So there I am at the Whisky Show, and it’s the sharp end of day three and I’m nearly whiskied out.
My three-day innings (longer than England’s cricketers seem to manage) has seen me knock up a tally of 160-odd (that’s not far off what England manage either). In amongst that there have been some pretty impressive pours.
Craigellachie 31 stands out. So does the Convalmore from Diageo’s Special Releases. The BTAC and Van Winkles might not be as good as in previous years, but you’d still not kick them out of bed, and the Balcones table has absolutely blown it away. Chichibu’s right up there; there are some cracking indie bottling knocking about. Oh, and that Macallan that Mark likes. I like it too.
A solid handful of what would be comfortable 8s and 9s then, were I to scribble them up here. And now I’m at the Millstone table, at that stage of the weekend when my palate’s just about ticking over, but I’ve tasted most of what I’d come to taste. I know Millstone fairly well; I’m sort of tasting them again for the sake of it.
A couple of decent single malts. 6s and 7s really. They’re nice. That 100 Rye. That’s nice too. They’re nice whiskies, the Millstones.
At which point the brand ambassador brings another bottle out from under the table.
Millstone 1996 American Oak Single Malt. Special #12 (20 years old, single cask)
Colour: Deep bronze
On the nose: A mixture of the sweet and the sharp. Orange rind, pineapple, lime and passionfruit. A fruity number all-in-all, tempered by brown sugar, cigar and saddle leather. A little beeswax too. Nice intensity; alcohol completely non-intrusive.
In the mouth: Sweet. Baby. Jesus. Where to start with this? Coconut perhaps, with lashings of sweet spice; cinnamon and a little nutmeg. Then, as a supercar roars from 0-60, a pulse (and I do mean a pulse; like a whole separate beat from the first wave of flavour) of lychee and mango and apricot. Then a third wave crashes over; the tropical fruit again, but seemingly caramelised this time, and crusted with deep muscovado. Like a viognier-gewürztraminer hybrid plus citrus treacle and little flashes of cinnamon and pine. And that’s not to mention the unctuous, waxy texture – straight out of good 60s/70s era Scotch’s playbook. The pulses fade eventually. But they take their sweet time doing so. What a palate. What a palate.
As soon as I’d tasted this at the show I went looking for my friend. He was about to leave, but I dragged him back in. He’s perhaps the biggest bourbon-head I know, at a show where bourbon performed superbly. This was his pour of the weekend. He bought a bottle the next week. As did I, with money I’d put aside month-by-month all year for BTAC. At £170 it’s the most I’ve spent on a bottle for myself. It is also worth every penny.
I’ve shared this (reluctantly) with a few people now, and the reaction has all been the same. Waves of flavour. My non-whisky-drinking housemate had a sip. “Pulses,” she said, without any prompting from me.
I don’t understand how this whisky does it. Its complexity is so far beyond what a single cask should achieve. Those pulses of flavour are like nothing I’ve tasted in the thousands of whiskies that have made their way past the gate of my teeth in the last two-three years. What’s mesmerising is that each beat comes back as loudly as – if not more loudly than – the one before it. It is probably the best thing I’ve tasted this year. It is, quite simply, astonishing.
All the more astonishing because, as the brand ambassador told me, Zuidam had only really just started with whisky back in 1996. They were using pretty much whatever casks they could get their hands on. I imagine many of them were of pretty manky quality. But somewhere, nestled in their warehouse for 20 years, they had this.
Here’s a trade secret for you. I wrote the Malt scoring bands. I did so because I wasn’t sure about doing scoring. I didn’t know whether I could stick numbers on a whisky without framing them in context.
I’ve been looking back over them after tasting this Millstone a couple of times, and having written my note from the bottle I bought. In the context of what this whisky delivers; in the context of the stunning whiskies it utterly outclassed that weekend at the Whisky Show, and in the context of what it does every time I return to my bottle – now being jealously eked out as slowly as I can – this is the easiest score I’ve had to assign.
“Mind-bendingly brilliant. Whisky almost has no business being this good. An absolute must-taste. To expect more would be soulless and churlish.”