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Malts of the Midlands Tasting with Daniel Bruce McLaren

It was a collection of seven drams from an elusive region that some might call the Midlands, others might call the Southern Highlands and the odd person might even call the northern part of the Greater Central Belt. However Malts of the Midlands really does roll off the tongue much better than the others, so we went with that, and quickly found the whiskies posing some serious questions regarding regionality, and what it truly is that defines a whisky.

The whiskies were separated into two flights - four at standard strength and three that were over 50%. This is pretty much a first for these tastings, with a general belief that every whisky should stand for itself against any other, but this time it was certainly appropriate and I’m totally up for trying something new every twenty years or so.

First up was the Aberfeldy Connoisseurs Choice from G&M (2003/2017) and which got proceedings off to a fantastic start, paving the way for what would become a great tasting. This was all about integrated sherry notes, structure and concentration, with a nose of mead, honeysuckle, citrus and sponge cake and that opened into a mouthful of spotted dick and custard.

Next was the Blair Athol Connoisseurs Choice from G&M (2008/2017) whose sulphurous nose was like lighting a cigar over a breakfast of coffee and burnt toast and which sparked much conversation regarding the occurrence of sulphur in whisky.

Third in order was the Gleturrett Sherry Cask Edition at 43% and what an elegant, soft whisky. It was light in body, but at 43% it didn’t need to be heavy and showed light confected fruits, butterscotch and ginger spice on the nose. The palate was a further array of light confectionery -  an assortment of cupcakes, crumbles and apricot tarts at a cake competition in a summer garden.

The last of the standard strengths was our mystery - and which turned out to be the Deanston 18 Year old, one of Regional’s whiskies of the month for August. As the most expensive whisky at the tasting, it drew debate on the price of aged distillery releases, but was well received with its leathery tobacco, nuts and citrus aromas that continued into its woody palate that showed real body and depth.

With the first four tasted, scored and results complied, it was onto the cask strength whiskies in the form of the Deanston OMC 50%, Glengoyne Cask Strength Batch 5 59.1% and the Edradour Straight from the Cask 58.8%. They were a world apart from the first flight and vastly different among themselves even - respectively like apple bobbing with the water substituted for bourbon, before moving onto a bowl of bread pudding and xmas cake and then finishing on a sweet cup of stewed fruit chai, served from a leather teapot. Each was amazing in its own right, but very different drams that had me wondering whether, with so much variation in whisky - do regional styles actually exist?  

Looking back, there is a consistent theme of confectionery popping up in the tasting notes, but I can’t believe that these were down to factors of fermentation and distillation that created similarities in the new make at a regional level -  but were due, rather, to the casks in which the new make was aged (unsurprisingly). The Edradour could have been a Speyside sherry bomb, the OMC a bourbon aged, floral speyside and the Glengoyne an oily highlander. However, I don’t think this is a bad thing, but actually the opposite. It is the variation found in whisky that makes it so intriguing and thoroughly surprising in such a pleasant way… and the chance of stumbling across something amazing and atypical is what keeps us coming back.

Here’s how they placed and some scores for those that are keen (most are available at Regional Wines).

  • Edradour Straight From The Cask 58.8% 500ml - 8.71
  • Glengoyne Cask Strength 59.1% - 8.58
  • Deanston Old Malt Cask 1995 21yo 50% 700ml - 8.45   
  • Aberfeldy Connoisseurs Choice 2003/2017 46% - 8.11
  • Deanston 18 46.3% - 8.0
  • Glenturret 'Sherry Cask Edition' 43% - 7.47
  • Blair Athol  Connoisseurs Choice 2008/2017 46% - 6.97