little warming in the hands releases sweet aromas. Caramel, poached pears and fleeting cinder-toffee notes. After a while the whole affair turns a bit bready; biscuits and lady fingers spring to mind but the wood and wax are always there in the background, keeping things from getting too sweet. It's a wonderful experience that rewards patience.

Gentler than I expected. The first thing that strikes me is citrus; soft, pink grapefruit and lemon peel. A few more sips and the flavour starts to build, not too much though; while robust, this couldn't be labelled as overblown. There's a freshness and vibrance here that belies its age. Well structured with waves of fruit, honey, wood, spice and more fruit. A few more sips and the whisky shows a herbal side with peppercorns and warming spices near the finish. The bourbon wood note is very prominent here too. A well engineered blend, although one to enjoy on a clear palate as, apart from that weighty, citrus/wood core, a lot of the supporting flavours are subtle.

I'm a big fan of trying to dissect blends, although I'm awful at it, so I'd love to know what's in here. Whatever it is, the team at Cutty Sark aren't telling. This has one of the best noses I've experienced on a blended whisky. So much going on, so entertaining and it really showcases what can be achieved with the right stock and the right skill. The palate delivers too, although plays second fiddle to the nose, in my book. This is currently available on the Cutty Sark website for £650, so although not particularly rich on the palate, it is too rich for my blood.

Cocktail 1: Artist's Special
Cutty Sark Original
Oloroso Sherry

Ok, I'm breaking new ground here. I'm sat in my manly chair at my manly table with a frozen, long-stemmed conical glass (ice is a dirty word at White Lyan), quarter-filled with a bright red/pink liquid. My wife, used to seeing me through a haze of peat fumes, is giving me some very strange looks. The shape and temperature of the glass aren't really conducive to proper nosing notes, so I hope for the best and take a sip.

In for a penny......
Do you know what? It's not half-bad. Actually it's rather good. The whisky definitely makes its presence felt and there's Oloroso in there dialled up to 11. I can certainly taste the redcurrant but the lemon is in the background keeping things honest. The Oloroso keeps coming back in a big way but the mix is such that the individual flavours never get truly lost. I'm not considering buying a white suit and some aviator shades just yet but this is certainly interesting.

Cocktail 2: Seelbach
Cutty Sark Original
Triple Sec
Soda Water

I confess to not knowing the difference between soda water and sparkling Highland Spring, but I can't see my ignorance having too detrimental an effect so I plough on. As I start to consume another red/pink drink, Mrs Stumbler makes a joke about a tutu but I'm too busy dancing round my handbag to hear it properly.

Don't drink and tweet, folks.
Worryingly, this one's pretty good too. A little more grown up than the first. Loving the acidic edge and the drying/mouthwatering finale. Again, the whisky is evident but not the star of the show by any means. Not quite sure what 'Bitters' are but I like them; I'm guessing nothing to do with John Smith's.

Cocktail 3: Beeswax Old Fashioned
Cutty Sark Original
Beeswax (yes, actual beeswax)
Gold Flakes

This one calls for a frozen whisky glass; that, I can do. Unlike the previous two, this has a hue I'm more used to in my glass, although crumbled cork pieces usually look up at me from the bottom, not gold. After briefly wondering whether this would have a 'disco-ball' effect somewhere in my near future, I figure what the hell. for a pound
Superb. I mean, just superb. I'll admit I know nothing about cocktails but I know what I like. This is heavy, honeyed and chewy. Really bang on. A great one to finish the night on and takes the cocktail crown for me. 

Final Thoughts
Not only has this been immense fun, it's been a real eye opener. Whilst, I can't see myself frequenting trendy cocktail bars, or even doing 2-4-1 Jagerbombs in a sticky-carpeted Yates' Wine Lodge, this has certainly dispelled a few misconceptions I had about the subject as a whole. I dare say I'll be tempted one day to have a crack at it, in my own ham-fisted way. That being said, whisky is my true passion and the highlight of the evening for me was getting to try Cutty Sark's latest offering. Whilst I can't see myself stretching for the 33yo, the quality it exhibits makes me want to check out the rest of the range.

Huge thanks to the teams at Cutty Sark and White Lyan for catering, to Steve for organising and conducting the evening and to my fellow tasters for the belly-laughs, banter and bonhomie. A true pleasure.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

SMWS does Feis Ile

SMWS 3.243 Dark, smouldering flamenco gypsy - 57.1%


May is upon us. In the mind of the peat-head that can mean only one thing - Feis Ile, the Islay festival of malt and music. For it is at this time of year the phenolic faithful descend upon the Queen of the Hebrides to visit her distilleries, sample her wares and snap up a few of the distillery-only festival bottlings on offer.


Such is the popularity of this annual pilgrimage that over the past couple of years, a few of the better known independent bottlers have got in on the act and put out their own releases to commemorate the festival, and this year is no exception.

This year those marvellous chaps over at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (Declaration of Interest: I'm a member and a huge fan) will be holding their own Feis Ile open day on Friday 22 May at the Islay House Hotel, Bridgend. Open to members and non-members alike, the event will play host to, amongst other things, a couple of SMWS Masterclasses and the release of their very own Feis Ile bottling. Sourced from Islay's oldest distillery, the whisky has been matured in a refill sherry butt for over 17 years and bottled at its cask strength of 57.1%.
I have to admit that official bottlings from this specific distillery can leave me a little underwhelmed, although some of the best independent versions I've tried have come from the cellars of SMWS (Mermaids at play, anyone?). This is going to be interesting.
Fruity! A robust hit of prunes and caramelised apples with menacing wafts of smoke and bitumen. Molasses, scorched timber and crispy, sweetcure bacon. A little time to bloom produces dry varnish and buffed mahogany. The nose strikes an excellent balance between peat and sherry without sacrificing the finer points of each.
Initially powerful, although the initial blast fades quickly and leaves a medley of jammy fruits and peat. Thick, chewy mouthfeel that opens up into plums and figs with ginger and cinnamon lending support.
Long and warming. Doesn't overload the senses with heat and spice on the way out, even at full strength. Leaves the mouth coated with a mixture of burnt maple bacon and the dying embers of a wood fire.
The society puts out a lot of bottlings from this distillery, some less to my tastes than others, but when they get it right, they can be spectacular. This is very good indeed. The flavour profile screams autumn/winter rather than spring/summer but there's no denying the quality in the glass. Someone grab me a bottle while you're over there.
Sample provided by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society