As a member of the Edinburgh University Water of Life Society, I am lucky enough to have some really nice whisky on a regular basis for a much cheaper price than I’d ever find elsewhere. Most weeks there’s a theme — Sherry and Chocolate for Valentine’s Day, or International Whiskies, or — the best so far — five different batches of Aberlour A’bunadh. Other weeks, we’re visited by ambassadors from various distilleries and bottlers. In the past year, I’ve enjoyed lovely tastings from Wemyss Malts, Bruichladdich, Glenfiddich, and last night (for the second time this month, actually) Balvenie.
Starting with a ‘welcome dram’ of Monkey Shoulder (always a nice drinkable delight) and progressing through the Balvenie range, Andy described the history of the distillery, its innovations, and especially the genius of one man, Mr David Stewart, Malt Master for Balvenie and Glenfiddich. David is responsible for coming up with nifty little ideas like finishing whisky in a different cask than the one it’s aged in — hence beautiful drams like the 21 year old Portwood.
Andy described this as his ‘quaffing whisky’ and I quite agree. It’s not too complex, goes down like juice, and could easily be enjoyed during a lively party.
Nose: Honey, grapes, grass, a bit of brine.
Palate: Very honeyed and sweet with some light dried fruits (more dried apricot than raisin) and citrus and a nice silky mouthfeel.
Finish: Pleasantly balanced with oak and spice.
Balvenie Single Barrel 15 (Cask # 1566)
Nose: Honey, of course, and vanilla, pear, apple, hints of gorse.
Palate: Lovely spicy-sweet interplay with vanilla, honey, hard fruits.
Finish: Very clean with the best notes of spice saved for the end, and just a hint of coconut.
Andy called this a ‘gateway whisky’ — the kind of whisky that gets novices hooked. It starts its life in bourbon casks and finishes in sherry — hence the name.
Nose: Deep, rich, full of cooked apples, figs, bread pudding, butter, cinnamon.
Palate: Well fruited just as the nose suggests, but balanced by the rich vanilla of the bourbon casks.
Finish: Continuing the sweet warmth of the palate, it tapers off ever so gently.
As I mentioned, this whisky (some of which is likely older than 21 years) is finished for several months in port ‘pipes’. It’s stunning.
Nose: Full of grapes and fresh rain, notes of plum.
Palate: Fruity with plum, grape, and a wee bit of rhubarb. Unbelievably silky mouthfeel.
Finish: I never wanted it to end, and it nearly didn’t. Goes on forever with a delicate nuttiness.
After enjoying all those beautiful whiskies, what better way to end the night than with a mysteriously green non-whisky concoction?
My friend Calum delights in buying obscure spirits from a German auction website. Evidently Celp is quite popular among the Danish. It’s put out by Lagavulin and actually doesn’t taste half bad, for all that it appears to be Kermit the Frog’s bathwater. I’m sure you’re not surprised to find out that it’s heavily peated, very briny and oily and tastes like a clam salad. You might be surprised to learn that I actually thought it quite nice! Not something I’d drink often, of course, but the kind of spirit I could see myself pouring on a chilly day when I need reminding of beaches and summertime…