It’s 2am on a Sunday morning.
I have no idea how I got home.
My head’s pounding and there’s a strange buzzer ringing throughout the house.
What the hell happened?
At whisky festivals I usually surprise myself; I tend not to end up as drunk as one might imagine when being given access to nigh on unlimited amounts of amazing quality whisky, for hours on end.
Tipsy, of course, but drunk?
I was excited for the Spring edition of the Midlands Whisky Festival but not as much as I was two weeks prior for Whisky Birmingham.
Maybe due to being well versed in the Nickolls & Perks run event or because Whisky Bimringham was the first whisky event of the year. Whatever the reason I wasn’t quite as giddy as I had expected.
I made my way into the Town Hall with Tom to meet up with Rob and another friend, self-proclaimed drinking expert, Mike (who seemed to receive an industrial filtration system at birth rather than a liver).
Upon arrival Rob foisted a nosing glass into my hand and said nothing.
I gave a sniff.
I had a sip.
It was the Bunna 33yo.
A gentle walk along the shore with soft smoke and salt wrapping you up like a tartan blanket.
I immediately exchanged a dream dram token for a glass of my own.
Already being aware of the drams on offer, thanks to N&P’s email earlier that week, we moved on to the Ardbeg table to claim a glass of the 21 year old.
It was stunning on the nose and fantastic on the palate.
Gentle honey notes intermingling with traditional medicinal peat and brine.
We started talking with the chap manning the stand. He was more accustomed to champagne than Scotch he said – enter Tom and another of his loves in life.
Even I was interested in trying an Ardbeg finished in a Krug cask they were musing about.
I tried the Corryvreckan for the umpteenth time, eager to finally take note of how it tasted and how it compares to the incomparable Uigeadail.
It was like warm buttered toast compared to smoked salmon.
I have to admit, for me, I think it dethroned the Uige-y (don’t kill me guys).
I took a couple of photos and the gent kindly gave us all an Ardbeg tumbler each (much obliged) and off we went; Tom and Rob to their Glenfarclas Masterclass and Mike and I to the Tomintoul & Glencadam stand.
Tomintoul is a dram I’ve always wanted to try; they have a lot of expressions that interest me, all at very reasonable price points.
Glencadam is another I’ve come close to picking up a bottle of for quite some time after seeing a few independent bottlings floating about.
We started with Glencadam and Old Ballantruan which were both great – especially the Old Ballantruan NAS which had more ruggedness and body to it than the 10 year old (they’re also kosher yet the NAS smelt like smoky bacon crisps if that’s something you’re looking for).
We then moved onto Tomintoul where I was blown away with the 16yo, 14yo and 15yo Portwood.
When you can pick up a 16yo for £39.95 and it’s as good as that you have to put it on the list to pick up at some point.
We went back to Glencadam for a 17yo Portwood which, for me at least, blew away Tomintoul’s port cask finish.
Both of the gents who ran the stand were great to chat to and seemed really passionate about their brands but not in a pushy, butter wouldn’t melt way.
Moving on, we hit up Mariella at the Elements of Islay+Port Askaig stand so that I could introduce Mike to some of their drams.
I had him try the incredible Oc3 which, outside of the OBA Concept, is the best Octomore I’ve had.
I also asked Mari to pour the Port Askaig 100 Proof for me and the 19 year old for Mike so he could compare and settle the debate over which is better (Mari saying 19 and me the 100).
He liked both… cheers dude, really helps.
Mari also gave us some peated chocolate buttons which someone had given her; appreciated, if a bit random but would have gone great with a big sherry cask dram.
We sidled along to Nikka, as a faint pink label had attracted my attention.
And ’cause… Nikka.
The guy who was manning the stand at WhiskyBrum was there and I reckon he must have read my post/Instagram after WhiskyBrum because finally, there was the Miyagikyo in all it’s glory.
It was divinely light yet rounded at the same time.
After a From the Barrel for the road we headed to Tomatin.
We went through the full Tomatin range and they were very much as I remember, lovely but not particularly special.
We tried the 12yo, the 14yo Port, the 18yo Oloroso, the Cu Bocan 2005 and finally a 21yo blend called Antiquary.
It was about this point it started to dawn on me of the rate at which we had fired through these stands.
It was still only 1230 and we were already 21 drams deep.
Mike had been working his magic on me.
We spotted Vicky from the Birmingham Whisky Club, her husband Dan and a couple of others so headed over for a chat before catching sight of Rob and signalling to him to stay where he was.
He was at the Carn Mor Stand having a dram of Clynelish 26yo poured into his glass. There was one dram of the Aberlour 26yo left and it seemed fated to be mine. Mike completed the set by grabbing the BenRinnes 8yo.
All were fantastic but that Aberlour was ridiculously good.
All sherry and warm oak.
We checked the time and headed upstairs for our Gordon & Macphail masterclass.
Promising to be extra special, we had signed up for the chance to taste a selection from, and possibly the full, ‘Gordon & Macphail Speyside Collection’.
When the doors opened we took our seats at one of the front tables with a jovial chap with a good beard.
Us beardies flock together, see.
Steven Rankin, fourth generation of the Urquhart family, owners of G&M (and Benromach) and current G&M bigwig was presenting.
He brought 5 sixths of the full set and we were suitably pleased.
While very informative and all impressed by the huge wealth of the man’s knowledge it took nearly 45 minutes before we were able to actually try any of the drams.
The pace didn’t improve and while all were amazing drams, the atmosphere for me could have done with some levity.
When we did finally get to them the Linkwood, Strathisla and Mortlach were all incredible and I’m fairly sure the 60 year old Glen Grant was the oldest whisky I have had or am likely to try for a good while (full notes of all 5 at end).
Luckily we also had a spare place on the table and shared the spare glasses out between ourselves and our tablemate.
We left the masterclass impressed but also aware that time was escaping us so made beelines for the last few drams we “needed” to try before the end of the day.
Tom and I went to Glendronach and Douglas Laing.
Glendronach can honestly do no wrong.
I was a little disappointed with the 21yo in comparison to the legendary 18yo but their cask strength was fantastic ( a definite future purchase) and their peated was great.
FYI the Cask Strength Batch 6 is a marriage of malts between the ages of 8 and 23.
I finally got the chance to try the Bunnhabhain Moine Oloroso that I had already bought 2 bottles of but had been reluctant to open.
I bought them with one eye on investment, as I imagine they’ll appreciate in value, but after trying that sample (and smuggling one out for my Dad to try, who also bought a bottle) I’m cracking one at a suitable occasion soon.
It was amazing.
Usual salty, gentle Bunna with the peat turned up a few notches and some fruity sweetness from the sherry cask perfectly rounding out the dram.
The Glenglassaugh 40 year old dream dram was passed my way by either Rob or Tom and that was phenomenal too, well worth a go if given the chance; oodles of caramel and toffee.
I quickly guzzled down a Highland Park Dark Origins, Braeval 18 and an Arran 14 which were all very good, but in the dying moments of the festival we all instinctively headed back to Elements of Islay like homing pigeons for a last dram of LN1.
That right there.
That’s pretty much where my memory ends.
I have flashes of sitting on a chair in a busy room, visions of a train station at night and snippets of a taxi ride but nothing else until waking up in the early hours of Sunday, head aching and hungry as all hell.
We went for pints in the Duke of Wellington pub.
So I’m told.
We had cigars.
So I’m told.
Tom put me on the bus back to Wolverhampton.
So I’m told.
I withdrew cash and caught a taxi home from Wolverhampton train station.
So I worked out from a receipt.
I was lucky.
Lucky to have good friends to look after me and lucky that some crazy heinous shit didn’t befall me.
I injured my shoulder a couple of weeks ago and am currently on prescription painkillers.
At no point prior to the festival did it occur to me that whisky and painkillers would come together to form an almighty dump truck of holy shit, good god, nope.
I sat on my sofa at 2 o’clock in the morning forcing myself to eat oven chips and fish(less) fingers and down pints of water to stave off the monumental hangover that was rumbling in my direction.
It near enough worked.
All I was left with was one hell of a headache the next day.
I managed to keep hold of my possessions, tasting glass, Ardbeg glass and all my other fineries.
I checked in with the guys the next day and found out what had happened.
I think I left/was sent home before I became too embarrassing or did myself a mischief (thanks for being on chaperone duty Tom).
I still reckon it’s somehow Mike’s fault.
Screw you Mike, you’re a damned fish.
Dram Order & Ratings
N.B. All ratings out of 10 except for where obvious, which conform to my usual system.
Bunnhabhain 33 Year Old (That Boutique-y Whisky Company) – 10
Ardbeg 21 Year Old – 9
Ardbeg Corryvreckan – 8
Glencadam 10 Year Old – 6
Glencadam 19 Year Old Oloroso Cask – 7
Old Ballantruan – 8
Old Ballantruan 10 Year Old – 6
Tomintoul 12 Year Old Oloroso Cask – 5
Tomintoul 16 Year Old – 8
Tomintoul 15 Year Old Portwood – 7
Tomintoul 14 Year Old – 7
Glencadam 17 Year Old Triple Cask Portwood Finish – 8
Elements of Islay OC3 – 8
Port Askaig 100 Proof – 7
Port Askaig 19 Year Old – 6
Miyagikyo – 8
Nikka From The Barrel – 8
Tomatin 12 Year Old – 6
Tomatin 18 Year Old Oloroso Cask – 7
Tomatin 14 Year Old Portwood – 8
Tomatin Cu Bocan 2005 Vintage Limited Edition – 6
Antiquary 21 Year Old – 7
Aberlour 26Year Old (Carn Mor) – 9
Clynelish 26 Year Old (Carn Mor) – 7
BenRinnes 8 Year Old (Carn Mor) – 6
Glen Mhor 1980 (Bottled 2011) 43.00% – Gordon & Macphail
Spirity with a little vanilla and some woodiness coming through.
Predominantly nutty with a creaminess and peculiarly brandy notes showing.
A long flavourful finish.
Creamy with sherry and fruit coming more to the fore over time.
Pleasant but a little too potent on the palate.
Linkwood 1973 (Bottled 2012) 43.00% – Gordon & Macphail
Huge sherry nose with a little nutty edge to it.
A certain sweet, fruity character starts to develop with time.
Sherry dominant again with some buttery cereal and even the faintest hint of citrus fruits showing.
Citrus fades out along with any heat fairly quickly leaving nutty raisin notes.
A fantastic Linkwood expression.
Complex despite being sherry-dominant.
Lovely chewable dram contrary to the ABV.
Glen Grant 1952 (Bottled 2012) 40.00% – Gordon & Macphail
Sweet sugary nose with aromas of cinnamon and Christmas cake.
Apples present, but only faintly.
Sherry comes through straight away on the palate and then dies back to leave the underlying sugar.
Oak and some leather come through and start to become a little drying.
Very little finish.
Leaves a leathery aftertaste and the drying from the palate intensified.
Not my cup of tea at all really.
The texture and drying effect were not to my liking and the sweetness that was promised on the nose gave way to a wooden clunky palate.
Strathisla 1957 (Bottled 2007) 43.00% – Gordon & Macphail
Big, bold sherried nose.
Maple syrup comes through along with red apples and demerara.
Weaker taste than expected.
Sherry again and weakly, maple coated smoky bacon.
A short sugary finish with no real fire to mention – smooth.
Treacle notes rise up briefly.
A fantastic dram.
One of the best noses I’ve ever come across; like Autumn distilled to a scent.
Mortlach 1954 (Bottled 2012) 43.00% – Gordon & Macphail
A massive, fantastic nose.
Sherry drips and flows being chased by caramel and tobacco notes.
Sherry obvious from the start and as you dig deeper toffes, caramels and stewed fruits come to bear.
Possibly some brandy aromas show.
High viscosity and lovely texture.
A long, fruity, sugary, mouth-coating finish.
Weaker heat than expected.
A phenomenal whisky – easily one of the finest I have ever tried.
Completely sherry-laden and sublime.
Chewable and dreamy.
Glendronach 21 Year Old – 7
Glendronach Cask Strength Batch 6 – 9
Glendronach Peated – 7
Caol Ila 20 Year Old (Douglas Laing-Old Particular) – 7
Bunnahabhain 8 Year Old (Douglas Laing-Provenance) – 6
Bunnahabhain Moine Oloroso – 9
Glenglassaugh 40 Year Old – 10
Braeval 18 Year Old – 8
Highland Park Dark Origins – 8
Arran 14 Year Old – 8
Elements of Islay LN1 – 8
- Mortlach 1954 (Bottled 2012) – Gordon & Macphail
- Bunnhabhain 33 Year Old – That Boutique-y Whisky Company
- Strathisla 1957 (Bottled 2007) – Gordon & Macphail
- Glenglassaugh 40 Year Old
- Bunnahabhain Moine Oloroso
- Glendronach Cask Strength Batch 6