Last week we published Paul’s Geek’s Guide To Whisky Tasting so we asked him to practice what he preaches and sent him to the Manchester Whisky Festival. Here’s his report:
I’ve been going to the Manchester Whisky festival for a few years now. The first time I went, in 2015, I hadn’t even moved their yet (I went on the train of course because I don’t drink and drive). It’s a fun event – a relatively relaxed and friendly affair – and there are always interesting characters to chat to. The festival has had quite a few homes in its ten-year lifespan, including the Museum of Science and Industry, Bridgewater Hall and, until it began a six-year refurbishment, the Town Hall. I was unable to go last year when it moved to yet another home in the cathedral but I made a point of going this year. I’ve never been in the Cathedral since moving here (apart from a quick peek in the apse during the Great Bee Hunt this summer) so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone!
So a couple of weeks ago, armed only with a pen, notepad and bottle of water, I ventured into Manchester Cathedral’s main nave and entered a world of whisky! Once we were handed our glass, guide and a couple of poker chips (I’ll come to those in a moment) the first thing I made a point of doing was buying a rather handy little glass-holding lanyard, leaving my hands free to take notes! Then Mrs C and I booked onto a Blending Masterclass – it sounded like fun!
The main aim of an event like this is for various distilleries and merchants to get you to try their wares, and maybe you’ll buy a bottle or two. There is a shop on site, although individual stalls will often direct you to their own online store! So you go around with your glass and when you see something you’d like to try, you ask for a wee nip (or dram or tot) – and they oblige. Stallholders are generally very personable and chatty, and also extremely knowledgeable about their own product (and sometimes, others too) so will give you the history and manufacturing process of the dram you are tasting. If you wish to try their standard fare, that is included in the entry price, but if you wish to try one of their more expensive spirits, that’s where the poker chips come in to play. A white one will get you a taste from a mid-priced bottle and a black (although they were orange this year for some reason) will get you a sip of their top tier tipple!
Like the last few times I’ve been, there was a food stall on hand, to line your stomach (it’s very easy to get tipsy if you don’t use the spittoons) but I have to say, the choice of Mexican food was a curious one. Normally they’ve had sandwiches, which are plain enough as not to interfere with your tasting, but tasty enough to be, well, tasty. Spicy foods can have a quite drastic effect on a tasting session so I avoided this stall (as delicious as it looked and smelled), opting for a bite on the way home instead.
The blending workshop was fun. A representative from Chivas Regal gave us all five small bottles labelled Creamy, Smoky, Fruity, Floral and Citrus – the five main flavours of whisky – and, after a ten-minute introduction to Chivas Regal and the history of blended whiskies, we were set loose to create our own blend! I still have my bottle on a shelf at home waiting for a special occasion (maybe Christmas Day, although it won’t be with feet up in front of Doctor Who thanks to that tradition being ruined by the BBC)!
Anyway – the main reason you came here was to see my top five drams so I’ll get on with that. Each time we go, Mrs C and I take it in turns to purchase one bottle – whichever happened to be our favourite that year. The first time Kirsty chose Compass Box’s Orangerie Blend (which uses citrus zest in the blend as well as a mix of whiskies giving it a lovely orangey flavour), and last time I went for the 12-Year-Old Kilkerran which was one of the first bottles from the newly reopened (in 2004 – in terms of whisky manufacture 12 years is “new”) Glengyle – a rare Campbeltown distillery. So this year it was Kirsty’s choice – something which we both actually agreed on – but read on to find out what we chose.
I’ve since written a sentence or two about each one to start but the tasting notes are exactly as written on the night. As I typed up this list I realised that each of the five is from a different country. I promise you that this was a complete surprise to me and not deliberate!
As with all whisky tasting it’s important to remember that this is subjective – these were the five which really stood out to me on the night. Other people may not agree, and I might not even choose the same five if I went again tonight – but for that night, here are my five:
5. Mackmyra Brukswhisky
I’ve always wanted to try this whisky from Sweden but the stall has always been packed. This year I managed to get to the front and I’m glad I did!
Nose: Dried fruit, raisins.
Palate: Light and gentle. A hint of sweetness from the Bourbon casks.
Finish: Smooth. Goes down easily leaving hardly any aftertaste.
4. New World Projects
Another world whisky, but this time one I hadn’t heard of. NWP is from Australia so this intrigued me.
Nose: Spicy, slightly burnt, like overcooked toast.
Palate: Gingerbread. Fruit.
Finish: The gingerbread flavour stays for a while. Nice.
3. Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky
This single malt from USA took me by surprise as it was not as sweet or gentle as a Bourbon.
Nose: Pears, bananas, slightly woody.
Palate: Sweet fruit and spice.
Verdict: I liked it! A lot!
2. Cambus 25-Year-Old Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky, 1991
As you would expect from the age, this was the whisky I used to my Orange Chip on. It was a tough choice between this and what was ultimately my number one, because this was so good.
Nose: Hot buttered toast with marmalade.
Palate: Vanilla with a gentle undertone of citrus. Sweet and spicy.
Finish: Rich. Coats the throat as it goes down with a slightly spicy flavour.
1. Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky
My first try of an English malt made quite an impression on me as this is the one we ended up taking home. I was amazed to find out, after chatting with a chap called Kit from the Cotswolds stand, that this is, like many English whiskies, quite young. It is in fact, only a 3-year-old. This challenged me to question my conceptions and snobbery over “the older, the better”, as this was, in my opinion, the best of the night and the one we took home!
Nose: Butterscotch and honey. Sweet.
Palate: Floral at first, then warming spices. Mouth filled with flavour before the liquid hit my tongue.
Finish: Sweet, rich, thick.
Verdict: The one to beat.