Now into their 3rd whisky tasting of 2017, these monthly Cadenhead tastings situated in the quaint Edinburgh shop are turning into a phenomenon and almost as popular as the whisky outturns themselves. The spiral of addiction kicked off with the inaugural Burn’s Night Tasting which featured some memorable drams and February witnessed the Odd Squad of Old but Gold whiskies that constituted 224 years of whisky.
No wonder these tastings are proving popular with just 12 places available each month and names for this March event having to be drawn out of a hat. I promise I won’t be able to attend each and everyone, but that’s the hat-trick already netted. They do represent a tough ordeal to write up and restrain myself from actually tasting the whiskies in the store, as they are smuggled home for proper review. At £35 it’s well worth the entry price if you’re fortunate enough to receive a golden ticket.
Thankfully the April tasting has just been announced and is at a new venue allowing 40 souls to venture into the realm of greatness that is Springbank distillery. That’s all the team has revealed for April’s event and I’m sure it’ll be fantastic, but I’ll be on Speyside in a pub somewhere with #TheTomore4 for their whisky festival, so duty calls. A break in May means that I should continue with the tastings (if picked) into June and beyond, so if you’re going to the Springbank spectacular do enjoy.
Sadly, for this Coastal Carnival the live music was pulled due to a busted fiddle and without a banjo to hand, it granted attendees more time to discuss general whisky matters. My own palate was ruined by a cold so I restrained from trying the whiskies until now. As always this tasting was made up of Cadenhead releases with an exclusive one-off bottling straight from the Campbeltown warehouse selected by the fine hand of Mark Watt himself. Plus, a mystery heavily peated whisky from Scotland’s greatest (if not the world’s) distillery, which can only be Springbank, as Tormore doesn’t produce such a type of spirit. The theme for March was a coastal vibe and being an island, surrounded by islands or isles if you prefer, Scotland has plenty to offer. Without further ado let’s start the voyage of discovery across another Cadenhead tasting.
Pulteney 2006 11-year-old
From a single bourbon cask, bottled at 56.1% in Spring 2017 with an outturn of 294 bottles and part of the Authentic Collection.
Colour: Tesco white grapes
Nose: very spirit based with limes and a little mint with icing sugar. This dissolves into homemade tablet, wall putty and a vanilla tea.
Taste: slightly more chunky flavours on the palate with caramel, more vanilla tea, white chocolate and some aniseed balls. Fennel, candy floss and let’s say a chalky mineral aspect appear. The finish has the flurry of salt that has been missing throughout.
Overall: a solid starter dram, or aperitif for those with classy ambitions. It’s appearance just showed how much colouring goes into the official equivalent at 12 years of age. It set the tone and we’re about to head south then with…
Bunnahabhain 1989 26-year-old
From a single bourbon hogshead, bottled at 45.9% and an outturn of 246 bottles forming part of the Authentic Collection.
Colour: sun bleached builders sand
Nose: clearly a lightly peated Bunnahabhain as you’re only picking up the residue of the peat mixed in with juicy fruits and vanilla essence. A light smoke mixed in with Caramac, white grapes and apples with all-spice towards the end.
Taste: again there’s a lightness of the peat, a waft of smoke and then a black breakfast tea. There’s a flow and stylish presence to this. A hint of sea salt, with vanilla and charred wood with a flint-like finish.
Overall: this reminded me of an old style whisky where the wood has taken a back seat to the maturation and nature has taken over without any turbo charged wood or time constraints. The end result is an elegant lightness and simple array of flavours, but wonderfully layered and divided.
Bowmore 2002 14-year-old
From a single bourbon hogshead, bottled at 53.7% and an outturn of 276 bottles and part of the Authentic Collection.
Colour: apple juice
Nose: a sweet peat with coastal influences, some bacon fat that moves into a buttery quality and lemons. Green tea, grapefruit, toasted brown bread and a spent matchstick.
Taste: smoky with a delicate vegetative peat layer, pronounced rock salt and a putty doughy quality. Caramel, blood orange and a descending ash cloud.
Overall: it’s clearly from Islay but I would have suspected another distillery apart from Bowmore, it’s rugged and uncompromising, a real surprise and I like.
Tobermory 1995 21-year-old
A vatting of two bourbon hogsheads, bottled at 52.5% and an outturn of 450 bottles as part of the Small Batch series.
Nose: sea salt with pine cones and a resin-like quality. Banana chips, a little caramel followed by cinnamon bark and a fleeting dried strawberry aroma. Water brings out pancake batter and floral characteristics.
Taste: an ashy, black pepper and cardamom assortment prevails. Golden syrup, more pine nuts and resinous character. White grapes, a touch of lemon sharpness and a dirty vanilla quality.
Overall: a running joke sometimes with Tobermory is that is can be a little dull but when they accidently forget to clean the stills after producing Ledaig, it’s a different matter. I wasn’t blown away by this fella, but for Tobermory it’s pretty good.
Highland Park 1988 28-year-old
From a single Port hogshead, bottled at 49.6% with an outturn of 222 bottles and part of the Wood Range Wine Cask releases.
Colour: a sliced apple exposed to oxygen
Nose: very reddish and sweet fruity arrival with cherries, marzipan, rose hip and rubbed brass. Caramel and vanilla icing with coconut flakes. Then barbecued pineapple, heather and sage; so quite an interesting one to nose!
Taste: the palate in comparison feels less detailed, water I found it beneficial. There’s pears and more of the coconut and more gentle cherries. An old oak taste, blackberries, cranberries and a light leathery taste followed by a dry finish.
Overall: an interesting Highland Park, with an array of flavour thanks to the Port Cask mainly. It’s coastal in a sense but I felt the cask had remove any nautical element the distillery may have originally offered.
Now for the 2 surprise whiskies…
Straight from the Campbeltown warehouse, a bourbon cask from New Zealand (Lark distillery) distilled 24th November 2000 and bottled 7th March 2017 at 51%.
Colour: birch wood
Nose: strawberries with apples, Kiwi fruit and a little melon so it’s quite the fruit basket. Certainly not one I’d pick out as a Springbank lacking the diesel earthy qualities I appreciate. Figs and syrup combine and there’s a Tweed dampness underneath providing more substance. Creamy to a certain degree, returning pineapple and a buttered toast dimension.
Taste: odd in a way as it reminds me of a wine cask finish, it has that texture and presence. Fruits galore again with more Kiwi, grapes, pears and lychees. Quite malty with some fruit loaf spicing to hand. Ashy towards the end with a little cinnamon bark as well.
Overall: it’s Springbank Jim, but not as we know it. A bit reminiscent of that bonkers Springbank Rum Cask from the Cage I reviewed earlier this year. It just shows how a cask to distort or enhance the spirit depending on your point of view. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent whisky and very drinkable but misses the essence of what makes Springbank great.
Longrow from the Tasting Room
From one of the shop casks in Campbeltown, this was bottled on 20th March 2017 at 56% strength.
Colour: barley sweets
Nose: an earthy peat that is swamped immediately by juicy fruits and a sticky orange marmalade. Honey follows and lemon with a little menthol. Spent gunpowder, a decaying element and liquorice.
Taste: now the peat takes over with forthright earthy authority and a peppery finish. It’s not an overly sweet peat such as you sometimes seen in Caol Ila, but there is some sugar within as toffee apples, some basil and mint fighting to be noticed and a dry note on the finish.
Overall: the most coastal and peaty of the whiskies tonight, does a fine job by loading up on the coastal characteristics. Not greatly detailed, but Longrow delivers and you’d quite easily reach for another.
As for my own favourites this evening it’s actually going to be between the Bunnahabhain and the Bowmore. I own a bottle of the Bowmore and this will allow me to give this distillery another chance; I’ve found the official bottlings rather disappointing in recent times, but you can rely on Cadenheads to release a good ‘un. Enjoy the April tasting if you’re going.