Remember back at school when you didn't get picked for the footie or netball team, and your mum said to you, “Don’t worry darling - you have strengths in other areas"? Well, this tasting was exactly that, a bunch of geeky whiskies with strength of flavour, not ABV, showing brain, not braun, and a slight naivety befitting their young age. And then the 24yo Balblair stepped into the mix and bullied them all into submission, stole their pocket money (whilst smoking a fag) and got picked for the Best of the Best footie team in the same instance.
Someone has to lose these tastings, (gosh that sounds like my mum too!) and on this occasion it was the Fettercairn - its rubbery, struck match nose, leather and pepper proving a tad too much for many, but for me its undisclosed wine barrel influence (that could literally be anything from Liebfraumilch to Pedro Jimenez?!) had given it grunt, texture and spice, and was that a hint of perplexing peat in the mix too??
6th, 5th and 4th place were taken by the Glenlivet, Mortlach and Manochmore respectively, three subtle and similarly minded whiskies that certainly demanded thought, and there was nothing between them in the scores. Interestingly, the seven whiskies were poured in different orders across the two nights, and yet the scores remained remarkably similar, and four whiskies placed identically at the two tastings. Proof that Wellington really does have a collective palate perhaps?
Third was our mystery, on this occasion the 14 Year Old Balvenie Caribbean Cask - a rum chap if ever there were and which had everyone in suspense until the reveal.
Second was my favourite of the night, the 1997 Imperial - made a century after the distillery was opened and the year before it was mothballed (it is now the site of Dalmunach Distillery – have a look at it online, it’s a beautiful building). As befitting a ghost distillery, this was a haunting mouthful of softly fruited sherry, like silk on the palate. Say what you will about cask strength whiskies, but sometimes there's absolutely nothing better than that the palate caressing feel of a perfectly balanced 43% whisky.
And that brings us to the winner. A 49.6% whisky masquerading as a standard strength - the big kid at the toddler’s party that knocks the little-uns off the bouncy castle leaving them crying on the floor. But what a dram - ginger, molasses, sherry, leather and burnt Seville oranges, cut and dried, placed in a tea bag and left to steep for just too long. Marvelous stuff - just hope I can find three bottles for best of the best*!
How they placed...
1) Balblair Gordon & Macphail 1993/2017 49.6% 700ml
2) Imperial Gordon & Macphail 1997/201743% 700ml
3) Balvenie 14 Yo Caribbean Cask 43%
4) Mannochmore Gordon & Macphail 1996/2017 46% - Available in store
5) Mortlach Gordon & Macphail 15yo 43% - Available in store
6) Signatory Glenlivet 2007 10 Yo 46% - Available in store
7) Hepburn's Choice Fettercairn 9yo 46 - Available in store
*Not looking good - anyone got three spare bottles??