OK, so it wasn’t technically, a party. But the Lady of the Glen tasting event at Whiski Rooms in Edinburgh was my first event as a whisky blogger, so it will always hold a special place in my malt-tinted memories.
Looking the part
As I’d never been to a professional whisky tasting event before I had many questions. Was there a dress code? Could I take photos? Would people laugh at my notebook? And most pertinently, would I be able to stand up by the end of it all?
Dress wise, I decided on a slightly more upmarket version of what I wear to work. Choosing a notebook was more complicated. The only ones I could find looked like they belonged to a 6 year old. Options with cupcakes, gold-embossed butterflies and baby deer on them were cast aside after I finally found a plain black number. Not that the colour of the notebook would help me if someone noted what I was writing. I could just imagine it. “What an amateur,” they would think to themselves. “Imagine saying that it tastes like Jaffa Cakes when it clearly tastes like custard creams.”
On the way to the event, other questions spun through my mind. Should I turn up on time? Would the smell of my spray on shampoo put people off their “nosing”? Why was it so blooming cold when it was meant to be Spring?
When I got there I was relieved to find only a small group of people sitting down in a corner of the bar. I’d been concerned that I would be required to sashay around the room hob-nobbing and bursting forth my whisky knowledge. The intimate group of eight suited me nicely.
The seven whiskies which we were going to taste were all set out on the table already. And that’s not to mention the complimentary Glenmorangie cocktail which greeted my arrival. This would be the most whisky I had ever drunk in one sitting. I was glad I’d prepared taxi money in advance.
Before I go further, here’s a nifty wee beginners glossary of whisky terms that might come up in my notes. And if you need a comfort break during any of what follows, go right on ahead.
Single malt– a whisky made at a single distillery using malted grains.
Single grain– a whisky made at a single distillery using un-malted grains.
Cask strength – whisky with an alcohol level as it was in the cask. Not diluted with any water.
Chill filtering – when whisky is chilled and filtered to remove residue or cloudiness.
Lady of the Glen is a new company. It was founded in 2012 by Gregor Hannah, the son of a piper. Impressed by his father’s whisky collection, (pipers are given a bottle for their services) Gregor decided to acquire rare casks of high quality whisky and release each limited edition bottling at cask strength without chill filtering or colourings. Some of the bottles have beautiful etching instead of a label, which also reduces the chance of counterfeits.
So, here come my tasting notes (and anecdotes). I am a beginner to this whisky tasting lark, so I fear these may not be as sophisticated as some, but I am very appreciative of the chance to learn with the pros.
The first whisky we tasted was the very first LotG release: a 24 year old Invergordon from a Bourbon cask. From the Highland area, this is a single grain whisky with a 56% cask strength. Upon sniffing it I felt there was a definite blast of vanilla. However, I am coming to realise that I always think there is a blast of vanilla. Vanilla seems to be my “go to” scent. Fortunately, Gregor advised us that there should be vanilla pudding on the palate, so maybe going to vanilla on this occasion wasn’t such a bad thing. It certainly tasted delicious to me. Sadly, the Invergordon is sold out in Europe. But if it’s a flavour of things to come then that’s certainly something to be positive about.
Next up was a 14 year old Ben Rinnes single malt with a whopping 57.8% cask strength. Apparently it is very difficult to get Ben Rinnes single malt as it is mostly used for Johnnie Walker. And only 86 bottles of this were released, and sold out, by LotG, so I was in a very privileged position. I have to be honest and say that the very first thing that went through my head upon sniffing this was cheese and onion crisps. Who knows why? At least it wasn’t vanilla. The crisps soon dissipated and the red apples, chocolate and citrus fruit that everyone else was talking about arrived. The palate had hints of a sherry cask so was sweet, but was also quite rubbery. I have no idea how the rubber happens, but it was definitely there. I liked this rich, spicy, fruity big boy of a whisky (spoiler- I liked them all) but it wasn’t my BFF whisky of the evening.
The next whisky, we were told, was special. 21 year old Littlemill from a bourbon cask comes from a now-extinct Lowland distillery. Littlemill was reportedly the first distillery that existed in Scotland, but after being closed in 1997 the remains were, sadly, destroyed in a fire. Luckily for us there is still Littlemill whisky to be had. This 53.6% cask strength one went for £95 a go and sold out in just 21 days.
Now, apparently, Littlemill is not a whisky for someone with a sweet tooth. That someone would be me, and I have to discredit that theory and say that I loved this. The nose, we were told, had cut grass and soft fruitiness, which, in my mind, could roughly translate to eating a pineapple in a summer meadow. And that’s nice, particularly if you come from Scotland. The whisky did smell tropical to me, kind of herbaceous too. The palate was fruity with some custard pudding doing its thing (I knew there would be custard somewhere).
Dram number four was a 20 year old, bourbon cask whisky from a secret distillery in Speyside. “Secret” meaning, the distillery get named and they set their lawyers loose. I don’t know why because if I made this whisky I would be telling people about it. The nose was melony and peachy and the palate a big slice of lemon pie. And the good news is that you can still buy this one from the LotG website for a perky £65 a bottle.
Bunnahabhain 26 year old
Moving on to whisky number five – a 26 year old Bunnahabhain. Translated from Gaelic Bunnahabhain means “amazing whisky.” OK, it doesn’t, it means “mouth of the river,” but the whisky is top stuff. Initial tones of glue (I read that someone else smelt plastic book coverings so I feel vindicated in my glue sniffing) morphed into floral notes, and as I supped it back I was searching for the foam banana sweets that Gregor said it tasted of. It was certainly a very smooth and complex whisky, with spicy fruit and chocolate and a slightly smoky finish. Someone around the table suggested salted apples. Another put it quite simply when he said it’s “Quite yummy. Yum yum.” Yes, indeed. My thoughts exactly.
The 26 year old Bunnahabhain is the first Islay cask from LotG. It’s still on sale and costs a princely £145 or £65 for a 20cl bottle. But because LotG is an emerging business, prices are currently low. If you were to buy something similar direct from Bunnahabhain it would cost you closer to £300. So get in amongst it now.
As whisky number six was served I was still sitting up straight in my chair. It was the latest release from LotG – a 21 year old Glen Garioch from a bourbon cask with 56.4% cask strength. It comes from Old Meldrum up in Aberdeenshire. A place I haven’t been since I was about 11 and was fed a poisoned baked potato by my friend’s gran. So I hoped this whisky could forge some fonder memories in my mind.
It’s funny, as soon as I smelled the Glen Garioch I thought of summer holidays. Nice ones. Not the one to visit my friend’s gran. It was blossomy and lovely on the nose. The palate was toffee and nutty and when I smelled it again I was sure I could smell those purple quality streets with the wrapper on. This was my kind of whisky. Summer holidays, toffee and chocolate all rolled into one. Might just be worth it at £87 a bottle.
As a little treat at the end, Gregor poured us all a dram of a 21 year old Bowmore from a first fill sherry cask. This whisky sold out through pre-sales on his website so was very special indeed. A sniff off it and I thought the building might be on fire, such was its smokiness. This would definitely go well with that romantic night by the fire I imagined myself having with a handsome man way back when I first dreamt of becoming a whisky drinker. The palate was sweet and if there was a fire in a Crunchie factory then it would taste just like this. Amazing. I couldn’t help but think that if the whisky naysayers out there tried this they’d be into whisky in no time.
So, that was it. I was still sitting upright and forming sentences and had thoroughly enjoyed my first whisky tasting. And then, wonderfully, one of the other guests pulled out a bottle of rare whisky from his bag and offered everyone a dram. Spectacular. And then 15 minutes later he pulled another rare whisky out of his and offered everyone a dram again. I intend no pun when I say how kind spirited I found this. What a wonderful introduction to Lady of the Glen and to the Edinburgh whisky tasting community this evening had been. Thank you to everyone involved.