Presented by The London Whisky Club, Phil & Simon Thompson take us through three of their own bottled malts as well as three spirit samples from the Dornoch distillery. Let’s begin.
A Bengalese [,… probably] cat helps introduce the first Ben Nevis the Thompson brothers bottled.
- N: I pick up on apple/calvados/brandy vibes first off. It’s super-floral too and beautifully barley-led with a slightly chalky fungal fruity distillate which has been tickled by the cask for 21 years. Between the Thompson brothers, there’s talk of the practice in the 1990s when the [Nevis] distillery used distillers yeast with [spent] brewers yeast. ‘Smells like it”, says Simon. On opening, salty lactose developments. Then comes the milky toffee and slight almond tones that turn towards marzipan. Bunnahabhain-esque?
- T: Bunnahabhain-esque indeed, yet Ben Nevis’s mineral/lactose-y funky gentle grapefruit citric > lactose, salty Port Ellen-esque character soon comes through. Then comes an oily peanut-y almost fizzy development into the kind of unusual complexity one has become accustom too in recent years, hence why the price for casks of Ben Nevis – as the two brothers testify – has risen so dramatically.
- F: All sorts of rolling overlapping events, flavours and textures. Being less lactose-y than many Nevis’s, means wide appeal for many whisky fans.
- C: The opposite of a cliche dram, this is a cracker.
Scores 91 points
From the first Ben Nevis to the first Bunnahabhain the brothers bottled.
- N: This is as floral as the Ben Nevis but sweeter towards honeysuckle & rose as well as more almond/marzipan action. As it settles, I pick up on all manner of breads and pastries – more from the German bakery than Forfars. Either way, it’s buttery.
- T: A delightfully gentile Bunna, distillate-led, cask-tickled, floral > citrus-driven, grainy~oily floral-waxy > honeyed development – a long development at that.
- F: Turns floral and malty and just slightly frail at the tail which makes it stupidly drinkable. Remains textural with a waxy tincture-y mouthfeel.
- C: This has been quite some warm-up to trying Dornoch spirit, that’s for sure.
Scores 89 points
I fancy leaving the Laphroaig for now, till the end. Let’s get into Dornoch’s spirit samples first.
Dornoch New Make  Ob. 60% WB85.40
As a crowd funder, I’m slightly puzzled why I had to sign up to this London Whisky Club tasting to finally try Dornoch’s new make, but finally trying it I am! Of note [in the Zoom meeting], Phil & Simon talk of high-ester promotion, dead yeast utilization and dunder principles in spirit production. Furthermore, with a fermentation of around 7 days, textural quality was cited as another key component.
- N: Soft and pear-sweet, slightly vegetal, slight earthy/fauna,….
- T: Remarkably soft arrival with a short & sweet travel, becoming firmer/more present with each sip.
- F: After the ‘short & sweet’ palate, comes copper into fruity apple/pear/raisin tones and a slightly waxy-ish metallic mouthfeel.
- C: Surprisingly, for a new make, a finishing form with a textural element to boot. We are poised for the aged article.
Dornoch 04/12/2018 cask sample  Un-Ob. Ex-Koval Cask #130 60.9%
Made from organic Plumage Archer barley, malted in Warminster and aged in an ex-Koval [short]-refill bourbon cask, these samples were taken around June 2020. Simon’s daughter appears on screen. “It’s bedtime so she’s playing up”, explains Phil. Simon goes off to play parent, forgetting to mute his mic. Usual family dialog ensues whilst Phil carries on the show. Fabulous, organic viewing.
- N: The new make is clearly evident with those pears into bready slightly wine-finished grain-led pisco < barley spirit with a pinch of floral raisiny vanilla. Most agreeable.
- T: Straight [Plumage Archer] grain action into,…. an oily phenolic? barley element. With a controlled resinousness [short refill cask], we see a waxy succulent salted soft toffee.caramel chewiness,…
- F: ,…. the cask present but only ever serving the spirit. The mouthfeel goes on and on.
- C: Phil reminds us that the HMRC ‘are really decent human beings.’ This spirit sample ain’t bad either, a sample that shows us that Dornoch’s distillate-forward approach is where it’s at.
Dornoch 06/12/2018 cask sample  Un-Ob. Ex-Laphroaig Quarter Cask #204 61.3%
- N: Despite a talkative cask, the new make is, once again, easily identifiable and fully intact on the nose. After the Koval cask sample, this is creamier towards vanilla cream, smoky lactose and more salted toffee action.
- T: Whoa! Herbal salted caramel alongside some funky meaty tones, a result that isn’t too far from the two Abhainn Dearg expressions I’ve tried recently [reports to follow] – particularly because of a particular ashy smoky meaty element.
- F: Sweetens into herbal vanilla and herbal soft-smoked salted caramel, the ‘weirdness’ remaining but with the new make spirit settling just right at the tail – another demonstration of the Dornoch spirit producing a finishing form and a sustaining active mouthfeel.
- C: Crazy result this, but as Phil says, these samples are divisive – simply work in progress demonstrative examples. What’s certain is the brothers know how to make whisky, in all manner of styles. No surprises there.
It’s occurred to me, that this is yet another inverse flight where the older ones come first, just like when your Grandparents came to stay.
- N: Laphroaig on leather, a drop of Swarfega, heavily smoked Worcestershire sauce-laced biscuits, a drop of creasote, carbolic soap, farmy mezcal vibes, shoe polish, smoky diesel ….. The perfect sauce for your kippers, perhaps. Full on!
- T: More smoke-driven, meaty vegetal action with heavy oily, thick liquid-smoky > farmy grainy, medicinal, Swarfega, solvents, lubricants, TCP of course…..
- F: ,… and so it goes on with a lovely mouthfeel once again.
- C: Full-on crazy juice that is well paired with Dornoch’s Ex-Laphroaig cask sample. Sure it’s divisive, but there’s plenty besides the initial Exxon Valdez confrontation [other oil spills are available – see ‘List of oil spills’].
Scores 88 points
And that concludes an excellent tasting that demonstrated – in the main = distillate-driven, refill cask matured whisky and spirit samples with texture, form and complexity. Well done LWC for organising this and the Thompson Brothers for agreeing to do it.
Further reading: London Whisky Club