Letting Go #10: Harris

After my ‘philosophical’ first evening in Harris [WLP#9], I am severely hungover the next day and the day after that. I make a move late on day three, finding what I think is the ideal hillside spot for another temporary stay.

Harris harbour

Unfortunately, I spend much of the night imagining the handbrake failing and the camper with me inside tumbling into the harbour. This doesn’t happen, but I’m done with this location.

van hillside.jpeg

Still slightly frazzled yet more refreshed the following morning, I head to Tarbert to discover just how close I’ve been to the Isle of Harris distillery these past few days. The distillery is an eight minute drive away, as is full-blown internet connectivity. I’ve missed 863 group WhatsApp messages from the Sussex Whisky Appreciation Group. Tonight is SWAG’s [now infamous] Waterford tasting, but with nothing for me in Tarbert, I’m reluctant to stay all day in the town just for the 4G. Aside from the [yep, you guessed it], closed distillery which is next to the island’s small but main port, there is a bank, and Citizen’s Advice Bureaux, a trendy looking hotel, and a few convenience stores that look like they’ve not seen a customer since the 1980s. That’s pretty much it!

Harris distillery

Whilst I’m disappointed the distillery is closed to visitors, in a way it is kind of open, courtesy of a JCB that is delivering two Frilli condensers to the compact and already-squeezed fermentation & still house. The distillery has been open since 2015, so why the new condensers? Have they decided to expand production already? The activity even grabs the attention of some of the locals.

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I decide to forgo my phone’s interactive/connective/electronic lures and head way out East to a charming little spot called Hushinish [see pic below].

Hushinish.jpeg

Away from the crammed and cramped official car park, I park near the local authority-owned un-maned jetty on the other side of the bay. I can’t imagine there will be a problem me being here. I settle in for a quiet afternoon exploring the beaches before preparing a Waterford flight which [without an internet connection, once again] I shall have to partake on my own.

Waterford tasting.jpeg

With thanks to Ryan for the impressive sample bottles that are in keeping with Waterford’s branding. Whilst I enjoy these drams in the peaceful seclusion of my own making, I hear all about the hotly anticipated interactive Zoom event the next day [further reading: woodforwhisky]. Without the low-down from the horse’s mouth at the time, here’s my insular perspective on Mark Reynier’s young whisky:

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Waterford 2016/2020 3yo Ob. Single Farm: Bannow 1.1 [8616 bts] 50% WB85.56[130] WF88

Waterford 2016:2020 3yo Ob. Bannow 1.1 [8616 bts] 50%
  • N: Light vanilla-ey naturally savoury-sweet grain whisky-like/blended nose – compare it alongside Famous Grouse, I dare you! Also, light summer fruits talk of Cantaloupe melon, ripe yellow apples, and pears. Without the full details, I forget what the abv’s are now, but 50% rings a bell.
  • T: We’ve a neatly chiselled/very clean arrival with soft slightly fruity barley-all-the-way curves. There’s just the beginnings of what might develop into a chewy toffee-d creamy barley mouthfeel after a few more years down the line, in oak. A little water, in fact, brings out more of those toffee-d, even fudgy [> raisiny > coppery] notes. With an involving form, seemingly light at first but with an ever-expanding presence, I expect this whisky style will mature rather well in the years to come, not that that is exactly the plan at Waterford. What’s the cask policy again? First-fill [for now] I seem to remember, and how many casks? 50??
  • F: There’s no bite, there’s no sense of excessive tempering, no tannin growls, and boy does it sail on through with a thoroughly pleasing coppery < sweet UK-bourbon-like conclusion.
  • C: Beautiful beginnings, an accomplished 3yo with utterly no flaws.

Scores [starting at 78 before moving up to 80 and 82 before settling at] 84 points.

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Waterford 2016/2020 3yo Ob. Single Farm: Ballykilcavan 1.1 [8616 bts] 50% WB84.38[133] WF88

Waterford 2016:2020 3yo Ob. Ballykilcavan 1.1 [8616 bts] 50%.jpg
  • N: Huskier than the Bannow with a different profile direction towards ripening grape sugars, sweet vegetal nutty brine and a passing hint of coconut.
  • T: Very different from the Bannow with more oaky raisins and sultana sugars leading to suggestions of sherry maturation, though it’s more bourbon-esque cask tannins that come through, albeit utterly unobtrusively. I liken the sweet oak aspect to Chinkapin oak that Raasay [WLP] are utilising for their cuvee-styled whisky.
  • F: Sweet vegetal[/cereal/oak] tannins steer this one to the end, a grape-like almost briny griminess with a coppery sweetish < raisin-ish final flourish, slightly congealed at the death.
  • C: I’m very much missing pre-information about these whiskies, of which I know there will be heaps & heaps from Mark Reynier. On its own merits, I find this very likeable – neither particularly Scottish, certainly not Irish, net neither quite ‘New World’ either. Very tasty.

Scores 82 points

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Waterford [2020] Ob. Single Farm: Ratheadon 1.1 [2000 bts] 50% WB87.70[13] WF88

Finally, I get to try the formidable Ratheadon [an Ireland-only exclusive], named after the majestic aquatic Jurassic killing-machine that weighed three times the average Raptor and could travel [under water] twice as fast.

Waterford [2020] Ob. Ratheadon 1.1 [2000 bts] 50%
  • N: This appears more subtle/quieter/reserved and perhaps even more complex than the previous two. Amongst the ‘flora n fauna’, fruits & flowers, bread flour,… it’s hard to glean the particulars, but there’s a gratifying overall aroma/hue/aura to this one.
  • T: Refreshingly different/unique again, on the palate. Whether that uniqueness is down to terroir over all other factors is another thing. With a moist chewy floury & melon-fruit mouthful & mouthfeel, I find it akin to a more mature Balblair or perhaps other softer/squidgier [Highland] malts [GlenMo,… yet hints of Mackmyra]. Age-wise, blind, I might be guessing more like 7-8 years of age than 3.
  • F: Sails gently on through without pomp or ceremony. Like the Bannow, this is about the barley base, the cask influence merely a conduit. A floury & nutty squidgy fruitiness lingers on well past the event.
  • C: I’d have loved to ask Mark whether what he has [already] achieved at Waterford has exceeded his expectations of what he might have realised on Islay, had the circumstances back then, been different. I’m sure he must be chuffed to bits.

Scores 83 points

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Being such young expressions, all three of Waterford’s inaugural releases are commendable. Also commendable is the bottling strength which is nigh-on perfect for my palate, for these whiskies. Adding water brings out different things, but doesn’t necessarily elevate them. Thoroughly impressed, I’m in the mood for more. Unusually, I fancy some smokin’ drams. With thanks to Ryan and S.W.A.G.

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KM4

First up is a sample I found down the cracks of the camper. It’s been there since Campbeltown 2018. Labelled KM4, it’s from a Kilkerran masterclass where we got to try whiskies from the very first casks Glengyle laid down in 2004. I revisited a number of samples from that masterclass not so long ago [WLP]. Without being able to consult my previous notes at the time, let’s see what we have at face value. No doubt this has changed a little after two sample-bottle-aged years in a hot campervan.

{Glengyle] Kilkerran 2004/2019 15yo Un-Ob. Cask sample #382 53.7% WLP78

Kilkerran 2004:2019 15yo Un-Ob. Cask sample #382 53.7%
  • N: Strong [I’d imagine we are around the high 50% mark], sweet, smoky, honeyed, nutty, some leather, lambswool…. quite a lot actually.
  • T: Oh yes, with just a little face gurning/grimacing, that’s a livener. The profile is on gravy-gritty sweet-briny=oily coal smoke & peat,…
  • F: ,…. and bitter-sour grassy lemon oils into a bitter sour barley-putty-mash-pulp ‘homemade’ finish.
  • C: Despite some tough competition to follow, this unfinished article has improved some.

Scores 80 points

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Staying with the Mitchell’s, let’s jump back in time.

[Springbank] Longrow 1974/1993 18yo W&M 46% WB91.57[9] WF94

Longrow 1974:1993 18yo W&M 46%.jpeg
  • N: That’ll do nicely. Smells, at first [to my often phenol-blind nose], like a none-too-peaty yet very fruity Brora/Clynelish. After a few minutes, the abv appears stronger than at first expected. Could we be around the 46% mark? Very fruity at first, it becomes more bone-dry/dunnage-y and garage-y by the minute – all with a veil of sooty, dirty/dusty/ > dank honeyed > huskiness. 
  • T: Fairly oaky, sooty, and slightly tart bone-dry acidic/citrus sour, into some dunnage husky hessian and bitterness,..
  • F: ,.. then a dryish yet slightly dry briny/beeswax honeyed smokiness. A peaty honeycomb meatiness [or a meaty honeycomb peatiness] lingers.
  • C: Cracking whisky, though perhaps this bottle doesn’t sing as sweetly as it once did?

Scores 90 points

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Ardmore 1968/1989 20yo SV cask #5490-91 [600 bts] 58.4% WB90.67[14] WF93 & WF93~WM93[1]

With a slightly green-brown golden hue, this one gloops into the glass – invariably a great sign.

  • N: This one has some kick, some hearty resilience to the years. Peppery for sure, like a peppered steak or mackerel, this one is barley-bread based though the oak is equally present and seemingly tasty in nature. So very spirity and cask-y – tricksy even!
  • T: A push-me pull-me job, there’s plenty of jostling for position. Bitter-sweet oaked savoury-sour sugars journey around the taste centres.
  • F: There’s been plenty of cask activity. With perhaps a few disagreements along the way, there’s been an amicable agreement made with the spirit in the end. 
  • C: Reckon everyone will have different views on this one. Like a moody old cat, there’s occasional playfulness and affection alongside a number of scratch marks. Just a hint of the Ben Nevis 44yo His Excellency [WB].

Scores 88 points

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END

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2 thoughts on “Letting Go #10: Harris

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