Preamble – In which I witter on about the event
I struggle with the idea that there is such a thing as a whiskey of the year. So many distilleries, so many styles, so many differences in wood, raw materials, climate, and judgement . Profusion and variation, which is the very thing that makes whisky worth exploring, means there can be no supreme bottle. There are whiskies for different moods and occasions – and we wouldn’t have it any other way. However I am rather fond of the idea behind The Whiskey Exchange Whisky of the Year. There are three reasons for this:
Firstly, and I think importantly, the choice is limited to standard bottlings below £60. Not only are these the ones most of us drink they are also generally available, and so anybody can join the fun to see if they agree with the conclusions the people who voted on the night. It is also a corrective to the tendency of enthusiasts to hunt out and overvalue the exotic. Once you get interested in something, like whisky, the collector mentality can kick in and, like twitchers hunting bird sightings, there is a compulsion to check-off obscure releases. In so doing there is a temptation both to overvalue the rare just because it is rare (and expensive) and become blind to the virtues of the common (e.g. is there sometimes a reluctance to give Glenfiddich its due because it’s the best selling single malt?). It’s good to be reminded of the richness in the distilleries’ core ranges.
Secondly I liked the idea of a vote open to anyone who bought a ticket: judgment by a fairly random (if self selected) group. Some people would be great enthusiasts and others not so much and that’s the way it should be as there is always a place for a good amateur event. Anyway aren’t we the target audience?
Thirdly, it is friendly. This is not unique to this particular event, almost with exception when people gather to discuss their fondness for whisky there is an open and warm atmosphere, but the format of a blind tasting encourages conversation and the sharing of discoveries.
The Tasting – In which I try to explain my decision-making process
I am not going to give tasting notes instead I want to give some of my reactions as I went along; to give some sense how my judgements formed and a decision eventually emerged:
No. 1 – Ah this is a good beginning but be careful don’t drink too much keep plenty back to taste later. It is easy for memories of the first couple of drams to be swamped later on. Hold back making any firm judgements
No. 2 – Very different . Oh this is difficult I do not know straight away if I prefer it to 1. But I like the nose and mouth feel. Again put it on hold
No. 3 – This is sweet and delicate, my first immediate reaction of the evening. Is the sweetness too seductive? should it be trusted? Is this too easy to like? Hmm such thought are confusing and say more about my underlying moral outlook than they do about whisky. Ignore them.
No. 4 – yes I like this it seems rounder than the others so far. Again an immediate positive reaction.
At the half way point and we were asked which whisky we preferred and I went with No. 4 but it wasn’t a strong preference. I went back and tasted them again and No 2 seemed to be developing, getting more interesting, opening out, No. 3 was just as seductive.
No. 5 – Nice, warm, easy to enjoy but is that enough?
No. 6 – Oh yes now we are getting to my normal taste register, bit of peat but not overwhelming, nice balance. I like this. Am beginning to think I am a back row man because I know the last one will be full on peat and I guess the penultimate will be sherry heavy.
N0. 7 – There you go – sherry. But this is lovely. It really leaps out. Instantly I know I like this, especially the richness in the finish.
N0. 7 – Mineral Islay but I know this too well it is a regular. That really messes me up. How do I fairly judge an old favourite against ones I don’t know, especially when my response is different to when I drink it at home. The previous dram definitely impinges: after richness there is an astringency.
This is the problem of comparing so many whiskies: your nose and palate can get a bit confused. So Back again, back again do some retesting, see how the impressions are firming up. Interestingly things are changing as 5, 4, and 1 seem to be receding. I am getting more and more interested in 2, it’s character is evolving and I am liking it more and more. 3 is still sweet and rather lovely but No. 7 still has the impact. I am focussing on those three. I really do like 2 but for its immediate impression and lingering finish it has to be No. 7.
Job done. Huzzah it is also the overall winner. So a big round of applause for GlenDronach 15yr old Revival.
1 – Benromach 10yr old, 43%, £33.95
2 – Clynelish 14yr 0ld, 46%, £39.45 (on offer at £37.95)
3 – Longmorn 16yr old, 48%, £52.95 (on offer at £47.95)
4 – Glenfiddich 18yr old, 40%, £56.95
5 – Aberlour 16yr old double cask, 40%, £45.45
6 – Bowmore 12yr old, 40%, £29.95
7 – GlenDronach 15yr old Revival, 46%, £44.95 (on offer at £40.95)
8 – Laphroaig 10yr old, 40%, £35.45
(TWE prices on 22nd November)
In Conclusion – a couple of extra thoughts
All of these whiskies were very good and I would happily buy any one of them and think it good value.
If you take price into account the Bowmore really stands out. It finished second overall yet was the cheapest.
ABV is not as important as you might think. OK the winner was one of the strongest but none of the others felt underpowered. All of them had character
The demise of the Scottish whisky industry is much exaggerated. When choosing a Japanese whisky as his whisky of the year Jim Murray also seemed to want to poke a stick at the Scottish industry. This is a little unfair. The evidence we had on the table showed Scotland continues to produce excellent standard bottlings. The fact that others make excellent whisky can be rightly celebrated but it does not mean the Scottish industry is going backwards or losing its touch.
P.S. The photo for the thumbnail was randomly plucked from the web (jashopping.de)