Last Thursday night [4th Nov], Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar were awarded the 2016 Whisky Bar of the Year by the SLTN!
Congratulations and fully well deserved. After my visit there in July, i’d be happy to spend a whole week just in the bar. This is an account of my one night’s ‘kid in a candy shop’ tasting session.
There’s no planned order to this. Dizzy with excitement and blinded by choice i simply ordered what i saw.
- N: Sometimes I need reminding that the Lochside distillery produced both malt and grain at the start of its short life. It even had its own bottling plant. The penny drops after a while that this is, doh not again! – a grain whisky. This 1980’s [actually its the very early 1990’s], bottling smells of thick caramel, varied grasses, some sawdust, peppery & husky notes, bone dry fruits and honeyed porridge – with plenty of density/body. Sweet grain, pleasing grain, very pleasing.
T: A bit hit on arrival but it’s fine neat. It’s the last few drams of the bottle so maybe it’s a little subdued,… which could be a blessing as according to Serge Valentin, water kills it. Lots more caramel, liqueur like with nutty cocoa. It’s strong in spirit, literally, a spirit that marches forth fearlessly before loitering a while. With a little water in the mouth, the body is thicker. Either way, after all that loitering it really oozes into the finish.
- F: Caramel sour with a touch of bitters really sticks to the palate, so rather viscose – and despite the sour it’s still sweet and,…. is that banana liqueur? Drambuie! Now its sour, properly sour with,.. limes and dry,… sour? ,…. something, no it’s gone,
- C: Fearlessly forceful spirit yet hard not to enjoy, especially as it’s my first dram at the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar, and it’s so good to be here. Simon is off sight unfortunately but Phil and Ollie are perfect hosts and I’m feeling like a kid in a candy shop looking around the array of history-in-a-bottle collection with a 27yo Lochside in my hand for the same price as fish n chips and a coffee. Back to the Lochside, one of the best grains I’ve had at intermediate age [20-34], and with an old style profile – after all this would have been distilled not long after Lochside opened [in 1957].
Scores 85 points
Oh look, there’s a Rosebank.
Rosebank 1989/1988 9yo SV cask #900 (463 bts) 43% WB0
- N: Light they [Rosebank fans] say – light it is! It’s a malt-cereal-wash with a refined presentation, full of grace and charm, or a malty-grappa with a thinness,… with weight. I guess sublime will have to do it, it is sublime.
- T: Ooh very nice, a delicate ‘wow’ with a superb delicacy, that’s from the mouthfeel too. Either I’m a little tipsy [of course i am], or I’m starting to understand what all the fuss is/was about regarding Rosebank – rather late to the party I know. The development is one full of hints & suggestions without ever committing – transient indeed. This is all about the spirit, the oak merely serves,… and boy does it serve. Now theres a light-sweet touch with a trickle of barley-sugar turning even sweeter into the finish.
- F: (Light) chocolate malt,… quick fade,….. a light yet sustained finish with some copper notes.
- C: An incredible lightness – how do [did] Rosebank make a 9yo so elegant? This captures the best qualities of young delicate malt spirit, using the casks merely to tame, to shape, to refine, to temper – but it’s some spirit to start with. Is this the best naked barley spirit can be? Sublime simplicity.
Scores 85 points
With the Rosebank coming to an end in my glass, I further peruse the fabulous spectacle that is the Dornoch bar wandering what to order next, then there it was. I could never have imagined in a million years, being in a bar and saying, “The 1945 Canadian Club please”.
- N: Caramel-y quite like the Lochside and predominantly grain based [most likely], yet light – well it is only a 6yo. This has a [light] creamy note – sweet & sour with dry ice-cream, quince,… and plum jelly. All very light.
- T: It’s a bit of a shaky/rough start but i’m interested in the quirkiness that comes through – quirky as in a [1940’s] profile rather unfamiliar to my 21st century palate. The spirit speaks of a rawness of youth but followed by a softening aspect. This now softened young spirit shows notes of lime candy=ice poles [popsicles] with a candle wax-ish mouthfeel.
- F: More of that sweet<sour. Ends with a condensed milk powder with a mild-green sour note.
- C: Very soft and light, grain led, blended, 6yo whisk[e]y but a 1940’s 6yo. Sociologically speaking, think of the horrors still unfolding and unravelling in Europe in 1945. Then in another pocket of the world in Canada, this whisky was produced, bottled in the early 1950’s [in the time Bevan had established the NHS], and then laid dormant only to appear around seven decades later available to drink in a bar in Dornoch, Scoltand in 2016. Aah, the wonderful world of whisky.
Scores 80 points
Let’s try another old blend but one with more age.
Ballantine’s 30yo (1980’s) ‘Very old scotch whisky’ 43% WB90.67
- N: Big, thick, old skool malty nose with a distillate harking back to the 1950’s at least. The (spirit) wash is detectable with a little putty, (old) shammy leather, nut pulp [pistachio butter] and very malty like buckwheat wort – heavy<dense. It’s fab but needs time. This is different league stuff to many modern single malts even – after all it’s a 30yo blend when 30yo wasn’t a target but a minimum. Probably 40+ in here so we are possibly talking about a distillate going back to the 1940’s.
- T: Thinner arrival/mouthfeel than expected, but one that oozes. It’s more malty as it develops with a little metallic edge (but really just a little), which anyhows adds to the character/charm. If there was any smokiness initially it’s not evident as now it’s all about the dense, thick malt – taste and mouthfeel. A weighty dram.
- F: Moving to sweet-fresh, weighty malt-fresh, yep. Then drying with a little hot chocolate. Actually a short finish if you attribute two waves to the palate.
- C: The top of the game for this blend is the palate, all of the palate – mouthfeel, weight and sustaining power. Lovely journey, good spectrum of flavours, balanced too, sweet with light bitters,… lovely, lovely. I’ll be revisit the Ballantine’s 30yo [different batch] in the future.
Scores 88 points
Looking to maintain the age, my eye catches something on the bar. It’s a 1965 35yo Glenfiddich,…. for £5 a dram?
Glenfiddich 1965 35yo Cadenhead [150 bts] 49.1% WB0
- N: There’s a damn good reason this was only £5 a dram, and Ollie was completely open about it. He gives me a wee drop to try, simply for academic interest. The nose is definitely ‘showery’ but an optimist could attempt to put it down to eau de cologne
- T: Nooo! – deodorant in the mouth
- F: Thankfully, it finishes without permanent injury.
- C: Too bad, I was warned.
It’s nearly half time, let’s ramp up the age and finish the first half with something less troubled.
Glenfarclas 1973/2015 42yo Cadenhead [168 bts] 40.2% [07/07/16] WB90.12
- N: Really strong phenols for 40[.2]%. This one firmly leans towards heavy oak, wood chippings, traditional dunnage casks [after smelling Balblair’s warehouse today I shall know that smell forever], and old creamy putty – that creaminess that only comes with age. There are also big old vanilla notes, fat vanilla and,…. well it’s a big, oily malt in general – so FAT it is. Huge vapours at 40%, staggering!
- T: Peppery start, really a lot – so it’s woody, really woody but never quite loses its head. Really nutty [sweet] too but with a delicate, savoury mouthfeel – is this making sense? It’s not overly sherried,….. in fact I’m not sure its sherried at all – it isn’t! It becomes a touch fruity before a transition into more of a honeyed barley-corn. Add lots of water [in mouth] and the arrival is now fruits>pepper, the wood now much happier to dance with the barley. It’s oaky & nutty malt in the main with no saltiness.
- F: After all the theatrics it’s back-to-basics, barley roots, yet the peppery oak is still on the prowl. It’s really nutty with hazelnuts steeped in chocolate – the ones you can buy hot on street corners. Add plenty of water [in the mouth] for less peppery wood and more of a aniseed<allium freshness, although the oak is still skulking around – now a given. However, it’s the malty ’fatness’ that re-establishes itself with some dentists mouthwash at the death – is that the aniseed, think so.
- C: A fatty old dram that needs some tendering for best results, after all, this is a creaking malt. What about the vibrancy on the nose though, wowee! Who needs 46% if 40% is like this?
Scores 88 points
I’ll be back with part 2 of this in the near future. Meanwhile you can read about my visit to the distillery out back behind the Dornoch bar, right here: LINK.