On the eve of the Whiskybase 2017 Gathering event, Malt found itself in a distant land, surrounded by foreigners, being served a strange cuisine but united by a love of whisky.
The whisky dinner was an instant sell-out with other events over the subsequent 24 hours following suit. With a limited number of 30 places available and featuring whiskies from such fallen greats of Brora – does that count now? – Linlithgow, Glenury Royal and Port Ellen – hey this was meant to be a closed tasting! Damn Diageo and their resurrection plans putting a devilish spin on the menu. I demand a refund.
If you cannot trust a corporate giant nowadays to bulldoze closed distilleries into oblivion what hope is left? The final candidates of the forthcoming Time Team television series entitled Distillery Closures Based Upon Knee-jerk Reactions & Spreadsheets will have to wait a little longer.
Meanwhile in the land of the current, or the Kaapse Maria in Rotterdam to be more precise, a group of enthusiasts from far and wide had 2 hours to break down barriers, rekindle or establish new friendships and line the stomach with Dutch Asian fusion cuisine. Yes, I attended but still couldn’t tell you where the venue is exactly – not too far from my hotel thankfully – or what I was eating. Yes, I was very much a stranger in Rotterdam. All I had to my name were a couple of bottles, a badly packed suitcase, an ancient offline Toshiba notebook and various slices of pizza – sustained in plastic containers.
This intimate meal was thankfully not a whisky and food-pairing concept, as the drams themselves deserved to take centre stage without the distraction of a smear on the plate or foam. Whilst this was a refined affair, immediately after the meal, there was the looming prospect of a bring your own bottle event that had no end time. This allowed the conversation to continue, buoyed by those who had also arrived in Rotterdam, but did not secure a ticket for the opening meal. Needless to say, as a representative of Malt, best behaviour was adopted and without the infamous Tormore4 in attendance, there were no distractions, or Dave as he’s known.
The meal itself marked the arrival of the 2017 incarnation of the Gathering, organised by the virtual library that is Whiskybase. Whilst the main event kicked off the following day tantalisingly laced with a series of special tastings – another article will follow – this meal was a more relaxed and chilled affair to slowly slip yourself into a weekend of whisky discoveries.
Glenury Royal 1973 31 year old – review
Distilled on 21st June 1973 before being bottled on 19th January 2005. This sherry hogshead cask number 6859, resulted in an outturn of 211 bottles at a strength of 50.6%.
Colour: Dutch hay.
On the nose: those familiar characteristics of minerals and struck flint. Dried banana chips, vanilla, Maltesers and meringues follow. Returning, there’s a touch of smoke, sea shells and milk chocolate. On the fringes the bite of alcohol and elements of toffee with an oily quality.
In the mouth: a bizarre assortment of sour green apples followed by a burst of pineapple sweetness and a creamy vanilla toffee. There’s a light cheese and elements of oddly of cauliflower before peppered orange steps in. For this dram I did avoid the food but there’s no denying the flavours from this whisky were unusual but wonderfully so – a classic lost style.
Linlithgow 1975 29 year old – review
Distilled on 2nd June 1975 before being bottled on 19th January 2005. Matured in a hogshead cask number 96/3/38 this resulted in an outturn of 343 bottles at 48.7% strength.
Colour: a light haze.
On the nose: very light and floral with a delicate caramel but mostly its dominated by the new make spirit itself. Wood chips, vanilla and a sugary lime with a touch aniseed. After time the remnants in the glass smelled great.
In the mouth: more of that spirit focus again with minimal influence from the cask itself. Almonds and a herbal freshness, light toffee, a floral nature and peanuts rounded off by a short finish.
Port Ellen 1979 24 year old – review
Distilled on 16th November 1979 then bottled on 7th October 2004 at 56.8% strength. This was from a sherry butt number 6773 and an outturn of 541 bottles.
Colour: a weathered brick.
On the nose: it’s a sweet peat that rises from the glass thankfully. Not the harsh, crazed and uncontrollable peat you sometimes stumble upon with this distillery. An oily brine, salted peanuts and that coastal rock pool marriage of aromas. Salted caramel, almonds with a touch of rubber and liquorice all flow with a lingering memory of aniseed.
In the mouth: not as robust as anticipated with more delicate notes initially before the saltiness steps in and then the peat towards the finish. Strands of chocolate, candy floss, charcoal and roasted coffee with hazelnuts and a prickly nature.
Brora 1981 22 year old – review
Distilled on 8th December 1981 and bottled on 6th October 2004, this sherry butt #1561 resulted in an outturn of 611 bottles at 56.4% strength.
On the nose: worn leather combines nicely with dried apricot. Then there’s a seasonal orange dark chocolate with honey and Lucozade, dried kindling and a touch of smoke.
In the mouth: very tangy with almonds, honeycomb and the peat coming through nicely. More of the oranges and apricots with that leathery aspect and a touch of salt.
The food quite rightly faded into the shadows and let the whisky steal the show. A very enjoyable quartet of whiskies that served up a treat for those who attended the event. The Brora was interesting but as is such the case with these distillates towards the end of its original lifespan, it lacks the glory of the early 1970’s legendary whiskies. Ultimately it is more cask than Brora. The Port Ellen was better than expected and very drinkable, whereas the Linlithgow was the weakest of the bunch and more spirit-natured than expected. My own favourite remains the mineral and old school natured Glenury Royal.
This tasting was the gateway to a remarkable evening. When visitors from afar joined us after the last dram to open up their own whiskies and further exploration commenced. Whilst the downstairs bar offered a refreshing selection of locally brewed beers, upstairs malts of various ages and styles were consumed, conversations and new friendships were being created. The Gathering had indeed arrived in town.
Apologies for the quality of photographs within this article as the venue was very dark and our official photographer was distracted.