| 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