We are at an impasse. Literally. The train doors will not open. Pressing the shiny green button is entirely futile, the doors remain firmly closed. Half of our train will soon be speeding towards sunny Wolverhampton. The other half will remain fixed in Milton Keynes. We are currently located in the half that is a train to no-where. No-one wants to remain fixed in Milton Keynes. Being a seasoned train traveler I know for a fact that if the button doesn’t work it’s a simple matter to pull the doors open. They’re designed for this. In fact, there may even be a sticker on the doors advising you to do so. I try to gently encourage my friend to push on, lest we be left behind in Milton Keynes. “Fear not fellow traveler, these doors are designed to open with the merest of pulls, we shall soon be merrily on our way down the carriage”. That is what I say in my head. What comes out is nearer “lloooooookkkkk, jusssssssssss force the faaaaaaaking thinnnnng”. Robin is not convinced. He decides we need instead to exit the train, and re-enter further down. Cue a trainspotting style dash down the platform, only very slowly, and very wobbly. To think, just a few hours earlier I’d been on a different train full of such excitement…
I’m a planner. I plan. I plan hard. For Stourbridge whisky festival earlier in the year I had an hour by hour, dram by dram plan for the entire day. It went very well. However, for the London whisky exchange show I somehow ended up sans plan. Life got in the way. I was going to do my homework on the train, however we randomly met up with no nonsense whisky Vin, and Gentleman Grimm. So instead of finally writing down a list we just caught up with the gossip and latest war stories. I think I was also slightly intimidated by the list, 6 pages long and hundreds of drams, many of which I’d never tried. Trying to pick would have involved denying myself too much amazing whisky. I’m sure I’d be able to work something out on the fly. It’s a trade day. I’m a professional. I’m a dab hand at this malarkey. It’ll be fine.
First stop, the buffalo trace stand, where we’re promised the entire pappy van winkle range and the entire antique collection too. They had none of these. Great start. Instead we had a sample of the Stagg Jr. Randomly it was edition one. Edition one, has been completely and utterly panned on the internet. It’s not until edition 3 and beyond that the internet thinks it’s even drinkable. The internet, however, is wrong, because this is decent stuff. Even Robin, the final member of DBC yet to be convinced of the merits of bourbon, is loving it. Cask strength whisky to begin. This is fine. I am fine. Next up the Weller 107, cask strength again. Sadly, for me, though lifted by the abv, the Weller 12 is still the pick of the bunch, this doesn’t do a lot for me. Robin’s newly found faith in bourbon is already wavering. Maybe a rye will win him round. EH Taylor rye doesn’t really do much for him, I found it enjoyable, but not really mind blowing.
Next up our friends in Diageo. They had the flora and fauna range, distilleries that don’t usually get bottled, I tried the Benrinnes 15. Benrinnes has a superb reputation, but personally I find it a little hit and miss. The Boutiquey Benrinnes we tried before was amazing, but this flora and fauna was much less so. Collectivum is a special release. Never before have Diageo joined together all 28 of their active distilleries in one bottle. Never again should they. It’s as dull as ditch water.
Next up, Boutiquey, with Dave Worthington. They’d brought some really interesting stuff, that I’d not tried before. Also their poster/wallpaper hinted at some exciting releases yet to come, including a bottle with a doge meme style label, which looks like a 50/50 blend of try hard awfulness and amazing. We worked our way through blend #1 edition 3 (50 years old) which I still love but Robin didn’t really get, Allt-a-bhaine, Glenlossie and Caledonian. Probably all a bit soft and gentle for me, and for the day. The Caledonian was decent enough, but it’s no Invergordon, now that, is a grain whisky.
We had a wander round, and found ourselves at the Bruichladdie stand. It was staffed by Christy, who is very tall, very ginger, has an amazing Scottish accent and is from and lives on Islay. She made me go a bit funny. I needed a stiff drink to steady my nerves. Octomore 8.3 did the trick very nicely. A massive explosion of fruit, and smoke, and alcohol, it really is great. Once you learn to ignore the marketing puff about ppm (it’s got a high ppm, but it’s not that smokey) Octomore is very special, and they put it in some cool casks for a wine lover like me. 8.1 (Scottish barley) was less of a taste sensation, I think the lack of an exciting barrel made it fade in comparision. Christy was annoyed that we’d taste these the wrong way round, so of course we doubled down and finished on a Port Charlotte Scottish barley, which indeed tasted of not much, and left me weirdly chuffed that I’d tasted it all wrong, and Christy despairing. I brightened her spirits by showing her a picture of the Dalmore stand “sometimes just raising a glass is a privilege” which we merrily mocked.
Sticking with Islay next up was Kilchoman, where we met George Wills. I love that Kilchoman has a distinct distillery character that runs through the range, with the barrels then adding a little, or a lot, depending on the release. The 2009 vintage (8 years old) is a predominantly bourbon cask release. It’s fine, and showcases the spirit well, but isn’t one I’d reach for. The Loch Gorm is seriously good. Sherry cask Kilchoman. The only slight downside is I tried a single cask sherry cask Kilchoman once, and it was amazing, and Loch Gorm sadly hasn’t quite hit those heights. It’s still a stonking drink, but I always leave knowing it could be better. Maybe time will produce a Loch Gorm as good as that single cask. Or maybe I’ll just find a single cask as good. Finally their new release, a red wine finish. I was very excited, but left disappointed. Rather than adding fruit the cask seems to have just dried everything out a little. Whilst not terrible, it’s no Octomore.
Whilst waiting to speak to someone on the Few stand we spotted the Jura stand. Robin said to me that Jura is rubbish. I said that it generally is, but that it’s not a terrible distillery, and maybe if they just released something old and cask strength it’d be decent. Robin, 15 whiskies in, decided he’d have a word with the brand rep. Give me something old and cask strength said Robin. Here, drink this “one and all” said the brand rep. And you know what? It was lovely! Patterson (*spit*) has put it in some weird casks (sparkling cabernet franc anyone?!) but like a stopped clock, this time he was right. It’s not even horrifically priced, £120 for a 20 year old cask strength bottle. I guess when you’ve ruined the reputation of a distillery so much you can delight in the devaluation of the few decent releases they have.
Finally we found a spot at the few stand, and immediately regretted it. They fed us few malt, and it was bad, really bad. It smelled like Glastonbury. Straw, and wet dog, and shit. Properly vile. To make it up to us we managed to blag samples of the British Bourbon Society (really just a facebook group) bottling. Which was very perfumed on the nose, but not really what I want or like from a bourbon. Interesting, but not much more. Somehow we got shuffled down the table to speak to a very beardy, very hairy, softly spoken American chap. He fed us some Balcones brimstone. It was amazing. Liquid barbeque. And the Texans know a thing or two about barbecue. Chatting away and noticing the Texan drawl I asked this chap “so, do you work at the distillery then?” “yup, I’m the head distiller” he replied, with maybe a tiny glint in his eye. Balcones certainly seem to be talking the talk. We tried a couple more expressions, the single malt and a wheated number, which whilst interesting, didn’t have me reaching for my wallet, but certainly were excited about the possibilities to come.
Having had twenty two whiskies and a fantastic day to this point we decided that this was plenty, and we’d toddle off home, waving goodbye to our friends and fans, and get an early night.
That, is what we should have done. What instead we did, was have some lunch, and then have another 20 whiskies. It would be unfair to try and review any of them, as I was quite clearly drunk, my palate was screwed, and I was much more in the mood for a lovely time than any analytical reviewing. A couple of things that did jump out were the Macallan 3rd edition (really perfumed nose, still mainly improved by being a decent ABV on a Macallan), and the Brenne French single malt, which has to be up for the award of the weirdest whisky I’ve tried this year, flat Irn-Bru. Same colour too.
After this we took large measures of Paul John on to the terrace, enjoyed some Montecristos, wandered down the Thames, ending up at my cousin’s place. We played some vintage guitars (I can’t play guitar), drank some red wine (a mistake), missed our train, and re-booked on to the last one leaving Euston. Where we got stuck, between two carriages, and nearly got left behind in Milton Keynes…