Thursday, 2 June 2016

For the Love of Whisky: Testimonies for Tasting Samples

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I’ve not been getting much sleep lately. It’s clearly showing, because two days back I decided to offer free samples of my much-treasured booze to thirty people I only know by their twitter handles. This morning my phone went zing and confirmed that the thirty sample-sized bottles I’d ordered were on their way, so I can only conclude that it wasn’t some ghastly nightmare after all. Well, perhaps after this act of rashly impulsive altruism the Blue Fairy will finally turn me into a real boy, and I'll be able to shift that damned cricket. One can but hope...

I’m joking, of course. There’s no point whatsoever to whisky if you can’t share it, and that’s even more the case when it comes to limited releases. Besides, my thirty recipients had to sing for their liquid supper: each was good enough to share with me their favourite distillery, their favourite whisky under £40 per bottle, what got them into whisky and their favourite ‘whisky moment.’

The answers were as fascinating as they were varied, and were an absolute pleasure to read; many far more detailed than I was expecting. They’re a true testimony to the power of whisky to move people and to the wonderful diversity of the whiskyfabric. Distilleries and whiskies mentioned covered malts, blends and single pot still. They spanned Scotland, Ireland, Japan and Sweden. My only slight disappointment was that nobody championed a bourbon or other US whisky, but given I could only offer drams to those based in the UK that’s perhaps not too surprising. Besides, my own whisk(e)y nod went transatlantic, as you’ll see.

I wasn’t collecting these answers for my own weird entertainment of course, but to weave into a post celebrating the online whisky community and my own whisky loves of visiting distilleries and championing affordable expressions. So for the next seven days I’ll be posting my favourite responses to the questions I posed. I think you’ll agree that the drams which I will soon be putting in the hands of the Royal Mail have been richly deserved, and I hope that, like me, you’ll make a couple of new discoveries and have your whisky world opened that little bit wider. If, over the week, you find that your own answers haven’t been used, then I do apologise – I guarantee that I enjoyed reading them, and I hope you enjoy your dram nonetheless.

Cheers!

Day 1. David Rodgers (@Pop_Noir)

1. I want to know your favourite distillery, and why it's your favourite.
As much as I'm in love with Campbeltown at the moment, my favourite distillery (at the moment) is Benrinnes. I discovered it a year ago and before then I'd never heard of it. I was at the Suffolk Show and Morrison and MacKay had a stand there. Apart from having their Bruadar there for the mass public, they also had some of their own independent bottlings. My Mum wanted to buy me something for my forthcoming 40th and they recommended a 18yo Benrinnes. I opened it not long after my birthday and – wow - it was just fantastic stuff. I've since brought various other bottlings, mainly independent, and me and some friends recently had a Benrinnes evening. I just really like this distillery and all of the ones I have tried are really good. Of course you introduced me to the Stronachie, although I've yet to try the 10yo and 18yo I got from Master of Malt.

2. I want to know your favourite whisky for under £40 per bottle, and I want to know why it’s your favourite.
White Horse is my favourite under £40 everyday drinker, (a blend I know) mainly for nostalgic reasons as it was my Grans favourite tipple. But I happen to also really like it. Not the most readily available these days but a small shop in my home town stocks it. 

3. I want to know what got you into whisky, and what the best ‘whisky moment’ of your life has been, and why.
I got into whisky many years ago as was brought a ticket for a Diageo tasting held at Milroys in Soho, and whilst I'd always enjoyed whisky this really got me into it. A fantastic night going through some of their Flora and Fauna range. 
Best whisky moment for me was a bottle of Brora I received one Christmas from a friend, 24yo and one of the Rare Malts bottlings, absolutely stunning and I know I'll probably never taste anything like it again.


Day 2. Will Knock (@wknock)

1. I want to know your favourite distillery, and why it's your favourite.
A difficult one, but has to be the same one that got me started with whisky, Balvenie. I've gone through most of their core range at some point, Signature/12yo+17yo Doublewood/15yo Sherry Cask/Tun 1401 batch5/8, and other than the 12yo, which wasn't really to my liking (neither was the 21yo port wood I tried) I've enjoyed them all and recycled a good few bottles...! Still have an unopened Signature saved, plus Founders Reserve, 17yo Sherry Oak and the two tun1509s to open and try, but there's no rush, plenty of time to try them amongst all the others in the cupboard.

2. I want to know your favourite whisky for under £40 per bottle, and I want to know why it’s your favourite.
Hibiki 12 blend - was sent some by @AmateurDrammer in a sample swap and loved it. Very smooth, easy to drink, and doesn't break the bank! I like the fact it can still be found in supermarkets even when people are selling on for silly markups on auction sites, and the bottle itself with its 24 facets just feels nice to handle (not that I handle it any more than is needed than to pour it into glasses...!) 

3. I want to know what got you into whisky, and what the best ‘whisky moment’ of your life has been, and why.
What got me into whisky was a free miniature of Balvenie Signature I was given when I bought some chocolates as a gift in Charbonnel et Walker - possibly the most expensive chocolates ever considering it turned me, and then my other half, into a whisky drinkers.

Best whisky moment - a visit to the Balvenie distillery which was part of a Dufftown trip my girlfriend organised as a Christmas present. Turned out there were only the two of us doing the tour on a sunny February weekday. The lady who showed us around (sadly her name escapes me) started out quite formal, but once we reached warehouse 24, we found the 40yo cask shared with wh24 members... With a small bottle of that, we headed back to the sample room and between the three of us tried all the laid out tasters, drank the 40yo (lovely) and our chaperone then treated us to a few tasters from the sample bottles that lined the shelves all the way back to the early 80's.


Day 3. Jon Webb (@dvdbloke)

1. I want to know your favourite distillery, and why it's your favourite.
My favourite distillery is probably (I say probably because I have many but I keep feeling so fondly for this one) Bruichladdich. I love what they do. When you meet the guys it's clear they love what they do. It's all about passion for making whisky and they make some good stuff. They've managed to keep their relative independence despite immense pressure for production and being bought out. And on top of it all they are honest, transparent, and thoroughly nice people. 

2. I want to know your favourite whisky for under £40 per bottle, and I want to know why it’s your favourite.
Well, it's only sometimes under £40 now, but generally can be got for that. Aberlour A'bunadh. Maybe disqualified for this, but it was under £40 when I last got it! It's a great dram, sherry monster, and more importantly in this day and age where things are getting more and more expensive, it's bang for your buck! 
*Pilgrim’s note: Jon Webb is a man of excellent taste. He needs to show me where he gets A’Bunadh under £40 though...it’s over £40 even on TWE at the moment.*

3. I want to know what got you into whisky, and what the best ‘whisky moment’ of your life has been, and why.
Well, dramboree usually has some memorable life moments, and some distillery visits. And shows. The main thing that comes to mind though is the Mortlach 75 tasting I attended (expensive, but cost effective) at the Whisky Exchange’s Whisky Show last year. It showed me that whisky isn't all about age, prestige, and jazz! In fact, I wasn't impressed with the 75. But I was impressed with the 1960s bottling of the G&M 12 year old Mortlach which can be got for a fraction of the price of the 75 year old. Gold is there to be found. You just have to be patient and keep digging.  Whisky is for life, not just Christmas. 
*Pilgrim’s note: I must have been sat a few places away from Jon at this tasting... Wouldn’t go so far as to say I wasn’t impressed with the 75yo myself (I was more than impressed!) but I too have good memories of the 12 year old. Cheers Jon!*


Day 4. Colin Sim (@DistilleryBikes)

1. I want to know your favourite distillery, and why it's your favourite.
Favourite Distillery would have to be Laphroaig, I guess, although there are 2 or 3 that are close to my heart. Mrs DistilleryBikes and myself did a week long cycle tour of Islay and Jura last September and had just the best time at Laphroaig, sampling many different expressions after our tour and before a wobbly ride back to Bridgend. Just love everything about Laphroaig, their Whisky, their location, the staff... oh, and I have my own 'opinions' tile in their tiled wall!

2. I want to know your favourite whisky for under £40 per bottle, and I want to know why it’s your favourite.
Best dram for under £40, probably the Ardbeg 10, which never disappoints and provides a nice end to those occasional stressful days that we all have.
*Whisky Pilgrim’s note: where the hell is Colin finding Ardbeg 10 under £40? I have got to get out of Reading...*

3. I want to know what got you into whisky, and what the best ‘whisky moment’ of your life has been, and why.
I got 'properly' into Whisky through my long-term goal of riding to every distillery in Scotland. Started as just somewhere to ride to, then I started to spend a bit of time and take a tour at some of those that I (along with my wife on many occasions) cycled to. Then I started delving deeper; buying Whisky books, trying different expression and styles etc. I'm now enjoying everything about the whole Whisky process and riding to many new locations with some stunning scenery. 

My best Whisky moment? That would likely be trying a Gordon & Macphail 45 year old miniature which was distilled in 1938. Just the whole history and tastes of times gone by, blew my senses. It was also one of the best drams that I have ever had.


Day 5. Dave Melody

1. I want to know your favourite distillery, and why it's your favourite.
I would have to go for the Midleton distillery. I have been a fan of Irish whiskey for some time as I like the softer fruit and full tastes you pick up. I have also really enjoyed sampling the pot stills productions like Yellow Spot, Green Spot and Redbreast. 

2. I want to know your favourite whisky for under £40 per bottle, and I want to know why it’s your favourite.
I would have to go with a Green Spot. Smooth with a slight oily mouth feel leaving a long, sweet aftertaste, yet packed full of fruit flavour and a hint of leather. Note to self: order another..

3. I want to know what got you into whisky, and what the best ‘whisky moment’ of your life has been, and why.
My dad has always been a whisky drinker. And I was always a lager drinker. When I met my wife she liked white wine. So as a compromise we started drinking cava, prosecco and champagne. I soon noticed my palate changing so I began to explore expanding this more and more. Whisky was the first port of call with a Jamesons, then came the cheaper stuff from local supermarkets and then the slippery slope as the expensive stuff came out. Redbreast 12 &15. Jamesons Select and Gold. Then Green and Yellow Spot followed by Jamesons 18 and cask mates. And even a Jamesons Rarest Vintage hidden away somewhere as an investment.
As for a poignant moment, sitting having a few good drams with my dad and his friend. And being at that age where I could say put the Grouse back in the cupboard, let’s try a dram of this...


Day 6. Ben Cons (@cenbons)


1. I want to know your favourite distillery, and why it's your favourite.
Favourite distillery - Benromach. I came across it early in my whisky journey. I like that they are always reasonably priced and don't mind bottling very low age statement whiskies (the 5 year old is amazing) and I've never had a bottle that I didn't love!

2. I want to know your favourite whisky for under £40 per bottle, and I want to know why it’s your favourite.
Best bottle under £40 - Benromach 10. Some lovely peat flavours without being overbearing and mixes the peat beautifully with the classic Speyside sweetness

3. I want to know what got you into whisky, and what the best ‘whisky moment’ of your life has been, and why.

I got into whisky whilst on holiday, tasting my way through the hotel’s whisky list during happy hour. Favourite whisky memory is cracking open a bottle of Bowmore White Sands 17 year old with my youngest son’s Godfather to be to celebrate his birth.


Day 7. Tom Brooks

1. I want to know your favourite distillery, and why it's your favourite.
Tough call here but currently really loving Mackmyra, really interesting distillery from Sweden doing things a little bit differently. Huge fan of their branding and the nose and flavour on some of their whiskies is incredible. I could sit for hours nosing the Iskristall  

2. I want to know your favourite whisky for under £40 per bottle, and I want to know why it’s your favourite.
I did manage to get a bottle of Lagavulin 16 for £28 from Italy (but I’m not sure that counts). I’d probably go for Douglas Laing Scallywag (purchased for £38) the branding of the bottle is superb and the fruity rich taste really is right up my street.

3. I want to know what got you into whisky, and what the best ‘whisky moment’ of your life has been, and why.

My Dad got me into Whisky, he has a collection of around 20-25 bottles so it’s great to sample new ones. My best “whisky moment” was joining a Whisky Club in Bristol; I’ve met loads of great people and sampled whiskies I’d never even thought of trying before.


Day 8. Me. (Seems only fair...)

1. I want to know your favourite distillery, and why it's your favourite.
Urgh. Too hard. Going to have to split the difference between Springbank and Highland Park. Springbank because I love how many routinely superb whiskies they make at under £50 a throw. I love that they create three entirely distinct expressions. I love that everything from barley to bottle is done on site, and I love how well they’ve flown the flag for Campbeltown’s status as an independent whisky region. Highland Park because their 18 year old took me from vaguely liking whisky to absolutely loving it. The distillery also introduced me to the whisky style which, gun to my head, I’d pick as my favourite. Can’t always afford it, but I’m always on the lookout!


2. I want to know your favourite whisky for under £40 per bottle, and I want to know why it’s your favourite.
Used to say ‘Aberlour A’Bunadh’ in answer to this question without having to think. These days it has crept over the £40 mark generally speaking. After a lot of soul-searching I’ll plump for the Four Roses Single Barrel as my favourite within budget – it’s the Bourbon that took me from fan to fanatic where US whiskey is concerned. Bit of a cop-out, as ‘Single Barrel’ means there’s even more difference from bottle to bottle than there is with a batch-created whisky, but each one is so routinely brilliant that I’ll stand by my pick. Mind you, ask me again in 10 minutes and I’ll probably choose something different.

3. I want to know what got you into whisky, and what the best
‘whisky moment’ of your life has been, and why.
I got into whisky through some blend or other (I forget which) begged from my father’s cupboard and shared with friends at 6th form house parties and summer barbecues. (Inglorious beginnings, I know.) Despite not being a huge fan I pretended to like it for the first couple of years at University in an attempt to give myself a USP, and was startled when, around my third year, I started actually enjoying it after all. By then I’d expanded my universe to include Single Malt and Bourbon, and the rest is history.

Top whisky moment? So many stand out, but for a number of reasons the apogee came a few years back when I worked in the Highlands and my best friend came up to visit from our native Merseyside. We tasted our way through the 6 very different bottles that made up my stash, and for the first time I was able to line up a selection with a mate and properly talk about and share whisky. Tragically my friend is no longer with us, so we never did the tour of Scottish distilleries together that we planned and it’s only with hindsight that I realise how lucky I was to have that incredible evening.


Thanks again to everyone who contributed to this post.

Cheers!




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