Sometimes ideas are probably best left on paper. The Millenium Dome is arguably now one of London's most successful music venues, but of course, was a huge white elephant in its former life. Same goes for the Band Aid 20 (despite its obvious charity appeal) and when I heard that there was to be another whisky event in London, I had a few doubts.
A tiny thought crossed my mind earlier this year in that is there really a sustainable audience for 2 (including Whisky Live) major whisky events - especially in the run up to Christmas, when we're already being battered by constant tabloid negativity that the recession is still climbing up our trouser legs.
Well balls to the negativity and balls to the continued ill-feeling that consumes Londoner's on a daily basis. This might sound a little rose tinted, but here at Caskstrength, we're highly positive chaps. Day one of The Whisky Show, showed just what happens when a group of like-minded folks come together to sample probably the best whisky of their lives.
I arrived at 12pm, not fully realising the extent of what we were about to taste in such glorious Olde London surroundings. Any misgivings about numbers were quickly eclipsed and a solid and buzzing turnout ensued for the afternoon session. First port of call was to the irrepressible and exceptionally well tailored Marcin Miller from the No. One Drinks Company (sir, an inspiration to us all!!) to sample some of his finest new Japanese releases- and wowzers... what a way to christen a fresh palate!
3 huge sherried beasts from the Karuizawa distillery, including a superb 1985, a 1976 (bottled under the Noh Theatre label (seek this out and thou shalt not be disappointed) and the Shogun himself... a phenomenal 1967 bottling:
Karuizawa 1967 - Cask 6426 - 58.4 %
Nose: Wow, big waft of fresh strawberries, straw, then clouds of vanilla pipe tobacco, followed by a huge hit of that classic Karuizawa dry sherry and the fresh mossy forest floor, that we've come to expect from old casks from this distillery.
Palate: An immediate sweetness, into a rich meaty and peppery gravy-like flavour, with a little dryness when the sherry returns. It still manages a few palate-tingling twists and turns after all this time in the cask, as some lemon sherbet is unleashed and a real fizziness cleans up the mouth. Sensational and hugely surprising.
Finish: As you'd expect from an elderly gent like this, the finish is very long, leading to woody notes but nothing out of the ordinary, it just has bags of flavour and subtle oak undertones.
Overall: We loved the Karuizawa 1971 like a son when we first sampled it- this goes another few yards in the excellence stakes. Grab while you still can, as judging by the stampede for its younger brother, it won't hang around for long.
Next up some very special Highland Park's:
The Orcadian vintages have been on our hit list for a little while, but we never thought there would be a chance to try 2 of the oldest in one sitting!!! Sadly, the memory stick I was given didn't seem to work so there are no images at present, but the bottles are superb looking, black glass, with an embossed silver Highland Park emblem.
Gerry Tosh gave us an excellent guide into the casks used in these vintage bottlings and more specifically, the TYPE of peat which Orkney has become famous for. I had no idea that over the 1000's of years it takes to create peat, that there have been virtually no trees on Orkney, due to the high winds and salty blasts across the barren landscape. This means that there is predominantly decaying heather in the peat used to dry Highland Park barley, leading to that sweet, floral smokiness, rather than the highly woody type which characterises Islay malts. Top fact and thanks Gerry!!
The whiskies were then unveiled - 1968 and 1964 vintages, both hugely different in their levels of peating as the tasting notes reveal:
Highland Park -Orcadian Vintage - 1968 45.6%
Nose: Strawberry notes (what is it about strawberries today!!) with a lovely floral sweetness, leading into chamois leather, wax and some classic heather notes. Over time the citrus notes come through with lemon zest and a hint of coconut thrown in for good measure.
Palate: Milky coffee, light sweet cereal, some dried orange notes, followed by a sharper citrus note of lemon zest. Over time in the glass, a spiciness develops and a creamy chocolate note also emerges, giving this a hugely well balanced palate for a very old whisky. Wonderful stuff.
Finish: Lighter than expected, but waves of sweetness eclipse and oaky dryness you may have expected.
Overall: What a way to start the tasting- another soon to be classic highland park bottling.
Next up - the older and slightly more peated 1964 vintage:
Highland Park - Orcadian Vintage - 1964 - 42.2%
Nose: Ok. Stop for a second, I know we can get carried away sometimes in our notes and praise for a worthy dram, but this is SENSATIONAL- even on the first nosing!! A slightly heavier peat to the 1968, almost like the classic early 1970's Ardbeg's and contrary to what I mentioned about classic HP peat. Couple that with some sweet red apples, mint, a hint of Playdoh, and a little aromatic Licorice and you're into 7th Heaven here. A little more time (and believe me it is well worth the wait) reveals some lint bandages, and a slightly more sooty note, but the balance is just perfect.
Palate: The perfection carries on into the first sip: A wonderful mix of that sweet peat, coffee, Rosehip jelly and vanilla. The vanilla develops even further into a slight sponge cake note, but by now, we're too far gone under its spell. Just brilliant.
Finish: Some warming fruitiness comes through, along with the light, sweet peat.
Overall: These drams are the stuff dreams are made of. They creep up on you and their timing is just perfect. What Highland park have done here is nothing short of extraordinary and the 1964 vintage is clearly a contender for Whisky Of The Year, without a shadow of a doubt.
I had to have a little lie down after this tasting, just to get my bearings again!!
Stay tuned for the next post and part 2 of the Whisky Show, where some seriously old Glenlivet's are given a thorough going over as well as some members of the Glenfarclas Family casks....
One thing for sure, is that The Whisky Show promised some of the best whisky on the planet and it delivered on this promise. Full marks guys and we'll see you next year, same time, same place hopefully.