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Whiskybase Gathering 2018 Dinner

The last 12 months have been a relentless journey. The rise of this website in prominence, respect and collating a wonderful team. An avalanche of feedback in all shapes and forms. From all angles combined with messages of support from far and wide.

Standing outside the Kaapse Maria in Rotterdam on a very pleasant October evening, underlined the cyclical nature of life and whisky. Can it be only a year since I last visited this thriving port city for the Whiskybase Gathering? And specifically, this venue for a memorable dinner and closed distillery tasting last year?

You forget the little details over time, which erodes the high definition. An inviting local beer selection and the rickety spiral staircase that leads to the bar downstairs. The sloping floor that feels like an uphill struggle to reach the other end of the room. What never fades is the generosity of the organisers and attendees when it comes to the BYOB event that immediately follows the tasting and dinner.

To kick off the evening and weekend, we had 4 whiskies distilled in the 1960’s or prior. Exceptionally rare whiskies it must be said, candidates rarely opened and experienced. A handful of bottles not even reviewed on the virtual library that is Whiskybase itself. Echoes of the past only appearing as ghostly entries, lacking member ratings, until now that is…

These bottled enigmas explain the running order, as the team had to guess the schedule and print off the tasting sheets in advance. The Glen Albyn, for instance, is sherried, but no one knew this until the seal was broken. Typical Cadenhead’s statements on the label offered no clues whatsoever. Our table felt the Highland Park was the likely tasting opener upon deliberation, as it felt underpowered compared to the trio that surrounded and ultimately engulfed the wee Viking. They all added up to an evening of conversation and the solving of mysteries.

This particular event was an instant sell-out with tickets costing 125 Euros. This might sound like a high price to some, but just consider the whiskies below. The food was enjoyable, yet attendees hadn’t come from all corners of the globe just for solid cuisine. No, we had a strong contingent from all over Europe, Canada and the Far East. Here to celebrate the Whiskybase Gathering weekend, friendships and the universal appeal of whisky.

Cadenhead’s Bladnoch 1958 – review

Bottled at 34 years of age at 43.5% strength this Cadenhead’s is certainly the oldest Bladnoch in terms of distillation that I’ve experienced.

Colour: Butter.

On the nose: Caramelised apples hint at the Lowland fruits. A fleeting floral note with wine gums, a gentle orange marmalade, vanilla caramel, a plastic aspect and a touch of smoke. Our table agreed on the presence of celery and Michael hit the nail on the head by suggesting an old woollen blanket that gives it a comforting, dusty and woolly characteristic. A nose that smothers you to a certain extent, with a pleasing waxy note that you can just return to again and again.

In the mouth: A lovely vanilla arrival that just keeps building throughout into golden syrup, raw almonds and a sooty nature. Underpinned by the touch of smoke that lingers captivatingly beyond the surprisingly bitter finish itself. This is a dusty dram where you can taste the decades of maturation and inactivity.

Score: 8/10

Cadenhead’s Glen Albyn 1966 – review

A classic dumpy, bottled at 18 years of age and the traditional 46% strength.

Colour: Mahogany.

On the nose: Gorgeous layers of sherry indeed but I’m drawn into all by the hot chocolate powder. A pleasing dryness and that chocolate richness followed by caramel wafers or Stroopwafels seeing we’re in the Netherlands. Laziness I should just say Christmas cake and move on, or fruit loaf. A drawer full of spices and handfuls of dried fruits and a level of sweetness suggestive of rum. Just gorgeous.

In the mouth: Bitter and sweet. A great Spanish sherry cask when these beasts truly were let out of the country. A rich dark chocolate moves into dried fruits, cinnamon bark, orange peel, liquorice, cola cubes and just a meandering finish with notes of fudge, worn leather and smoke. What’s also noticeable is how punchy it is at a reduced strength of 46%. This Glen Albyn has so much to say and I’m listening intently. The bitterness towards the finish was a minus point to some attendees, but we’re really trying to find a weakness here.

Score: 9/10

Highland Park 1967 – review

Bottled at 24 years old this is the only official release and has been reduced to 43% strength, which shows.

Colour: Vanilla sponge.

On the nose: Maltesers, caramel and wheat. Drop scones and orange sherbet, with more cereal and syrup notes. A gentle smokiness with honeycomb and bitter dark chocolate.

In the mouth: Very flat. More cereals and a pleasant texture but not too much definition. Caramel, worn leather and orange notes that hint at marmalade before an element of peat steps in. Pleasant and very drinkable but somewhat thin.

Score: 7/10

Cadenhead’s Bow Street 1963 – review

Bottled aged 27 years old with a mind boggling 68.1% strength.

Colour: Treacle.

On the nose: Raw power. Burnt brown sugar mixed with cinnamon bark, autumnal vegetation and beef stock. Treacle most certainly followed by blackberry jam and Kendal mint cake. A chocolate spread, cardamon, dried fruits and Lapsang souchong tea with a hint of diesel on the end.

In the mouth: A lovely texture with a luxurious silky definition. That’s an impressive first impression before the aggressive cask takes a firm grip. Surprisingly drinkable at this strength. Plenty of red fruits, burnt toast, roasted coffee beans and tobacco. Sticky toffee pudding to a degree with dates and a rum-like intensity. A true sherry monster that so happens to be from the extremely rare Old Jameson Distillery that closed in the early 1970’s.

Score: 7/10

Conclusions

The Bladnoch is a timely reminder of what the distillery can do, or did in the eyes of many. I still lament the passing of the joyous cattle labels and the roller coaster experience within the bottle. The Bladnoch is a refined gentleman, much like Mark with his Tweed accessories, confidently strutting about like a peacock. A classy dram, full of self-confidence.

That Glen Albyn was a privilege. A dram that takes you back in time to Inverness and this lost distillery that was a neighbour to Glen Mhor. Both incredibly classy distilleries in their own right. The moment is tinged with sadness with the recollection that they are no more. Whiskies such as this are liquid history and their enduring legacy.

The Highland Park as previously mentioned would have been the star attraction in many other tastings. Here it just feels flaccid and ineffective against more natural i.e. cask strength and untouched whiskies. Then the Irish, I mean what can you say about that dram? A real talking piece from an assortment of angles and I doubt I’ll ever have the chance to try such a whisky again; a unicorn whisky that so happens to be a sherry monster. A fitting end to a marvellous evening and the opening event to a remarkable weekend in Rotterdam.

Remember you can read our scoring guide.

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