A few weeks ago we had a another of our whisky nights with a group of lads from the neighborhood. We call it the Renfrew Whisky Appreciation Society but it is simply an enthusiastic bunch from all walks, including lawyers, accountants, bankers and a couple of project managers, all of whom have a common interest in whisky, or at least enjoy the odd dram.
We started the night with a few games, where we broke into teams and then through blind tasting, tried to pick what area the whiskies came from and then what brand the whisky was. A couple of the teams managed to pick the Islay whisky, but it was the bankers who picked it as an Ardbeg. These guys obviously spend a lot more time at The Jefferson drinking single malts while the rest of us are working.
The format of the night was to bring along a bottle of your favourite single malt to try on the night and we all give it a score out of 10. With nearly 20 blokes there, though, it meant there were quite a few to try (I think we might have to revisit the format, as the night is proving to be hugely popular and getting through more than 20 drams, it might all start to get a little bit fuzzy).
From our scores, here are the five most popular on the night:
The GlenDronach 21-Year-Old ‘Parliament’
The only Highland single malt whisky in the selection (although it could arguably be a Speyside whisky too). GlenDronach is named after the source of the water they use – from the Dronach Burn, situated in the north-east of Scotland in the Forgue valley in Aberdeenshire.
GlenDronach was one of the first licensed distilleries in Scotland. Founded in 1826 it has been through quite a few owners, even Sir Walter Scott once had a hand in. Since the 1800’s, it has been used in blends like Teachers and Chivas Regal – both having ownership in the distillery at different times. More recently it went to independent ownership of BenRiach who remain the proprietors today.
As with many Speyside whiskies, the 21 year old GlenDronach is aged in sherry casks (a mix of Oloroso and sweet Pedro Ximenez). The nose is soft smoke and lemon juice mixed with toasty oak, walnut cake and a hint of coffee. On the palate you’ll get a strong hint of golden syrup, soft raisins and honey dew melon. The finish has sherry tones, chocolate, luscious fruit and pepper.
The name “parliament” has nothing to do with politics but is in fact the name given to a ‘flock of rooks’ – apparently after a parliament of rooks that hung around in the trees around the distillery.
Glenlivet 15-year-old French Oak Reserve
Another Speyside distillery, but this one needs little introduction. Hugely popular the world round, Glenlivet was the first legal distillery in the area. Established in 1824 by George Smith and surrounded by illegal distilleries heavily involved in smuggling, you can only imagine the fury of the locals at the man that had the law on his side. Such was the chagrin of his peers that George had to carry pistols wherever he travelled in the face of this adversity.
Now owned by Chivas Brothers, a subsidiary of Pernod Ricard, the distillery is one of the biggest, with a capacity to produce 5.8 million litres a year and is the world’s second-largest-selling single malt and the No. 1-selling single malt in the US.
The Glenlivet 15-year-old French Oak Reserve was matured in French Limousin Oak – a popular choice for cognac producers. The nose is rich and oaky, while the palate has notes of apple crumble and fudge and is full of rich spices.
Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask Finish
This distillery has a really interesting story; not only is it the youngest distillery, established in 2005, it is also the only single malt whisky from outside of Scotland in this selection. From Taiwan, Kavalan is Taiwan’s first whisky maker and the nation’s only family-owned whisky distillery. Kavalan takes the old name of Yilan county where the distillery is located in north-eastern Taiwan.
With a much warmer climate, the whisky they make matures a lot faster than those in Scotland. The higher temperatures also mean the whisky draws a lot more flavour from the barrels.
With this whisky they have used Portuguese ruby port wine casks as the main flavour. Brownish red in colour, with lovely coconut and vanilla scents mixed with candy floss and honey, the first thing that hits the palate is a lovely rich chocolatey flavour. Kavalan Concertmaster pairs indulgently with chocolate, making it even more delicious.
Glenrothes Sherry Cask Reserve
While you might not be as familiar with Glenrothes, you might be familiar with Cutty Sark – the No. 1-selling blended scotch whisky in the US, in which Glenrothes is a major component. Cutty Sark is distributed by the licensees of Glenrothes, and while Glenrothes maintains a somewhat artisan type of appearance, the reality is that they are major producers of a Speyside whisky, with 10 stills and the capacity to produce 5.6 million litres a year, and which is regularly producing at 90 percent capacity.
While the distillery dates back to 1878, the Glenrothes Sherry Cask Reserve was only introduced to their single malt range in 2014 – the first to be completely matured in first-fill sherry casks. Plump raisins and candied ginger come through strong on the nose and, while initially you are hit with a taste of flamed orange zest and spice, the taste of juicy sultanas and raisins quickly takes over, leaving no doubt of its sherry cask origins.
Ardbeg Dark Cove
Ardbeg is one of a handful of whisky distilleries on Islay, where distillation dates back as far as 1742. Once a stage for illegal distillation and smuggling, it was closed down by the excise men in the early 1800s and then resurrected again in 1815 by John McDougall as a legal distillery. Now under the ownership of Louis Vuitton, Moet Hennessy and the guidance of master distiller Dr Bill Lumsden, it is a thriving distillery with a huge worldwide following.
Ardbeg Dark Cove is a limited edition that launched on Ardbeg Day 2016 – the distillery’s open day as part of the annual Islay Festival. This exceptional Islay single malt whisky ‘pays homage to the shadowy past of Ardbeg’s coastline’ and is a whisky that has been matured in sherry casks as well as ex-bourbon casks.
Bold notes of chocolate and coffee come through on the nose with a smoky background and unusual floral notes. Raisins, dates and ginger come through on the palate, mixed with waves of charcoal and cured smoked ham. The finish is long and spicy with rich notes of toffee, coffee and tar.
The Ardberg Dark Cove, is a limited edition release and finding a bottle may be hard. We were lucky to get this bottle from The Jefferson on Imperial lane (Auckland) for photographing and I know that he might have a few drams left in a bottle. If you are after something similar, Ardberg recently released the An Oa as part of their core range.