Summerton’s festival pack contained:
2 x Lambay Samples | 2 x Mackmyra Samples | 2 x Wolfburn Samples | 1 x Glen Scotia Sample | 1 x Hinch Sample | 1 x The Lakes Distillery Sample | 1 x The Scalasaig Sample | 2 x Fever-Tree Mixers | 1 x Larkfire Water | 1 x Joe & Seph’s Popcorn | 1 x Thomas Fudge’s Biscuits Box | 1 x Love Corn Pack
The first 750 tickets included a sample from London’s Bimber Distillery, and that’s where we begin. Summerton’s first Virtual Whisky Festival starts promptly at 12:30.
After trying Bimber’s rum and vodka at Rumfest 2018 [WLP], I wondered whether Bimber would have scaled back on ‘alternative spirits’ as the success of Bimber whisky takes off? EDIT: Contrary to my previous notes, having removed their column still, Bimber is now focusing solely on pot-still whisky production. Apologies for any confusion, and thanks for highlighting it.
To accompany Bimber’s Luke Juranek [hidden behind the advert], we see Anthony & Nicky [from New Dram Drinker] as well as Andy from Malt Box. Luke tells us, Bimber is making homemade ‘moonshine’-style whisky as it used to be made. So what about yeasts asks Dan? Luke says even he doesn’t know exactly but tells us its a combo of red and distillers yeast from Milwaukee.
Bimber Ex-bourbon  [Ob.] Batch #001 [1948 bts] 51.81% [bimber]
Consisting of around 8 barrels, this is Bimber’s first vatting, due to be released in June 2020 [imminently].
- N: Luke [Juranek] mentions Bimber’s clear wort [from a low-flour crushed barley mash] and long fermentations [a whole week!] in deliberately un-cleaned washbacks results in a cider-like beer/wash, and indeed, I pick up on a cider [brandy] vibe on the nose. Overall I find it sweet with creamy vanilla, [Luke] sourdough, and [custard] pastries with bakers dried fruit pieces. There’s nothing overly complicated here, just a soft-fresh youthful malt, somewhat incredibly balanced for a 3yo whisky. I’d have loved a Daftmill alongside. I reckon this is less obviously fruity than the Scottish Lowlander, in intensity if not abundance, but I think there’s a similar farmstead likeness.
- T: Whilst the nose is blindingly impressive at only three years, it shows its youth on the palate almost immediately, with an ensuing short rich aromatically peppery mild-resinous ~< butyricness. Add a little water for the fruity new make to find its feet. Diluted, the cask resins catch up a short while after, but the pepperiness is a given.
- F: Same as the palate, the sustaining bourbon cask influence providing a sweet to metallic-sour butyric finish.
- C: I’m sure the fanboys will go nuts for this. Not my sentiment, but one chat comment read “English whisky at its finest”.
Scores 78/79 points
13:15 COCKTAILS: Kamil Csonka presents clear and concise pre-recorded demonstrations of whisky-based cocktails [with very little shaking involved]. Recommended viewing once you’ve assembled the ingredients.
13:25 THE SCALASAIG
A 2.5-hour boat ride from Oban, Colonsay [pronounced ’Kolonsea’] is a small island between Islay and Mull with a population of around 120. Scalasaig port, Colonsay [from the Gaelic – Skalli’s Bay] is an old Viking name, the whisky eluding to a maritime theme.
The Colonsay microbrewery opened on the island in 2007, [the same year as Brewdog]. Keith Bonnington [pic below] came onboard in 2016. At one point, Keith appeared on our screens live & recorded simultaneously, teething problems at Summerton HQ all contributing to good ‘ole festival vibes.
Colonsay brewery begun making gin with a 10-litre still. In 2017 they installed a bigger 250-litre still for making gin and vodka. The desire is to move towards making Scotch, but it’s all but a dream right now due to the tremendous work required – on a water source for one and infrastructure for another. So, for the time being, Colonsay’s Scalasaig is an independent bottler who want to be reputed as one.
kaskwhisky.com: ‘Although it doesn’t carry an age statement, the components are between six and eight years old. It’s a vatting of ten different casks, with Caol Ila and some heavily peated Bunnahabhain as key elements. There are also components from Mull and Orkney as well as a sherry matured single malt from an undisclosed coastal distillery‘.
The oloroso finish lasted 12 months. They forgot to state ‘natural colour’ on the bottle, but it is. “We’re a small company, we just forgot”, explains Keith.
- N: A smoky > malty < contemporary sherry-syrup-style nose, so no surprises there. The sherry and smoke elements are prominent yet don’t attack/come at you, so we are seeing some truly excellently blending. Who’s the blender?
- T: Like many a blend, there’s an initially bright hit to start, with considerably less thereafter, though there might be some more age behind this than one might at first imagine. So, coming in prickly and seemingly robust enough before soon diminishing, this works better with a little water – if still a little spirity – not in intensity, but in flavour. I’m finding it a tad detergent-y/cinnamom-y and on cue, Keith reveals “it’s got lots of Ailsa Bay in”, a whisky I have found consistently detergent-y/gritty from the beginning.
- F: The finish is short, clean, a touch butyric/resinous with just the deep smoky ashy remnants left [not a great palate situation for the remaining 9 drams!] Possibly the ordering was dependent on when guests were available, an idea which Ben thoughtfully offered.
- C: With Benriach’s Heredotus vibes, this is an easy and pleasant sipper [around £49 though!] You can spot the component parts but they’ve been well sewn together. I imagine this will prove very popular, and low and behold, Dan announces that Scalascaig has just sold out at MoM!!
[Provisionally] scores 79/80 points
I feel this came at the wrong point in the day. I leave a fair proportion for the next day.
- N: Next day, ripe and semi-ripe figs in syrup, tinned apricots, PU-leather [which, contrary to common belief is a combo of polyurethane & leather], waxy lubricants, toasted/burnt wood and wood-ish/papery/cardboard all-sorts, a hint of burnt tyre [not Dave Angel’s whisky of choice then],… scorched prune juice with delicately twisted [orange] citrus touches,..
- T: I find it less detergent-y today but grimy [my popular word today], the Ailsa Bay influence less and less apparent. Like yesterday, the initial hit is good. Becomes rubbery then grimy & briny alongside orangey malty dry sherried garage oils.
- F: The finish is really an echo or extension of the palate.
- C: Not sure this is the product to announce to the world ‘we are a reputed independent bottler’, given its an involved blended malt. ‘Independent blender’ on the other hand, might catch more fire.
Scores 80 points
14:!5 TALK with Ian Wisniewski, who ‘is a drinks writer and broadcaster specialising in spirits, particularly whisky and especially Scotch whisky. Recently published, The Whisky Dictionary is his eleventh book, and he writes for publications including Whisky Magazine and Malt Whisky Yearbook. He conducts tutored tastings, classes and courses, judges competitions, and visits distilleries regularly to keep learning. He is a Master of the Quaich and a Musketeer of Armagnac‘ [TWE].
With a mindful approach to smelling and tasting [Scotch whisky], it’s clear that Ian has spent considerable time thinking about and experimenting with whisky, water and ice. He’ll return later on with another reading from his book.
15:00 GLEN SCOTIA
Glen Scotia’s master distiller Iain McAlister is accompanied by Colin Hampden-White [Presenter, Three Drinkers], and Celebrity Chef & Drinks Expert [and Dan Szor lookalike] Joe Wadsack – check out drinkscoachuk, on Friday nights. Joe briefly worked at Oddbins as a manager in the 1990s. We hear [2hr 28] that at this time, Oddbins held a 2% share of Britain’s drinks market [floor space] yet represented 68% of Britain’s whisky sales.
The guests discuss the explosion of whisky awareness, prices then & now, and the idea that whisky is still just being realised by a wider audience. For value alone, Scotch compared to wine, “there’s no contest” says Joe. Furthermore, there are still really cheap malts around. Sure, they aren’t Port Ellen/Brora for £25 [1980s],… but 10-year single malt can still be bought for £25 in 2020. To further demonstrate the whisky explosion whilst bringing Iain McAlister in, Glen Scotia 7-8 years ago were producing 80,000 lpa. Now Glen Scotia’s production is up to around 500,000 lpa. In keeping with the festival spirit, Glen Scotia has supplied their Campbeltown festival bottling. Way to go! Our sample comes in a plastic miniature bottle. No no, and no!!
Glen Scotia 14yo [2020 Ob. Campbeltown Malts festival 2020 [15000 bts] 52.8% [25ml] WB87.48
Last year’s festival bottling featured a rum finish. The year before that it was port. There’s a finishing theme. 2020’s festival release sees a peated malt mainly matured in refill and 1st-fill bourbon with a tawny port finish. Colour: a lovely pinky hue as is the [tawny] port-finished way.
- N: On the nose, we’ve gritty grimy [grimy as in ‘get out all your bike/car cleaning products, pour a drop or two of each into a saucer, and mix grimy’], and shammy leather characteristics you won’t find coming from many other distilleries – Loch Lomond perhaps [and St Georges]? In relation to the previous two whiskies, we’ve a considerably deeper maltiness that’s come from a far longer ageing time frame. Indeed, I think this is the oldest malt in the festival lineup by some margin. The smoke and port influence is clear though it’s more integrated into the backdrop rather than upfront. Desirable toasted oakiness comes through later on, the previous bourbon cask contents low-key. Reduced a touch, this was around 57%-ish at cask strength. Joe: “,… on the knife-edge of complexity”.
- T: Same curious arrival as the nose had indicated. Hits the palate mid-centre, though water will broaden it. With a thin yet dense mouthful then, we’ve a gritty [Colin “mucky”] idiosyncratic journey as I’ve come to expect and appreciate from Scotia, and this release doesn’t disappoint. The tawny influence navigates us through a dry grimy oily soft saline peaty and [Iain McAlister] medium charred terrain. There’s no arguing with the balance.
- F: Finishes right and true with [tawny] fruits and flower petals dragged through a mechanics yard, encapsulated within a spirit & oak interplay.
- C: Like Bimber, the choice to include this for Summerton carries the festival spirit. Likely to be the best of the flight by a country mile.
Scores 86,.. but I could push to 87 points. It’s hard to imagine not going on a journey with a bottle. You may not find many similar examples for your tasting shelf.
It’s now 4pm and we’ve only had three drams which I think is a very clever move. No one wants peeps bailing out with still more than five hours to go. A nine-hour stint means pacing oneself. After a musical interlude, we return with the Lakes [in part 2].
[End of Part 1]