One of the things I love about the whisky tastings organised by Fran & Ken at Arkwrights is the diversity. The diverse range of whiskies from around the world, the variety of scents and flavours they impart… the diverse group of attendees at the tastings, male & female, young & old… and also the diversity of the presenters themselves.
Over the past few years, numerous people have presented their wares to us. They have all been knowledgeable and full of interesting facts. Some have given us PowerPoint presentations on the whisky making process, others have lectured on the history of their distilleries, many have given their own takes on how to nose and taste whisky, but I think it’s fair to say that all have been passionate about their products and whisky in general. Some presenters have been more memorable than others, and by far one of the most enthusiastic & memorable is Mr Colin Dunn.
Colin started his whisky career with Suntory, a move than came about after a visit to Islay back in 2000 where he was taken with the passion & drive of the staff at the distilleries. In particular how the small population of the island are so entwined with, and dependent on, the whisky industry. It was something he felt wasn’t necessarily known to the wider whisky community, but felt it needed to be conveyed. In 2008 he was offered the opportunity to work with Diageo, and jumped at the chance to represent the 28 single malt distilleries within their portfolio.
Now, Colin can be described as being somewhat of an effervescent chap!
He grabs your attention from the off, firstly laying down the rules (“there are no rules!”) then asking various people around the room “What’s your favourite dram?”, the answers came thick and fast with names of great distilleries bouncing off the walls “Lagavulin”, “Aberlour”, “12 year old Rosebank”, “Bowmore”, “Glenlivet Nadurra”, “Dalmore” and so on. The point was, Colin was already starting to highlight the diversity in tastes. He enthused about the different ways people like to take their whisky; with ice, a touch of water, ginger ale, coke (urgh!) etc… he went on to suggest how tastes and trends are changing, and how people like to think about what food to pair their drinks with. Examples of scallops or oysters with a smoky Islay malt, Speyside whiskies paired with cheeses, and so on and so forth. He passionately discussed the progress made within the industry, suggesting that it wasn’t so long ago that whisky was “marketed in magazines with pictures of kilts & stags and drinks served in cut crystal tumblers” whereas now the industry embraces social media, modern design and inventive new processes.
BUT! The bottom line is this… whisky is there to be enjoyed! Regardless of how you take it, what age it is, the ‘popularity’ of the brand… there are no rules remember?!
This had been a passionate, enthusiastic and engaging start to the evening and we had built up a thirst. There were seven whiskies in front of us, I’d assumed that we would be working our way through the samples in order as is usually the norm, but no! Colin invited us to pick up whisky number seven and proceed to nose it. This just happened to be a 12 year old cask strength Lagavulin 2015 Special Release… not exactly a gentle introduction to the evening, we were going big! As Colin said, this was to be a “Meg Ryan moment!”
Lagavulin 12 Year old – 2015 Special Release. 56.8% – £89.99
Nose Medicinal/iodine, lemon and a good smoky chimney kick! Softens with a touch of water and some grassy, woody notes come through.
Palate Initially a robust peat smoke hit and some gentle wood spice. Water softens it and you get more caramel sweetness but still with a touch of a medicinal TCP quality to it.
Finish Quite dry, lingering smoke. This is a good, old fashioned Islay whisky!
More than a few people suggested it was a brave man who would kick off a tasting with arguably the most ‘potent’ of the whiskies on offer! As a rule we’ve come to assume that any Islay or peated malts would be tasted during the latter stages of an evening. As I’ve hopefully alluded to though, there appears to be no method to Colin’s madness! So where we were off to next was anyone’s guess. What he selected was whisky number four on our sheet – the Johnnie Walker Platinum. An 18 year old blend which he told us is “an old highland style blend containing a high percentage of Clynelish“
Johnnie Walker Platinum 18 year old. 40% – £72.99
Nose Sweet and rich, malty and slightly ‘resinous’. Baked apples & dairy ice cream
Palate Still quite sweet and rich, bit like a mince pie, but also has a dryness and spice to it, like clove & cinnamon.
Finish Some bitter dark chocolate notes but not a particularly long finish.
Thirdly, on to the Cragganmore. A Distillers Edition which has been finished in a Fonseca Port cask. Before tasting this expression, Colin invited us to go back to the Lagavulin and take a sniff of the glass (the majority of which were empty of course) to compare the differences in noses of the two whiskies. This was something he invited us to do with the majority of whiskies we tasted, it was interesting to see how the nose develops in the glass over an extended period of time.
Cragganmore Distillers Edition Port Cask. 40% – £51.99
Nose Honey, pear drops and a touch of a somewhat spicy pine quality. With time you start to get a sort of cherry menthol note.
Palate Sweet, thick and creamy… red berries & prunes with sherry sweetness and almost damp tobacco notes too.
Finish More of the fruity notes coming through, and a bit of the wood from the casks.
Next, we moved on to whisky number five on our tasting sheet! This was another Distillers Edition, although from Talisker, finished in an Amoroso (sherry) cask. Talisker being something that Colin describes as a “versatile outdoor dram”.
Talisker Distillers Edition Amoroso Cask. 45.8% – £57.49
Nose It’s peaty, mineraly and spicy with an underlying juicy red berry sweetness.
Palate Sweeter than expected but not in a bad way. It has a kick of red chilli in there and some pepper corns, a coastal peaty tang but with a good vanilla toffee sweetness.
Finish Getting a bit more of the costal quality coming through. This is a good rich tasty dram!
The fifth whisky was one what interested me. It was billed as a ‘special guest’ whisky, Inchgower Flora & Fauna. The reason why it appealed to me was that one of my favourite ever whiskies is a 12 year old Rosebank from the Flora & Fauna series, and until this point I’d not had any other drams from the series so I was full of expectation! Colin told us how 99.9% of Inchgower goes into blends, so is rarely seen as a single malt.
Nose Light, floral and delicate, elderflower and ripe peach. A faint touch of salt and some dry mineral notes after time too.
Palate Hay and ripe yellow fruits, this is summery and easy to drink!
Finish Little bit of lemon on the finish, and a very slight touch of oaky spice. This is a very, very good dram and thankfully did not disappoint me in the slightest!
And so on to our final two drams of what was a cracking evening. What I haven’t conveyed in this
blog are the numerous amusing tales Colin regaled us with, the frequent wise cracks and jokes, and I haven’t even dared to try to describe the energy and fervour with which Colin talked about these (and other) whiskies. What I can do though is encourage you whole heartedly to attend any event in which Colin has star billing… I promise you, you won’t be disappointed!
I’ll leave you with my tasting notes from our final drams. Firstly, a cask strength 17 year old Caol Ila. Surprisingly an un-peated expression, Colin informed us that for two weeks of the year the distillery produce an un-peated spirit so this was somewhat of an unknown. Secondly, the Oban Distillers edition, finished in Montilla Fino sherry casks.
Nose Toffee sweetness, some nuttiness too, a touch of spice, some lemon zest and a very subtle wisp of smoke.
Palate Ooooofff!!!!! where did that smoke come from? I thought this was unpeated?! Also getting treacle toffee and spicy wood notes.
Finish I guess it’s unrealistic to expect that some peat wouldn’t be left lingering in the pipes when distilling the ‘un-peated’ new make spirit. It’s rather evident on the finish!
Oban Distillers Edition – Montilla Fino Cask. 43% – £67.99
Nose Toffee, rich sherry notes, some brine and very slight sulphur?
Palate Plump raisins and rum soaked prunes. Still getting a coastal, briny quality though.
Finish Quite rich, spicy and sweet but not overly long
So long for now, see you at the next tasting.