Whisky is a beautiful thing. Many feel, unjustly, that it is a scourge upon humanity. There are those that feel that the drink only brings about pain and loss, hardship and strife. If you ever sit down and talk to those people, you'll find in general that they have a hard time seeing the bright side of life. For them, it's all about seeing the glass half empty and trying desperately to keep people from emptying it outright. I'm of the opinion that draining the glass, the glass of life, is all that we can do with the years granted to us. Those that seek to admonish alcohol as a social ill need to see the forest for the trees, sometimes. You can take individual cases of heartbreak or you can see the bigger picture and how convivial and complementary alcohol is to life, liberty, and (certainly) the pursuit of happiness.
Glasgow Whisky Festival, organized by the Glasgow Whisky Club and Mark Connelly, securely fits into the heading of "good whisky festival." A four hour romp of whisky and merriment is precisely what the doctor had ordered for the 13th of November. Well, technically, the doctor ordered me to stop drinking and smoking cigars but what does he know. He's just jealous, I say. Held at The Arches under Glasgow's Central Station, it proved to be a wonderful exercise in ignoring the good doctor's orders. Here is the entrance to the Valhalla of whisky:
You can see that the name "The Arches" is not some post-modern, slightly facetious and more than slightly ironic, attempt at a clever name. It is literally just a series of brick arches, much like an old subway station would be. And inside these series of tubes was a plethora of whisk(e)y that made me weak at the knees. I spent the first ten minutes wandering aimlessly in a state of whisky shock. So much to try and no direction! A polite nudge from one of my friends in the program (who works at Royal Mile Whiskies) helped me solidify my position and finally hit the ground running. And, without further ado, the tasting list:
Wemyss Malts: Oh Wemyss, how you have tempted me for years. Your siren's song of independent bottled, cask strength, non-chill filtered whisky had called to me across oceans vast and deep but, alas, the good ship Bacchus couldn't brave the rough seas. Ok, that's a far more lyrical description of what's actually happening. Suffice to say, Wemyss is...difficult to find in the States. While they did release a series over there not a whole lot of places find themselves stocking the Wemyss malt range which breaks my damn heart. I finally got to have a small tipple of Wemyss at the Whisky Festival and what a tipple it was. A 19 year old Mortlach entitled "Barbeque Sauce", it was a pretty apt name. With a deliciously sherried and chocolatey nose (like those chocolate covered cherries), the taste of it opens up beautiful for a 55% ABV spirit. It's full of figs, raisins, and currants with a waft of sherry. The smoke comes out to play as well. A nice representation of, say, a fruity Carolina style BBQ sauce. They had a super secret bottle of Springbank hidden under the table that I didn't know about. Curse you Wemyss Malts, you tricksy hobbitses! Smeagol wanted to catch him a nice old Springbank.
Old Pulteney: Stopped by the Old Pulteney table to chat with the fellows over at Edinburgh Whisky Blog who were working diligently to fill glasses and talk shop. It was cool to finally meet them. Even though we live in the same city and love whisky a hell of a lot, all three of us had to travel to Glasgow just to meet up. Ah, life. You are crazy, aren't you. While we chatted, Lucas poured me a dram of the Old Pulteney 17 which an incredibly surprising dram. One would think that 17 years on mainly ex-bourbon (some sherry) would leave this a right old wood-infused monster but...it almost drank like new make. The nose was sweet cream butter and a hint of vanilla with some cherry syrup. The taste was incredibly spirit forward. Very light and creamy with only subtle touches of oak. It tasted almost like a scone with clotted cream and jam but in 17 year old whisky form. Yeah, I dunno where I'm going with that one but it's really creamy, fruity and cereal-y for 17 years on bourbon'd wood.
Glen Grant: Here's probably a huge surprise for everyone - I really like Glen Grant. It is definitely my preferred drinking scotch. Its early expressions aren't confusing complex, overly woody, or pungently powerful. They're light, clean, and fresh. Thus, if I'm working on a paper (like, oh, I dunno, my literature review) or something of that ilk, I likes me a healthy tot of Glen Grant to sip while I work. It doesn't steal my attention, assault my taste buds, or leave my tongue tasting like a smoked leather boot. While at the show I got to try an expression that isn't available in the US which was a treat for me. The Major's Reserve, a 7 year old blend, was fantastic. Young whisk(e)y isn't given enough accord these days. With a nose of butterscotch and polished wood and a taste smacking of light oak, strawberry, orange, and plum it is a beautifully light and fragrant scotch that I will definitely have to revisit. The price? About £19. Huttah! Ben, who was representing Glen Grant, suggested I seek out last year's Glen Grant Cellar Reserve 16 year old, which I definitely will try to do. If you've got some sources out there, dear readers, willing to part with a small sample, email me.
Compass Box: This booth was my ruin. Literally. I arrived at the booth having only had the Spice Tree and Orangerie. Chris saw to it to educate me. Well, his definition was educate me. My definition was more along the lines of "watch your feet because I'm about to drop some knowledge...and whisky". I arrived at this booth moderately sober, I left this booth with a strange hankering for a Big Mac. Which I fulfilled. Fun fact: the fries over here aren't as good. Regardless, Chris walked me through THE ENTIRE RANGE. So here we go. This is an In With Bacchus Mini-Guide to The Compass Box:
Asyla - Soft and gentle. A warm embrace of a scotch. Pears in syrup, apples, and a faint grain quality to it. Subtle and nice, but didn't blow me away too much.
Oak Cross - Beefy/weighty and woody with a quality of polished church pews on the nose. Taste is like licking said pews. Oddly, it works. The grain sweetness keeps it from being too overpowering. It also keeps it from making you feel like a beaver making a dam.
Peat Monster - Smells like a smokehouse bbq shack. Sea weed and brine, campfire and burn barrel full of autumn leaves. The taste is like Omberto Beef Jerky and pastrami (sans mustard). Very nice stuff.
Hedonism - I'm pretty sure I have to like it just because of the name. Nose is almost grappa-y/grapey with a poignant gristy undertone. Taste is sweet cream butter, fresh mowed grass, and salted caramel. Good stuff.
Flaming Heart - Nose is the classic smoke and oak (smoak!). Sooty and tarry with righteous peat influence. The taste is meaty and smokey with, amazingly....grapefruit. A dram to blow the mind.
Double Single - Nose of Macintosh apples fresh from the tree. Almost like standing in the field picking them, the ripe apple smell mingles with the fresh smell of morning dew on a crisp fall morning. Pears too. Tastes of said apples and pears, orange peel, and delicious.
Hedonism 10th Anniversary - My favorite dram of the entire show. The nose is mossy, earthy, and piny. Smells like a wet forest floor. Vanilla and oak peek out as well. The taste...the taste is absolutely crazy. It might have been my palate but it had a juniper flavor, along with pine pitch, tar, and rich earthy quality. A pine forest after spring rain. Fantastic dram that I'll have to re-investigate to make sure that this dram actually exists.
Thanks Chris for the walk-through. It was enlightening to say the least.
Vintage Malt Whisky Company: Hadn't heard much about these guys which is a shame as they had a huge range that (thanks to Chris) I could barely even touch. I did get to try their Finlaggan, a private bottled single malt Islay. The nose has two types of smoke to it both a rich, damp smoke of Laphroaig/Lagavulin and the milder, spicier smoke of an Ardbeg. It also had some lemon floor cleaner as well. The taste was thin and lacking body but followed the nose. If I had to imagine, this couldn't be a very old malt (maybe 6-8 years old). It just seems a touch thin to me. But, regardless, it's not a bad deal for about £23.
Bruichladdich: Ah Bruichladdich, always bucking the trend. with your Octomores and your X4+3. Tried some of the newer releases from Bruichladdich while at the table. Joanne recommended the Organic which I was happy to oblige a dram of. The nose is double cream, caramel, golden syrup, and grist. The taste follows with that double cream, grist, and a slight sherry and dark fruit influence from the cask. Not bad stuff. I like it considering it reminds me of new make spirit which I have an ungodly passion for. On the other end of the spectrum, I tried their new Sherry Cask. Nose was straight sherry and a barnyard/musty smell. Some stale grain too. The taste was sherry, cherries, and sour notes. Strong cooked barley too. Not a fan of this one, I'm afraid. Still need to try more of their stuff before I pass sound judgement.
Diageo - Stopped by the Diageo table to score me a sweet, sweet dram of Talisker. I am an unabashed fan of Talisker and I have no problems saying it. It has the best balance of sweet and smoke that only gets richer and more intense with age. I got to try a real treat at the show in the form of the Talisker Distiller's Edition which was magic in a glass. It was plummy and pruney, with that fantastic spicy smoke. It was almost like sweet and spicy ribs in liquid form. I could drink this every day and, if my student budget didn't allow it, I would. Buy some. I command it. Thanks for the pour, Donald!
William Grant and Sons - Last stop of the show was the Glenfiddich table. I've had a decent amount of the stuff at Glenfiddich (mainly their younger expressions) but the one I came here for was a super special one that I knew I wouldn't be able to get my hands on anywhere else. The Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix, a blend made up of casks located under the collapsed roof at their warehouses (which collapsed due to heavy snow-fall). The nose was potent toffee, caramel, and boiled sweets. The taste followed with a slightly minty and boiled candy taste (like those minty Christmas candies) along with Granny apple and cinnamon. A nice dram but I'm afraid that most people will let it sit on a shelf as a collectors piece rather than drink it.
And there you go, the inaugural Glasgow Whisky Festival. Sorry it took so long to get this up (finals are currently kicking my ass and stealing his lunch money). Thanks Mark and Glasgow Whisky Club for putting on an amazing show. The ONLY problem I had was the lack of water towards the end but that's minimal considering the water was free. And I drank a lot of it. In any case, if you want to join the hundreds of attendees next year, the tickets are already available here. I'd love to go but it all depends on whether or not I'm still in jolly olde Scotland(e) come next November. But hopefully I'll see you there.