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Peaty Picks of Dramfest - A Tale of Two Tastings

As I disinfected the kitchen floor adjacent to the tasting room a few hours prior to the Monday tasting, I realised I was getting my first peat-like experience of the night. But was it the salty tang of coastal peat or the warm embrace of earthy mainland peat? Soon I would have the answer, and over the two nights, learn a valuable lesson in accuracy.

Peat's a funny old thing. So many of us fall in love with whisky through a chance encounter with a massively peaty dram (my first true love was the Ardbeg 10) and yet so many of us seem to grow away from it over time. That said, it's hard to ignore that mercurial quality, unachievable by cask alone that only peat can bring. This selection was pleasantly atypical, with a lot of cask on show from Sherry to Bordeaux to Port and it seemed there was something for everyone.

First in the line-up was the Laphroaig 16yo 2001 from OMC 50% - start as you mean to continue I thought as I poured them out, and this whisky was truly a fine yardstick against which the others were measured. Finishing third overall - this was the ashen remains of a toffee-apple fallen into a bonfire somewhere on a beach in Islay.

Next was the Caol Ila Signatory 2009 8yo UCF 46%, a curious, sweet everyperson whisky, in many respects, one to quaff whilst watching the news after work perhaps, but it was easily outmuscled by the more aggressive, cask influenced, bigger peat numbers on display and finished last.

Third in the line-up was our mystery - or mysteries I should say on this occasion (more on that later) and which completed an opening trio of more conventional peat - lighter in colour and unmistakably Islay. Then things got darker - in every respect.

The Elements of Islay Bw7 and Ledaig Gordon & Macphail 2004/2017 56.6% vied for 1st and 2nd over the two nights but were polar opposites - the Bw7 a silky sweet and complex sherried number - reminiscent of a pair of freshly polished Italian leather shoes on the console of a Rolls Royce (something we're all familiar with) and the Ledaig a grunty, earthy, dirtier whisky, tasted from a glencairn pulled from the coffee cup holder above an ashtray on the console of an old Holden. Glorious stuff with everything you'd want from a glass of peat.

Then came the Ballechin 'Staight From The Cask' 2005 11yo Bordeaux 53.4%, with its red berry wine notes and sour cherries, and which divided the room (there's always one). Was it disgusting or disgustingly good? I didn't like it, I loved it (!) as much as I did the Oamaruvian, of which it reminded me! Finished 5th.

And that leaves one - the Glendronach Peated Port Finish 46%. Leave the best to last as some people say, but people can be wrong. A Glendronach fan amongst us visibly wept at the thought of it, but it's fair to say, you don't really go Glen-d for peat or port! That said, it really grew on me over the two nights, another everyday whisky to sip in the bath after a long day at work - but finished 7th.

So, those of you with an eye for detail would have noticed a whisky placing last and another placing 7th, which is fairly atypical in a lineup of seven, but easily explained by the mystery of the mysteries. A $400 whisky no less, that on the first night silenced the room as we all cogitated its splendour, but on the second night had us struggling for words. Both were 20 year old Laphroaigs from Adelphi distilled in 1996, but coming from two different casks they were remarkably different. Monday night's weighed in at 57%, was buxom and full with a remarkable depth of flavour and some real grunt. Tuesday's, coming in at 54%, was lighter and more savoury, with a certain elegance for sure, but not showing the complexity of its predecessor.

I'd love to say that this had been an intentional examination into the implications of single casks, but it was actually a balls up - and looking at the packaging (see the image on the blog front), you can see how it came about. However, this serendipitous error did provide a perfect example of why the cask is so important, and why, whenever you can, it is great to taste before you buy.


Write up from Daniel's Mystery tastings on July 2 and 3 coming soon...

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