Tam Gardiner founded Tam’s Drams one year ago. In this time, his stock has intrigued, delighted and broadened our palates considerably.
Tam is also a thoroughly good egg – Although, as you can tell from a glimpse at the bottles on offer at this tasting, he is far too generous for his own good – We certainly aren’t complaining!
You’re in for a long article. We’ll be reviewing a lot of malt and have brought along our tame Scandinavians, Porky and Neeps, to aid us in this solemn, sober undertaking.
Glenfiddich 30 year old – 40% (not the newer 43% release).
Freddie: Unsurprisingly for Glenfiddich, it’s sweet. Apples (but no bananas!), golden syrup pudding with dates.
Aussie: Apples, sweet pepper notes, maybe heather.
Neeps: Smells like a Christmas tree.
Porky: Cloves? Perhaps cloves in there?
Freddie: Apples again, velvet smooth, extremely delicate!
Aussie: That’s effing smooth! I don’t want to add water to this!
Freddie: I think it would be wrong to add water to this.
Neeps: There is no burning sensation at all. It’s interesting. I’ve had it before, but it was after an Islay so I couldn’t appreciate it at the time.
Freddie: You had Glenfiddich after an Islay?!?!
Porky: It’s a bit too smooth for me if I’m honest.
Aussie: This finish… Very, very sweet, slightly oily, and there’s nothing else to it – I’m left feeling slightly robbed as it’s gone so quickly…
Neeps: It would be nice and smooth for a summer’s day, like lemonade, but it’s expensive for lemonade. [Note: It's currently selling for £238.00 online!]
Freddie: I agree with what you’ve both said. Perhaps they should have released this at cask strength for the extra flavour, especially considering the price it weighs in at. Older whisky often gets very mellow so I don’t really understand why they’ve watered it down to 40%. I must say however that it is very, very easy to drink!
Aussie: I’m actually very impressed with it! I’ve finally had a Glenfiddich that I’ve liked! It’s almost dessert whisky!
Freddie: Now you mention it, this would be lovely with a little bit of pecan pie!
Aussie: Mmm, pie…
Neeps: And ice cream!
Dalmore 28 – 45% – ‘Stillman’s Dram’
Porky: Oooh, it smells like butterscotch or toffee!
Freddie: Lovely nose – citrus and more apples, maybe even toffee apples!
Aussie: Maybe some berries, maybe caramel. I can’t really pick up much.
Neeps: Orange and shortbread…
Porky: Maybe orange compote?
Freddie: Wow! Pleasantly peppery on the palate – caramelised apples inside a slightly over-browned crumble, perhaps even slightly burnt.
Neeps: Such a smooth beginning…
Aussie: Definite pepper notes, slightly acrid in the end? Did that swirling in the mouth thing that you do Freddie, and got almost straight up Calvados – and a good slap of pepper in the face.
Porky: Definitely – slightly overpowering – a bit of nuttiness in the end?
Neeps: Certainly nutty, but a bit too much pepper to get into the taste.
Aussie: Another smooth whisky, but not really for me.
Freddie: More character than the Glenfiddich, though I’m not sure whether I’d buy a bottle, since it comes in over the £270 mark. Again enjoyable, but I can think of a lot of bottles I’d take over this which cost a good bit less.
Caperdonich 37 – 53.5%. Cask 7420. Duncan Taylor ‘Rare Auld’ range.
A 1972 vintage from the distillery otherwise known as ‘Glen Grant II’! Mothballed since 2002. The first entry from an independent bottler, this should be a good one!
Aussie: I’m getting roses and that’s very pleasant
Porky: Yes, very floral
Aussie: Some pepper notes
Freddie: Sweet chilli pepper – mmm! With a strong damascena scent, faint fennel too.
Aussie: Maybe some aniseed?
A studious silence and much scowling in concentration
Aussie: Acrid. Some rosewater and peach?
Freddie: [winces] Bitter coffee. Fennel.
Neeps: Dry wood!
Porky: Like an explosion, short and sudden.
Freddie: There’s really nothing in the finish.
Aussie: I think the acrid taste is tannin.
Freddie: I don’t think I’m that keen on it Aussie!
Neeps: No, I really haven’t been impressed by this. What’s next?
Freddie: Grain! [sobs to himself]
Neeps: This tastes like a really cheap supermarket blend. I wouldn’t be impressed if someone brought this over for Christmas. It’s just a mess in your mouth.
Porky: Like wet grass cuttings dumped in sewage water. It smelled lovely, but the taste was really disappointing, even disgusting.
Votes so Far
Freddie: I’m yet to be bowled over. The Glenfiddich was very gentle but didn’t quite have the character of the Dalmore – Not that character is always a good thing, as the Caperdonich proved in bucketloads.
Aussie: For me, the Glenfiddich so far was my favourite, though the Caperdonich had the best smell… shame about the taste though!
Porky: It did smell fantastic. The Dalmore was the best. The Glenfiddich was good, but wasn’t a huge improvement on the Solera Reserva, which costs a lot less.
Neeps: The Dalmore. The first truly excellent Dalmore I’ve had!
Porky: I still dream about the Glenmorangie Signet. I’m hoping to find something tonight to match that. I think I recently had a dream where I was chasing a bottle of it!
Freddie: The Dalmore shaves it then – much more character than the Glenfiddich, although the burnt note marred it for me. The Glenfiddich was sweeter and extremely drinkable, but lacked that ‘wow’ factor. No, I’m undecided. I’ve had nothing so far that I would buy for the prices they weigh in at.
Dumbarton 45 – 49.5% – Clan Denny Range
Freddie: A GRAIN?!?!? Not after last time!
Aussie: Haha, this is an example of tough love!
Freddie: Right, I swear that I won’t judge this ’til it’s in front of me.
Aussie: Wonder if it will have that wood shaving smell grain often has?
Freddie: Or nail varnish remover?
Aussie: A tiny bit of sawdust.
Norway: Almost like a good salmiyak – sweet liquorice
Aussie: Can’t say the smell is that appealing. I agree the liquorice is there
Freddie: Grain, though less vile smelling than usual.
ALL EYES ON FREDDIE DRINKING IT…
Neeps: Oh…That’s dry…[Look of utter disgust]
Aussie: [Choking] Aaagh! Aaaagh! Get the Coke!
Freddie: [Grimacing in disgust and setting his glass down purposefully] Utterly revolting. The ‘malt’ ambassador introducing it mentioned that grain is more of an industrial spirit. I’m guessing methylated in this particular instance. With added celery. Did I mention that I hate celery?
Aussie: I’m sin-binning this whisky to the centre of the table
Freddie: Me too. I don’t know what the Clan Denny did to deserve their name being put on this bottle. It must have been pretty heinous though!
Porky: I agree on this. It’s awful!
Aussie: Worst of the night. The ambassador’s speech certainly didn’t sell us on the concept of ‘young’ grains at all…
Freddie: If it’s this bad after 45 years imagine how awful it was when it was younger. I’m sure this is the stuff I use to clean my paintbrushes.
A rather more weathered group at the opposite end of the table professed to be blend fans. We gave them all our measures of Dumbarton, which they appreciated a lot more than us. Each to their own!
Aussie: I think I’d rather not get old if my tastebuds change to the point that the Dumbarton 45 tastes good…
Longrow 8 year old Cask Strength, Shiraz cask – 58.5%
Released as 2010 Springbank festival bottle for £50. One of 414 bottles
Freddie: I’ve been looking forward to this! Smells like heaven… Smoky, with a huge hit of red grapes!
Aussie: Hello peat!!! Take my tastebuds out of the gloom!
Tam Gardiner: [Filling our glasses] Only a wee splash & dash I’m afraid boys!
Neeps: Better a ‘splash & dash’ then a double of the grain we just had. I just want to sit and sniff this! Pffff… I’m happy!
Freddie: Dark berries and sticky toffee pudding, by a woodland campfire.
Neeps: This is fantastic! After the others, I think I’m getting high off the smell… Poppies… Poppers? Something like that…
Note that Neeps was suffering the effect from a fair few drinks by this time
Aussie: Damn. I think I can still smell sawdust. My nose has been destroyed by the grain!
Freddie: It follows on from the nose. Buttery, gooey, runny fudge, and smoky berries – or perhaps that should be smoked berries?
Neeps: This is just pleasant in so many ways, the best of the night so far.
Aussie: Highly agreeable.
Neeps: Good old peat is coming!
Aussie: First of the night to have a finish, unless you count the grain, which sent me into toxic shock.
Freddie: The least expensive, youngest whisky of the lot and the best by far.
Porky: Young and feisty, but for me it lacks a little character
Freddie: It is a little light for a Longrow. But a what lovely change of pace! This is the first whisky tonight to really grab my attention.
Aussie: It improves with every sip and it was good to start with!
Porky: Towards the end I get a taste of fresh white honey.
Aussie: [Paraphrasing the venerable Richard Paterson] ‘Don’t give it to the Mother-In-Law!’
Aussie and Freddie had predicted at the outset that this one might be their pick of the night, not that they were feeling smug (well, perhaps just a wee bit). But the Port Ellen was up next…
Port Ellen 28 year old – Old Malt Cask Refill Hogshead 50% (circa £200)
Freddie: Shockingly, I must confess that outside of a trace ingredient in ‘The Big Peat’, I’ve never had Port Ellen (at least to my memory)
Aussie: I haven’t either, and this one was distilled in the year I was born!
Freddie: I wonder if the taint will affect it?
Freddie: This is the Port Ellen then – Gosh! It really smells like mulch feed!
Aussie: Yes, sweet, malty, Like walking past the mash stills… Or taking a bath in a washback…
Neeps: I’m getting toffee…
Porky: A burnt cement smell?
Freddie: That’s it Aussie! It smells like being in a distillery!
Aussie: The smell of fresh cut hay?
Freddie: [groans] I thought we might get through a review without that old gag popping up.
Aussie: You were wrong mate!
Aussie: Sweet. Some apple & aniseed, with peat. Not a bad flavour. The rep described ash. I might have to agree with him.
Freddie: Lightly smoky – liquorice, salt – marmite! A gentle, unusual coal (not Caol) flavour finishes it off. Some vanilla?
Aussie: It’s nice, but far beyond what I’d pay for it.
Freddie: True. I like it, but the price is silly money.
Aussie: I’m afraid to say it but a decent Highland Park would pip it for me. It’s nice too, smoky, maritime and far cheaper to buy, even for the more special stuff. I don’t care how much flak I’ll get for this!
Freddie: I agree with you. Staying on Islay, the much underrated Caol Ila does the job for me and costs a lot less, especially for independent bottlings!
Aussie: One day you’ll open another of your Port Askaig bottles and some day I’ll open my Hjarta. Both much cheaper and we know and adore them!
At this point Tam produced a few extra bottles and announced a free-for all. So we ran to get some extra drams in before they fell to the frenzied mass of drinkers hovering around them.
Auchentoshan 16 yr old, Black Bull 40 yr old, Glenfiddich 15 yr old cask strength, Port Charlotte 8. We had ‘encountered’ Black Bull 40 at an earlier tasting this year so politely declined that one…
Aussie: On the basis of the Glenfiddich 30 yr old, I’m going straight for the Glenfiddich 15.
Porky: Me too.
Neeps: I’ll get a PC8
Freddie: Sod it, I’m going back for the last of that Longrow!
Freddie arrived back having charmed his way to another glass of the Longrow and a glass of the Duthies Auchentoshan.
Glenfiddich Cask Strength 15 Year Old – 51% (£125 online)
Aussie: Smells like honey, tastes like banana… Freddie, stop putting ideas in my head! Slightly oily and a fiery finish. A good dram.
Norway: Smells of pine sap, heather, and an unidentifiable spice? The taste is subtle… Apple and fig. The finish is full of plum and pepper notes. A citrus zing, but balanced.
Freddie: I told you Glenfiddich tastes like bananas! For me though, it’s a bit boring, though not unpleasant by any means.
Auchentoshan 16 – Duthies single cask bottling. 46%
Freddie: Reminiscent of putting a copper penny in your mouth as a child. Coppery like the inside of a still. Nope, I really don’t like it. [puts it down and walks off laughing to himself]
Aussie: Since he’s left it, I’ll have a bash and see how it is. The smell is metallic, with berries – not pleasant. [sips] Bleugh! Sod that!
Porky: [Having a go at it himself] Metallic is the right word [not looking impressed]. Tastes of toffee, the only taste. Very disappointing. Bad whisky with no character.
The bottle, albeit it eventually drained, was universally panned by all in attendance.
Port Charlotte 8 - 60.5% (£60 online)
The 4th release of the first Port Charlotte distillation by Bruichladdich.
Freddie: Honey-roasted butternut squash and vanilla on the nose, all bursting out from a big, peaty bugger of a dram! Very smoky, a little bit more than oppressive. It crushes the appealing sweet notes from the nose with a barrage of tar and sea salt, although they faintly reawaken in the finish. Softens a little once sat for twenty minutes or so.
Aussie: Salty, salty, salty – Like Jaunty! Tastes short, sweet, heavily peated… Very much a palate cleanser after that metallic nonsense. Swishing it around, really fiery rum notes, peppery. Quite an acrid finish, the enjoyment gets stripped from you at the last moment!
Freddie: Single cask Longrow has to be the best of the night.
Neeps: [Almost under the table] I agree…
Aussie: I was hopeful for tonight, and bloody surprised by the Glenfiddich 30. Best of the night for me.
Porky: The Glenfiddich cask strength 15.
A surprisingly strong showing from Glenfiddich then, but perhaps that’s why 1 in every 3 bottles of single malt sold is a one of theirs. Without a doubt the worst was the Dumbarton 45, no need to vote really, we all hated it.
Aussie: I’ve been secretly disappointed by a lot of the whisky tonight.
Porky: Proves that old doesn’t always mean good.
Freddie: I honestly believe if the Longrow had been a less peated Springbank or Hazelburn it would have swept the board.
Aussie: I think you’re right. It was a very, very, very close second for me.
Thanks to Tam for being a smashing host. A marvellously varied and interesting night featuring some rare and unusual drams.
- F.R., M.H., C.H. (Neeps) & S.T. (Porky)