Is the dark side stronger? There were certainly times at this year’s London Whisky Show when I was left wondering. The energetic camaraderie and palpable buzz of excitement of the (longest I’ve ever seen it) queue outside the venue quickly faded when the doors opened and a veritable bun fight immediately began to join a second queue – to make purchases. The tannoy welcoming arrivals, could almost have announced the opening of ‘the 2019 whisky shop’. The jostling turned into barging, and smiles turned to grimaces as folks quickly realised that turning up several hours early is simply not good enough to guarantee scoring that particularly desirable bottle nowadays. And then there was Sunday…
Another early start, another snaking line forming hours before the event was due to start. A certain chap had set his alarm particularly early, and as such made the pole position slot. Keen. As the hours passed, several of his family arrived - none looking particularly like whisky enthusiasts (though who am I to judge?) They parachuted themselves into the very front of the three hours old line. OK, really keen. The doors opened, a dash ensued and said unit, in near mechanical style, ensured they were the very first over to the hallowed ground of the shop queue. So far so the same as the previous 24 hours. But, what happened next took some brass….and a total lack of morals.
Whisky Exchange are well aware of the allure of chase bottles and they try to be reasonable with them. Limits for these bottles are set to one per person. Now, granted, if you march your entire family over this number is automatically increased, and yet still technically one bottle per person, but let me tell you, some shopping ensured. As the waiting line of consumers looked on, rather than simply purchased and moving on, to actually enjoy the show, the unit simply moved to the next till and repeated - another gut of one per person bottles. And then the next till. And the next. Yaw-droppingly brazen, and a worryingly effective method of taking a haul of one per person bottlings and walking out of the show with cases upon cases. And I don't feel like I'm going on a limb suggesting that we'll be seeing these bottles again very soon. (TWE please take note - none of this is a criticism of you guys - you do a tremendous job of the show)
So far so ugly. But let’s put the on-going attraction of whisky as a commodity aside for one second.
I watched as Dave Worthinton from Boutique-y Whisky donned his headphones, picked up the mic and took an eager group of (also headphoned) enthusiasts through a tutored tasting free from the din of booming hall. Silence. Tranquillity. Smiles and peaceful contentment. Elsewhere I saw old friends and new sharing stories of eagerly discovered new drams and unearthed old treasures. A raft of new distilleries presented early expressions from what will be the future of whisky – young, passionate, full of promise. And pleasingly, enthusiasts seemed equally as keen to sample the new as the old.
Whisky is very much alive and it’s the people, not the liquid as a commodity which is driving it forward. The dark side might be quicker, easier and more seductive, but the light side is always in glorious abundance. There’s always a new hope.
Today’s review is also quite dark, but in an entirely different fashion. Releasing this week is a new TWE exclusive Ballechin (peated Edradour) – and let me tell you, it’s a big bruiser of a whisky. It was distilled in May of 2003 and matured full term in a 1st fill oloroso sherry butt (number #204) for 15 years. It has been bottled at 55% and will be available from The Whisky Exchange shortly for £110.00
Nose: Intense thick leather – bound books, old sofas, heavy coats and saddle bags. This sits alongside deep, dried and jammy berries – blackberry, blackcurrant and raspberry. Peat smoke billows – lump coal, BBQ pork ribs and heavily charred beef brisket. Penetrating and undeniably meaty. Running throughout chilli chocolate richness and a tang of balsamic with antiseptic cream and a paintbrush of creosote. Reduction lowers definition, but allows some of the underlying fruitiness more room to express – orchard fruits, poached pears and stewed apples with a less meaty, more tarry peat influence
Taste: Viscous, mouth-coating and frankly huge. Concentrated BBQ flavours, opulent, both savour and sweet and energetically meaty – maple bacon, burnt ends, slathered BBQ sauce and smoked molasses. Fruits push through with blackberries reduced down to jams and preserves, whilst mesquite-style smoke and tarryiness conjoins with eucalyptus, treacle and hospital floor cleaner. Dilution tames quickly – adding juicy and syrupy notes of dark cherries, cranberries and a handful of orchard fruits. The beast slumbers.
Finish: Long with tarry meat-driven smoke, and mentholated oakiness.
This 15 year old Ballechin takes no prisoners. Its intensity and enormity won’t be for everyone. It’s big, it’s gutsy and it’s walking right down the tightrope of balance – tipping from side to side, but just about maintaining the required poise. Sadly, adding water to reduce the concentration results in this balance finally giving up the ghost – you either enjoy this as nature intends or you don’t. But, this is nevertheless an enjoyable beastly ride in to darkness.
Review sample provide by The Whisky Exchange.