The Whisky Show 2021, Part 5/11: Three Blind Men

Following on from Part 4,…. it’s time for the Three Blind Men masterclass.

The official blurb reads ‘Join Sukhinder Singh and The Whisky Exchange’s head buyer and Whisky Show host Dawn Davies MW for a tasting that will not only take in six great whiskies, but also give you the chance to see how your palate matches up to some of the industry’s greatest drinkers‘.

Who could have guessed any of the bottles featured in the lineup before we had begun? Not I.

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Dawn Davies [DD] opens this hotly anticipated masterclass with “I’m sure you are all excited about seeing these guys being tortured” – ‘these guys’ being Serge Valentine [SV], Charles MacLean [CM] and Dave Broom [DM].

First and foremost, blind tasting should be fun“, says DD who spent seven years blind tasting to become Master of Wine in 2015. “Don’t think about the distillery“, she says, “listen to the glass“.

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And so we begin.

Bruichladdich 2002/2016 13yo Ob. Micro-Provenance Series bourbon cask #12/214 [btl #014] 52.7% WB87.25[19] WF89

  • “Light/mild Parmigiano”,…. “from a jar” – are just some of the comments our esteemed guests initially throw around,… in jest.
  • SS: “Age?”.
  • SV: “Not old enough”. “,…. The owner just retired”.
  • SS: “Give us a name”.
  • “Margaret”, says SV,…. “somewhere down in the West,…. South West”.
  • CM guesses Glen Scotia whilst DB thinks it might be an Inchgower.
  • Being grainy with saltiness and a farmy touch, “this is pure style” says SV.
  • WLP: “It’s a contemporary dram”.
  • SV: “What does that mean?
  • WLP: “Current/recent/now”,.. not an oldie.
  • C: Whilst guessing the distillery is fraught with pitfalls, what our panel said about the whisky itself was spot on – ‘listening to the glass’, indeed.

Scores 87 points

A modest start.

The next selection is inspired. It’s a core-range single malt that Serge just recently reviewed.

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Talisker 18yo [2021] Ob. Bourbon & Sherry casks 45.8% WB87.89[1496] WF90 [WM]88[2]

  • DD: “The tell is on the nose. Be led by the nose”, she says.
  • “Salty, briny,… horse blankets,……”, says one of the panel.
  • “It’s dry but still juicy”, says SS, trying to help them. “An everyday dram,… but not the best example”.
  • SV: “Did the distillery lose its manager recently”?
  • All eyes are now on Sukhinder who replies “,… you’re completely wrong”.
  • After the reveal, SS concludes with “You can find the gems in everyday whisky”.

I’m frustrated I didn’t guess this given I’d been enjoying a bottle at the time [WLP89], on the back of Serge’s review six weeks earlier [WF90]. It’s doing the rounds too as Ralfy [85] also just reviewed Talisker 18 on the back of its inclusion at the OSWAs last month.

Scores 89 points

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Not a disappointing start per se, but for a £150 per head masterclass, we are expecting some rarities to appear very soon. We don’t need to wait a moment longer.

Springbank 1965/1992 26yo Ob. 46% WB92.73[29]

  • WLP: Being a dense fruity, waxy number, “This is NOT contemporary”, I call out.
  • CM: “,… waxy character,…. classic style”,…. refill American oak, ex-sherry”.
  • SS [looking at SV] “You should know this because you’ve drunk shit loads of it”.
  • SV: “Any distillery of this time”, Speyside or coastal,….

As for the distillery, everyone is flummoxed. Once the year is revealed, however, Charles calls Springbank immediately. It’s true that these pros know their classic vintages, the famous bottles, the unforgettable casks.

  • C: Delicious, beautiful,… some fair OBE. Score?
  • CM: “You score, don’t you Serge?”, who adds “I don’t score whisky. 10 out of 10 whisky only exists in heaven”.

Blind tasting really scrambles the brain, especially as expectations of a £150 masterclass led by Sukhinder at his own whisky show, are understandably high. Scores anything between the high 80s up to,… 93 points ?!

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Sukhinder challenges us to blind-taste Springbank 10,…. if only we could acquire it at this strange juncture in Whiskyland.

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Chichibu 2012/2019 Ob. For TWE 20th Anniversary cask #2089 [349 bts] 60.8% WB91.32[21] WF93 & WF91

  • N, T, F: Beer-forward, make-y even, ashy, salty….. this is a Japanese whisky Serge gave 93 points to in May 2020. Today, he [Serge] correctly guesses Japan whilst the other two think it’s Scotch. Meanwhile, the Cavalier sitting beside me has already called it. It’s “Chichibu, single cask”, he tells me. He’s another great mind that knows his gems.
  • C: I find the dialogue between these great men [and one woman] fascinating. As a result, I forget to fully observe the whisky myself or keep score this time [WLP87].

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Clynelish 1999/2020 21yo Elixir ’21 Years of Friendship’ Sherry butt #305054 [380 bts] 57.6% WB89.37[44] WF91

This is a bottling between the Whisky Exchange and The Mash Tun in Tokyo.

  • DB: “Red pepper,… sweet caramel,.. a layered quality”.
  • CM: “So, refill ex-bourbon”.
  • SS [I think]: “The refill-sherry is prominent”.
  • DD: “Texture” – a clue!
  • DB & DD: “Savoury”.

Whilst SV and DB plumb for Mortlach, CM decides this one IS Japanese. “Yoichi”, he announces. I guess Clynelish [#1]. The Cavalier is spot on again. In hindsight, our esteemed guests put all the pieces in order.

Scores 90 points

Last up:

Glendronach 1972/1999 Ob. The Millennium Malt’ cask #721 [btl #116/456] 48% WB92.75[27]

  • SS: “This one has,.. everything going on”. 
  • WLP: This one is old-aged twice, in glass just as much as cask.
  • CM: “Fabulous,… 1960s transport casks”.
  • WLP: “Very G&M” = any distillery,… “stewed and OBE’d”, I add, to which CM agrees.
  • Concentrating on the stewed fruits,… is it solera/ex-solera, the blind men ponder? Longmorn and Macallan are stabs in the dark from the panel.
  • “They’ve lost the place altogether”, adds CM, referring to the Macallan distillery as it is now. He recalls wives tales of a little brandy being added to Macallan to set it apart from other bottlings from the same distillery.  
  • C: Revealed by SS: “A legendary vintage for Glendronach”. SV: “Paxarette-esque”.

Scores 92 points

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What a coup Sukhinder has pulled off here, an absolute joy from start to finish. Aside from the whiskies themselves, there was certainly something of the schadenfreude about it. In conclusion, DD says: “You can be a great taster, but you can always get it wrong”.

I wish I had another hour or two to savour these whiskies after the event, but we’ve plenty more to discover downstairs [in Part 6].

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END

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