| Racks of SMWS goodies |
Breakfast doesn't start until 9am, and it's a beautiful, if chilly, morning, so clearly a pre-Breakfast ride is called for - down to the Water of Leith and then along the road until it hits the coast for a few pictures. Back along the Leith cycleway - a fairly new stretch of cycle route connecting Leith Links to one of the old railways, which had an elevated passage through Leith. This involved the rebuilding of a bridge over Seafield Place which was completed last year. A hearty breakfast to set me up for the coming whiskying - no haggis, but pretty much everything else.
By the time I'm ready to go it's 11am, so no real time for anything but to get to the Hub, but as my preferred route is up Easter Road and then a steady progress up the Royal Mile from Holyrood, it would be rude not not to say hi to Mark and Neil at Cadenheads - who have to work all day and can't get to the festival!
There are plenty of railings up by the top of the hill to park the bike, and only about ten minutes to wait for the start of the festival, and I find myself at the head of the queue, with Steve, who was in Cadenheads when I arrived there, and has 3 rooms of whisky at home - and a video to proove it.
First in, so take a few pictures to start, with a BBR Littlemill to accompany me. @Rockyajl has been left to run the stall on his own today. The Whisky Lounge stall has a few gems, and I spot a bottle of Midleton's Barry Crockett - the best pot still whiskey I've ever tasted, and persuade Eddie that as a valued customer he should let me have a dram for a white token - after all I'm probably the only punter to have been in Brighton and Edinburgh (er.. this doesn't mean I'm a groupie, does it?)
I can't remember all the drams I had, and I don't obsessively make a note of everything - it would take the fun out if it - OK I do keep a log of SMWS bottlings, but you have to to keep track of all those numbers...
So to the highlights, in no particular order:
Kilchoman - the quality of the spirit's has improved dramatically recently - whether that's just because it's older or because they managed to lure John McLellan from Bunnahabhain - the new sherry cask Loch Gorm complements the Machir Bay and 100% Islay - it's difficult to choose a favourite.
Macallan - they're sharing a stall with Highland Park, Ardmore, Laphroaig and Glenrothes - almost a whisky festival in itself. It's the first time I've seen the whole new colour coded range (the 1824 series all matured in ex-sherry oak) - indeed the official launch is imminent. Gold - the replacement for 12yo, I've tried before and wasn't too impressed - have to say my verdict hasn't changed, but now on to the others - Amber (not to be confused with Macallan Amber Liqueur, now discontinued) - this is mainly matured in American Sherry Oak, and doesn't exhibit the rich fruit cake flavours often associated with sherry maturation - initially it' s good, some vanilla there, but then there's the finish. Oh dear! Sulphur, sulphur, sulphur. Like a bad Glendronach from a couple of years ago - it literally leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The guy on the stall asks where I get this sulphur from - I don;t know it it really tastes like sulphur - I've never tasted sulphur and never want to - but that's how this taste has been described by many others. I don't like it, I'll never buy it - pity as it started out so well. Sienna, I don't really remember too much about, so I guess it's best described as inoffensive but unremarkable. Ruby (Ruby, Ruby, as the Kaiser Chiefs would sing - it was on the radio at breakfast this morning), is the oldest of this no age statement range (if that makes sense), it's also the darkest and most expensive, and demanded a white token at the show. It's also the best of the range, bringing out the rich fruity flavours you'd expect from sherry casks - without that sulphur, which I may have mentioned earlier, but I do feel it could have been better if bottled at a bit more than 43%. Overall I can't say I'm impressed by the Macallan switch to NAS.
Talisker - well it was a Diageo stall really, but the backdrop was Talisker so was the front labelling, the staff were all wearing Talisker shirts, and it was the newly released Talisker Port Ruighe that was the real attraction. Port Ruighe is an older name for Portree, the main town on Talisker's home the Isle of Skye, and it's a Port finish. The port is subtle here - Talisker is a powerful spirit after all - but there's a hint of jam to sweeten the pepperiness, this could work well - requires more research! Still not too sure about these NAS ranges, but Talisker have the advantage over Macallan at this stage..
Highland Park - I've tasted the 21yo before and a revisit doesn't disappoint, but it's the new Loki that I'm here for. Forget the fancy packaging (and the £130 price tag, if you can), this is a great whisky - 15yo 46.8% - and every added drop of water brings out more of its character.
Compass Box - fortunately Lili has recovered from her tour of SMWS venues and is on good form as are the whiskies. The Entertainer is a stand out, though it's a Selfridge's exclusive, with the price tag you'd expect as a result. Hedonism is as ever pure Compass Box genius - and has done a lot to popularise Single Grain whisky - despite being a blend of two single grains itself.
Back to the BBR stand for some Girvan and Tormore, plus of course my favourite liqueur, the King's Ginger. Ginger I love, ginger flavoured drinks - beer, ale wine - no thank you. Liqueurs - too sweet and cloying. But a couple of year's ago, Rocky (or it may have been Doug or Rob) convinced me I should try it - you should too. Unlike most (all?) other liqueurs it's as strong as a whisky - 41%. I don't buy liqueurs. I've bought at least two bottles of King's Ginger. (OK to be fair the Loch Fyne Liqueur is also good - but it's not gingery and it's only 40% ABV).
The best of the rest? Bowmore Tempest batch 4, when it finally arrived - I'd enquired about it earlier but they didn't have it. I think Arthur went back to RMW for a bottle. It was worth the wait. Also featured on the stand was the Glen Garioch 1994, another favourite of mine.
Number One Drinks Co - Karuizawa and Chichibu. I re-sampled the two Karuizawas that were also in Brighton, and intended to return for what I've found even better the 3yo Chichibu (though it's £90 price tag is off-putting). Must prioritise Chichibu next time.
Didn't even make it to Inver House or Balcones stalls this time - but they know I love their products!
Tweeddale - a family experiment in recreating whisky from before WW2. It's a blend, though with a high malt content 50:50. The 3rd batch has revamped packaging and no added colour, like the previous batches it's non-chill filtered and bottled at 46% - the whiskies in it are also a little older than before.
Ardbeg/Glenmorangie - nothing new, I had a Lasanta and moved on, ddin't get back to chack the Ardbegs.
Last, and far from least the Scotch Malt Whisky Society - not only had a stall in the main room, but also a separate room to themselves to preview the new May Outturn. a few new bottles were available at the stall including the show bottling a 17yo Glen Moray (35.85) and a 28yo grain from Girvan (G7.4), but the main event is the special room - £5 entry, but free for SMWS members entitles you to 4 drams, but not the star Teaninich (59.43) Caramel Swirl Icecream, which sets you back another fiver! My favourite from the night before, Glen Moray 35.91 is nowhere to be seen, and while I do like the 35.85, it's not quite as good. Two good Clynelishes (26.90 and 26.92) 27 and 28yo respectively, both sherry refill, not a lot to choose between them. a couple of Glen Ords (77.29 ad 77.32) both 25yo bourbon refill. As usual some spectacular casks from SMWS, unfortunately I tasted them all towarrds the end of the show, and haven't any inidividual details - will have to taste them again some time. Didn't get to taste the star dram, as I hadn't got a black token, and didn't get around to buying one - still there's always tomorrow!
Show's over!! Time for a Hedonism before they stop pouring, but then the serious business of getting sober - food required. I've parked outside Hanams, but the Thai Orchid next door also looks promising - however next door to that is a pub, and its unsociable smoking clientele are making it impossible to read the menu without serious exposure to carcinogens, so the tried and tested Hanams it is. (I seem to end up there on most trips to Edinburgh - originally at their old Tollcross location). Even at 5.30 they're busy but can just squeeze me in downstairs. Another advantage of Hanams after all that whisky is that it's unlicensed, and while I normally BYOB, I think I can manage without today. Excellent mix of starters, the spicy sausage for the main course was a little disappointing as I wasn't expecting it to be sauteed (I should really have read the menu) - but it did the job - and despite its location its not too pricey. They've got a new restaurant, Pomegranate, at the top of Leith Walk, will have to try that sometime.
Don't want any more whisky tonight, but popped into SMWS Queen Street to check if they have a bottle of 35.91 - they don't. Nor do The Vaults, so find co-op, get some cider (only the co-op seem to sell it chilled) and back to Leith to start writing...
Pictures on Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martynjenkins/sets/72157633369041078
Heading for Edinburgh’s Whisky Lounge/SMWS fusion event. Have a ticket from York, but have to get there from Leeds. I tried to book the bike on a train last night to get to York in good time for my connection, but no luck, so I aimed for the 14.29 via Harrogate, a slow journey, but practically guaranteed a seat and space for the bike – and cheaper!
Well that was the plan, but finishing things off at work meant I missed that one, and the only run every hour – which would have still got me to York on time, but I could get the intermediate train to Knaresborough which I thought was only about 10-12 miles from York – Plan!
While waiting for the train, all the bad aspects of this plan begin to occur to me – what if I get a puncture and miss the train, but the time I can check the consequences this would entail – a new ticket for £82 – obviously I could still get the 15.29 if I was near a station, but…
No such problems fortunately, though I've by then remembered that rather than a nice ride along a country lane or two, Knaresborough to York is the A59, but at least it’s a fast road – good job too as it turns out the journey’s nearer 18 miles. But the wind’s behind me, and I'm almost to Poppleton by the time my alternative train passes me.
Time to divert from the direct route on the outskirts of York, when I suddenly spot a windmill – turns out to be the Holgate Windmill, in the middle of suburban housing, seems like a good reason to stop for the first photos of the day. The windmill has been fully restored and is operational, though it’s not at work while I'm there.
On to York Station – my train is running late already, and I'm sure my inexpert loading didn't help either. Then there’s a warning that all trains are being delayed between Newcastle and Berwick due to a signalling problem at Chathill – some have been delayed by 2 hours. But first the weather in North Yorkshire suddenly breaks and anyone getting on or off at Northallerton has a vicious hailstorm to deal with.
The Chathill problem seems to have been resolved by the time we get there, but we've already had a delay at Darlington due to a “train spotter in the wrong place on the platform”. I’d never realised that there was a right place for train spotters – anywhere! The delay at Newcastle is because “we’re waiting for an essential member of the train crew”. A few moments later someone in East Coast uniform is spotted jogging towards the front of the train – I guess a driver would be useful.
By the time we cross the border, it’s a beautiful evening, and the train is hurrying along non-stop from Alnmouth to Edinburgh, at last befitting its “Flying Scotsman” livery.
Edinburgh's weather, however, disappoints - it's been raining, and there's still drizzle in the air. Off the train and to the Prince's Street steps exit - now I'd never have tried to get a laden bike up those steps, but with the remodelling, I'd assumed there would be a lift - I think there is going to be one - something distinctly lift-like posed behind tape - so it had to be the escalators, a bit like hard work - but not when you compare it to the stairs...
Down Leith Walk, surface still bad, so head for Easter Road at the earliest opportunity, and am soon at Leith Links and find the Mackenzie GH where I'm staying. First impressions are good (full verdict after breakfast!)
Then it's off to SMWS Vaults, and I'm immediately introduced to an amazing first fill sherry 11yo Glen Moray, 35.91, it says it's ex-sherry on the bottle, but when you nose it and taste it, sherry does not come to mind - and it tastes nothing like the 35.86, same age, same cask type. 35.86 is a good dram - little too much sherry influence for me, but 35.91 has none of that sherry, and lots of fruit and marzipan instead. Dean suggests a Springbank to follow - not a recent one but the 27.70 - well balanced smoke. quickly glossing over my role in getting the card machine drunk, we move hastily on to a mystery dram, which tastes very strange immediately after the Springbank - perhaps it's the too very contrasting smoky styles that produce this effect, but a few more sips and it has to be a Caol Ila - 53.182 in fact. They actually work well together after you get used to them. Then a taste of the 35.86 mentioned above, and another comparative sip of 35.91 from fellow whisky and cycling enthusiast, Mike (who's also the SMWS Chef), which confirms the views set out above about the two drams.
I'll finish with a G10.1 - or not as they have none left (I've got one at home, so no bother) and unusually I decide I must have more of the same - it's too good not to have more 35.91.
Getting ready to leave and @CompassBoxLili walks through the door, so Dean persuades me into a G4.3 with ice! well I went for G4.3 and he suggested the ice. It works surprisingly well, until the end when the ice has dilute the whisky too much.
Meanwhile they've been clearing the member's room for a big food event tomorrow - have you seen the Vaults' Members Room cleared of furniture - well now you can. (I think that's probably a better way of putting it than my initial suggestion of naked Members' Room, which conjures up all the wrong images...
Pictures from today can be found on Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martynjenkins/sets/72157633361700456
Gerry's in Leeds is a very different animal to the shop in Soho - an altogether more friendly one - you can even browse the shelves yourself, and they've heard of Single Grain Whisky (OK I may have happened upon a single poorly trained individual on my last trip to Soho).
Not that this is about whisky as the title suggests. A Rum and Chocolate tasting had been arranged a couple of months ago originally, but had to be postponed until yesterday. 5 rums to taste and some excellent chocolate from local producer aochabae - website under construction, but they have a facebook page.
The evening commenced with Appleton Estate 8yo from Jamaica paired with a milk chocolate, not from aochabae, but the next three rums were paired with Tanya's high cocoa products - 65% form Grenada and Mexico and 85% Columbian. Not wishing to take notes to spoil the drinking, I can't remember the exact pairings, but they went very well with the next three rums - El Dorado 12yo (Guyana); Ron Zacapa Centenario Sistema Solera 23 (Guatemala) and Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (Venezuela). The final rum was a very strange spirit - described by Santa Teresa as Orange Rhum Liqueur combining Rum aged for two years with an exquisite and delicate Valencia orange peel maceration - but bottled at 40%. An interesting one off drink, but not one I could drink all evening, though I can think of a couple of people who might! This was paired with Willie's Cacao Peruvian Gold.
The tasting was quite small, but a few familiar faces from the previous week's cider tasting, including Minal who had provided the refreshments then - belly of pork with herbs and garlic (which had been worth the price of the ticket on its own). Gerry's are now doing regular tastings, with Bordeaux and beer featured in the near future. Another great value tasting. 4 excellent rums, though I prefer the El Dorado 15yo, and some great chocolate - I don't claim to be an expert on either rum or chocolate, but worth trying them - you're sure to find something you like. After the formal tasting, a few more drams were to be had - I was even persuaded to sample the Amaretto! I happened to have the SMWS R5.2 with me, so it seemed appropriate to offer the 81% ABV monster to everyone.
More photos at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martynjenkins/sets/72157633167942891