With a slight warning of rain the bravery of holding an event outdoors in Scotland always comes hand in hand with risk. Thankfully the Saturday skies cleared over Edinburgh and the Solstice kicked off at noon with a solid attendance and plenty to experience.
You know when you’ve had enjoyable day when you look back and suddenly realise you didn’t take many photographs. Literally from entering the Whisky Solstice event on Queen Street Gardens with a group of new friends including Linh who had been cartwheeling around distilleries for the past month, any plans soon went out the window. It turned out to be a reunion of old friends, colleagues and those familiar faces that you couldn’t remember at which tasting you had met them before. Yet met them you had, and over a dram barriers come crashing down and the good times roll.
I’ve been to quite a few whisky events as living near Edinburgh its a hotbed of all things whisky. The Whisky Lounge had teamed up with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) to put together an event that I felt offered a little more relaxation and class than the annual scrummage that is the Whisky Fringe. I actually enjoyed talking to some of the stallholders about their whiskies and what was in the pipeline – at some events this just isn’t possible – with the sheer number in search of a dram. A high level of manners and appreciation was also on display during the marquee event, which was welcome and added to the vibe.
The event offered a good mix of established distilleries such as Ardbeg, Loch Lomond, Springbank and independent bottlers like Gordon & MacPhail, A.D. Rattray, Berry Brothers & Rudd. Chivas, Amurt, Compass Box were also in attendance, as was upcoming R&B Distillers with Tweeddale, then retailers and auction houses such as Just Whisky and Scotch Whisky Auctions. If I did have a criticism it was the marque event was open for just 5 hours and if you had booked a masterclass then your time here was very limited.
Speaking of which the main attraction in my book was the opportunity to go through 6 whiskies from the SMWS archives with none other than Charlie Maclean himself. I was quite excited as this was my first tasting with the ‘whisky legend’, who offered an insight into the foundation and development of the society. I don’t think he had tried the 6 drams in advance so it was something new for all of us.
Priced at just £15 per person you’d struggle to get a single dram from this range at that price; if you could find a bottle. As it turned out we were going back in time.
Dram 1: 25.47 (Rosebank)
Title: Wakens the taste buds
Distilled: April 1989
Age: 19 years old
Outturn: 256 bottles
A fine way to kick off a tasting with the classic Lowland distillery. Sadly I found this Rosebank a little disappointing, as I always compare it now to the fabulous George Strachan bottling. It lacked the charismatic fruity notes with a more mineral and artificial package.
Dram 2: 91.17 (Dufftown)
Title: A game of two halves
Distilled: October 1992
Age: 9 years old
Outturn: 596 bottles
From a sherry butt (refill most certainly) that had given this youngster a little more complexity than expected. Set the tone for the next dram.
Dram 3: 58.8 (Strathisla)
Title: Sid Viscous
Distilled: June 1977
Age: 28 years old
Outturn: 292 bottles
A well aged Strathisla that was a treat and probably one of my favourites from the whole event. Lacking that harsh rough edge I associated with the staple whisky from the distillery today; despite the name of bottle itself!
Dram 4: 64.55 (Mannochmore)
Title: A sultry soiree
Distilled: 14 February 1991
Age: 24 years old
Outturn: 173 bottles
A creamy sweetie of a nose and thoroughly enjoyable to spend time with. I felt the actual taste itself couldn’t match that first impression. Perhaps this is the sweet spot age for the distillery?
Dram 5: 125.68 (Glenmorangie)
Title: A tale of two ladies
Distilled: 30 June 2004
Age: 9 years old
Outturn: 201 bottles
Well, those men of Tain may have faded away in the marketing literature but they did know how to make a good whisky. This was universally praised and just blew the 10 year old out of the water. I quite enjoyed seeing Glenmorangie in its natural form with added colouring or fancy cask finishes. Dr Bill should consider giving us more cask strength without tinkering.
Dram 6: 86.4 (Glen Esk/Hillside)
Title: The nose is malty and rich
Distilled: January 1981
Age: 11 years
Perhaps the best till last and surprisingly drinkable at this strength. I only took a spare sample container into the tasting and this was the one I saved for a full review. Ideally I should have taken in at least 3 more to sit back and truly experience these drams. So expect this Glen Esk to appear in due course and it’ll be worth the wait.
After the tasting and a refreshment in the SMWS bar, we were prepared for the Feis Ile 2015 tasting that was almost a sell out at £30 a ticket. Such is the fashion with whisky and all things Islay; I knew deep down that it’d take something special to overcome the standard set at the previous tasting.
Dram 1: Laphroaig Cairdeas 200th Anniversary Edition
I really enjoyed this more traditional Laphroaig which was more toned down than I expected but a trade off with complexity soon unfolded. Fingers crossed I manage to get a bottle in the lottery.
Dram 2: Ardbeg Perpetuum Distillery Release
Very disappointing and for a 200th anniversary I was expected more of a celebration and showcase than this bottle. A real shame really.
Dram 3: Caol Ila
Another strong example with a variety of casks used although the 2013 edition still ranks as the benchmark in my small black book.
Dram 4: Kilchoman 10th Anniversary
Not bad at all and showing some maturity at last so one to track down given the opportunity.
Dram 5: Lagavulin 1991
Ok, probably the favourite of the group who really seemed to love their Islay whiskies. A tough contender and 24 years of age a treat with more complexity and memorable features than the staple dram. One to saviour although I keep thinking about the Laphroaig!
The final dram was the SMWS bottling of the Bowmore which I’ve reviewed previously right here. A decent dram but given a couple more years we’d be talking! After all this whisky, we headed back to the main area to go round the remainder of the stalls and spend those tokens. Overall the 2015 Solstice was a great event, full of fine drams and enjoyable company.