Whisky Tasting at the Free Press

Ed from Bacchanalia in Mill Road led a blind whisky tasting at the Free Press. It was interesting the tasting the whiskys blind, as there was no starting point other than the vague shape of the bottle. It made it even harder than Ed chose a fiendish selection of (very interesting) whiskys!


The running order was:

Now, I need to get this out the way: but my two top malts in the blind tasting form this selection were the English Chapter 9, and the Amrut Fusion from Bangalore! I hadn’t expected non-Scottish malts to be peated, but these two were and they were great. The Chapter 9 was light and clean, and the Amrut was interesting, rich and flavourful and (I think) only 3 years to age to maturity. I didn’t like the Macallan, the sherry was too powerful, nor the Bunnahabhain: I have drunk that in the past but they have changed the whisky recipie and it is now aged in sherry and it was quite atypical of what I would look for in an Islay Malt—I hope that works for them as a strategy for the whisky, but I wasn’t keen. The Spice Tree was interesting and a good quality blend: depending on price I would probably buy that (even though the branding didn’t really appeal—I’m glad I tasted that one blind, and I was a bit unsettled how much the branding made a difference to my perception after the bottle was revealed). Benriach was fine.

This was a ‘dangerous’ whisky tasting—pouring our own measures at the table, with ongoing opportunities for side-by-side comparisons, and another nip of the favoutites. Dean won the prize for the blind tasting, answering categories on where the whisky was from [Scottish/region or elsewhere], age, wood, taste and smell. I came second. None of us did particularly well! Ed was knowledgable about the whisky—and let us get on with enjoying it! Great evening and the next day wasn’t too bad either.

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Tour of Tobermory Distillery

The tour started with a very polished DVD of a magazine-attractive young couple cycling and cavorting around Mull and ending with them enjoying a glass of whisky on the beach. They looked so wholesome that they should have been drinking fruit smoothies or a soya shake. Learnt a bit about the distillery and the head distiller was good fun. Had a tour from Andy, a tall dark haired lad who turned out to be quite good fun. The tour was quite hands on: doors into tuns were opened and we got to stick our heads into the fermenting barrels, which was wonderfully overpowering (“a bit like taking poppers”, which Andy helpfully likened the experience too).

The whisky tasting was a bit limited. Michael and I both tried the 10 year old Ledaig, which is the Tobermory peaty malt. Initially neither of us liked it, but it grew on us with a bit if water to bring out the peaty flavour. It wasn’t like the peaty Islay malts, harsher and a bit ‘dirtier’ perhaps. It must have grown on us because we bought a bottle.

Andy gave us a very enthustiastic (and seemingly genuine) pub recommendation for “fucking good” food. People are such good fun in Scotland! We’ll definately be eating there later.

Tobermory Distillery


Craig, Michael and I went down to London for Wine Plus at Olympia. For today my job title was ‘Wine Buyer’ for the Free Press, and Michael was the Bar Manager. We had some excellent wines. I was most excited about the Portuguese Taste Zone and a large exhibition of Greek Wines.

We started the day at about 11 with a tasting of French Wines from the Loire at the French Discovery Lounge. This was fun, but I enjoyed browsing the wines more, there were in excess of 100 from all parts of France available and the choice was fantastic. The staff were from a Wine Making Degree in the south of the UK, and it was interesting chatting with them.
We spent a good 20 mins with a very helpful man from Indigo Wine, Ben Henshaw. We tried some nice wine from his selection. Sadly I lost my notes.
pedro ximenez reservaHighlight of the new taste experiences today were four wines from Alvear in the south of Spain in the Pedro Ximénez range. There were also lovely sherries and we started with an impressive Fino en Rama de Añada: “En Rama” means that it is unblended and has not been filtered to enhance its individuality. It is the first “single vintage” Fino in modern history (apparently). We also tried the Pedro Ximénez Añada, Solera, Cosecha ad Reserva which wines that get darker and darker through the range made from dried raisins. By the time we were tasting Reserva it was like syrup of figs, but gorgeous. Must try and get some of these, they are very luxurious and unusual.
For the Greek Wines, I tried some from Domaine Sigalas and from Ino Wines. I was more attracted to Ino wines are they produced more of the varietals: Savatiano, Moschofilero, Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko and Mavrodaphne. The Mavrodaphne was very nice (as usual) and the man behind the stand, Nick, was the same person who did the wine tasting in Cambridge about a year ago. He might be contacting Craig to do a tasting at the Free Press, which would be fun. He’s a Greek Wine evangelist (he’s also Greek).
Has some lunch in a pub close by Olympia and a bit of a rest (with beer amazingly for one of us), then headed back for more tasting!
Craig introduced us to Australian Margaret River wine, from Arlewood. The Semillon was lovely and smokey and the Deviation Road Pinot Noir was very good too.
At 5.15 we went to one of the highlights of the day: Be A Free Spirit with Cheese, Patricia Michelson from La Fromagerie in London was matching fantastic cheeses with spirits in unusual combinations. This finished me off for alcohol as there were nine lovely and generous spirits to match the nine cheeses:

  • Perry, paired with, Pont L’eveque cheese from Normandy
  • Lustau Oloroso Sherry, paired with Parmigiano Reggiano 3 Year Reggio Emilia
  • Madeira, paired with Tomme de Corse Corscian cheese
  • Jamaican Vintage Rum, paired with Explorateur, Ile de France (gorgeous full fat extra creamy cheese)
  • Valvados, paired with Livarot from Normandy
  • Glenfiddich 15 Year Whisky, paired with Doddington Wooler from Northumberland (a great cheese, 2 years old) and a bit like dutch mature cheese
  • 15 Year old Armagnac, paired with Dry Charolais from Burgundy
  • Marc de Bourgogne, paired with St Marcellin aux Marx de Raison Isere/Dauphine
  • Grappa Nosiola, paired with Gorgonzola Naturale, Picenza from Lombary (a lovely cheese)

The spirits were arranged by Will Smith, Sommelier at Arbutus and were all very nice. This was a really impressive tasting, all the glasses out in the style of a high-class restaurant with lovely long platters for the cheese. I was very impressed

We tried some lovely wine from Denbies Wine Estate in the UK; The women behind the counter were especially lovely as we were a bit rambly by then having drunk more than we ‘spat’. The Redland Pinot Noir/Dornfelder was good, as was the Greenfields Cuvée. They are the biggest wine producers in the UK, based in Dorking and I feel a visit coming on when we are down that way in the late summer next year.

We headed towards the rum stands on the way out. Craig had been looking forward to this all day. I preferred to veer across the passage to the stand of Jean-Paul Metté where we ‘smelt’ some really wonderful Eau de Vie D’Alsace: cinnamon, fruits and garlic! (for cooking). The Marc de Gewurztraminer was especially lovely.

Jean-Paul Mette

So we staggered out about 6.45 and bravely walked to Earls Court after missing the silly train from Olympia to there. All the trains from King’s Cross were cancelled because of signal failures and we ended up standing all the way home on a slow train from Liverpool Street, swaying for several reasons!