Blind Leading the Blind: A Juicy Revision Session

Little do I know, I’m about to engage in a serendipitous revision/revisitation tasting, yet it’s not long before this unwritten theme veers towards a red wine/grape-matured malts comparison.

Before all that, the Foz and I start tonight’s off-duty session with Harper’s Golden Ale which, unusually, is just what I fancied. Aside from being reduced to 99p a bottle, it’s deliciously fine ‘easy’ featherweight ale.

Now to the whisky, the majority of which were [initially] tasted blind.

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Compass Box Double Single 18yo [2010] Ob. [876 bts] 53.3% WB88.95[23]

  • C: A blend of Glen Elgin and Port Dundas, we finish off the dregs of a bottle, open since September 2010. With just enough breath left to sing its final song, there’s a lovely simplicity to this – understandably given the makeup. Though perhaps unfair to ‘officially’ score it in its condition, I’d still give it, say, an 84 as is.

[Not scored]

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Mortlach 1997/2010 13yo DL OMC #6574 [424 bts] 50% WB85[5]

I love these ‘classic’ Douglas Laing [and Hunter’s] Old Malt Cask bottles & labels. I just wish the cask numbers were a little larger for my dwindling eyesite. I have had to invest in a [non-steampunker] magnifying glass in recent weeks!

  • N,T&F: Could this be an SMWS bottling? Either way, it’s young yet not young [ – Balblair?], the cask providing the distillate with a showcase. Mortlach revealed, this is a clean citric-fruity bourbon cask-matured expression without sulphury meatiness [wacky weirdness] – [desirable] characters often found in the Mortlach distillate due to a ‘complex regime in a copper-starved environment’ [SW].
  • C: Oh, I’ve had this before,… nearly four years ago [85].

Scores 84 points today

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After two straight-ahead sighters, we embark on a Tullibardine trio which, soon enough, sends us down a red wine route.

Tullibardine Sovereign [2021] Ob. 43% WB78.39[127] WF78

  • C: This is a rather accomplished putty malt,.. with a bit of sherry? Nope, ‘Matured in bourbon barrels’ is stated [on the box]. Super whisky for £25 [at Sainsbury’s at time of writing]. Malt-review says: ‘Light, fruity and with plenty of sweet characteristics there’s nowt present not to dislike’. Oh, I had this before too, after a distillery visit way~way back in 2013 [76]. For where I’m at now, and where this expression is today:

Scores 83 points [recommended affordable drinker]

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Tullibardine 2007/2017 9yo SMWS 28.34 ‘Alluring and Amusing’ [191 bts] 60.8% WB81.55[2]

Another Tullibardine I’ve tried before [WLP80]. This is becoming quite the revision session, but retrying them blind is always a different kettle of fish,.. “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man“, Heraclitus.

  • C: If the previous Mortlach wasn’t an SMWS bottling, I’m certain this is. I imagine this could well have spend its very early years in a virgin cask before being transferred to a stated ‘2nd fill ex-bourbon cask’. Either way, this is a very straight-ahead/clean spirit-led malt that I find more profound today [I believe I rather poo-pooed it at the time], than when I first came across it at a SMWS event in 2017. In context, I find this as good as anything tonight [so far], for it’s beautifully clean unadulterated spirit that has been briefly cradled by oak.

Scores 84 points

Tullibardine 1993/2020 27yo Cadenhead’s Tawny Port Cask [222 bts] 41% WB87.14[9] WFx~[WF85]

  • C: Our third and final Tullibardine of the night. Something about the wine influence here throws me down an Australia whisky rabbit hole, prompting a Starward and more red wine-matured malts to follow. As if to redeem myself, I did guess [ruby] port casks over sherry or [standard/unfortified] red wine. Despite 27 years in oak, it’s the lovely clean spirit that shines through, if a touch watery at 41%, which makes it incredibly easy to glug. Tasty stuff indeed, though I can’t say I know any more about the nature of Tullibardine’s whisky aside from its neutrality, something Serge commented on recently [WF].

Scores 85 points

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What’s up next then, as a suitable sparring partner for a 27yo Tullibardine? Not matched by age but by style/type, this begins our red wine/grape-themed mini sesh.

Starward Single Malt Whisky [2021] Ob. Solera 43% WB80.89[21]

MoM ‘,… made with 100% Australian barley and matured exclusively in re-coopered and re-sized Apera (an Australian fortified wine, not dissimilar to Spanish sherry) barrels’. 

  • N: This smells fabulous, a nicely rounded, pleasing sweet nose. No quibbles with the strength at all as this seems more 46% than 43%.
  • T: A lovely soft mouth offering of well-rounded all-sorts.
  • F: Becomes surprisingly salty.
  • C: Accomplished, decent [tropical] aged, complex,… I’m impressed. Most improved since its earlier incarnations.

Scores 85 points

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Arran Amarone Cask Finish [2020] Ob. 50% WB84.10[105] whisky.com

  • C: I’ve tried, re-tried and reviewed this very recently [WLP85], but things are so different when you’re tasting blind. What hasn’t changed is how favourably I’ve received this Arran each and every time, and it’s been the same for those around me. It’s all-sherry yet with subtlety, this is an easy tasty treat that doesn’t require much thought. Plenty tannic by the end, medium-weighted sweet malty sherry juice pleasurably permeates the palate to the last.

Scores 85 points – the same as before so it turns out. It seems to have sold out almost everywhere since it first showed up on my radar after a SWAG Arran Distiller’s tasting a month or so ago [WLP]. Fortunately, I managed to grab a couple of bottles just in time – one to drink, and another to, erm, drink!

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Springbank 12yo [2016] Ob. Burgundy cask [10260 bts] 53.5% WB88.13[640]

Incredibly, I’ve also tried this one before, back when Whisky Lounge last came to Brighton – so the revisit & revision session continues, along with the red wine/grape theme.

  • C: Aah, Springbank – always desirably homemade. Being open for some years now, it feels like this bottle has lost a little vitality, yet the initial strength of 53.3% has no doubt helped preserve this one as well as it can. Regardless, a point more than in 2016. They really know what they are doing up in Campbeltown, regardless of whether it’s double or triple distilled, peated or unpeated, or matured/finished in refill ex-bourbon or burgundy casks. Easily the best whisky of the night.

Scores 87 points

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Raasay 2017/2020 3yo Ob. Inaugural Release [7500 bts] 52% WB85.22[119]

Still in keeping with our serendipitous red wine theme, it’s the perfect time to bring out Raasay’s inaugural release, made up from 121 casks. Let’s remind ourselves of the wood policy/makeup, as outlined by Alastair Day last year: Virgin Chinkapin, Ex-Woodford Reserve Rye, and Ex-Bordeaux Red Wine – peated and < unpeated. Further reading: [WLP].

  • C: Boy, would you look at the secondary prices for this rrp-£99 3yo !! Still, that’s nothing on Dornoch. Initial impressions only [as it’s getting on]: this whisky is – as expected – very ok, and without any blatant STR or forced PX etc,. profiling – yay! Still, is it a little sweet? Well yes, but no more so than many of the previous red wine-influenced drams enjoyed this evening. Great job.

Provisionally scores [+/-]82 points

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With the sun steadily rising, I further try a 19yo Claret Wood Loch Lomond, and revisit one, no two Longrow’s [a Red & a Port Wood Festival bottling] – all in keeping with tonight’s serendipitous red grape theme – and perhaps even a Hazelburn. I could have made up the Hazelburn, though the last thing I scribe before stumbling onto the streets at 7am is ‘Hazelburn: the neglected flight’ [with the exception of the Springbank distillery, who once [at least] hosted a rather delightful Hazelburn Breakfast [WLP].

Thousands upon thousands of wine casks stacked up behind the container at Balvenie in 2016

As for red wine, I’ve not forgotten Fergus Simpson telling us back in 2016 – at the Balvenie Distillery [WLP] – to expect a lot more wine casks in the future. Come they did, some alright, some very alright – Green Spot’s Chateau Leoville Barton anyone? We see that red wine’s influence has been most beneficial for new up-and-coming distilleries [Starward, Raasay,.. and too-numerous-to-mention Swan-STR upstarts], useful for colouring/flavouring more neutral [for blend] make’s [Tullibardine, Tormore’s 2002 Cote Rotie: WLP], and advantageous for reshaping already good whisky from the long-established [Springbank, Glenmorangie, Teeling,..?]. Bring it on!

With thanks, as ever, to the Foz and his Living Library.

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END

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