It’s official – Maltstock is Awesome.
I mean, last year’s event was really, really good, but this year it kicked up a gear in every conceivable way. Having sung the praises of the event to Neil from Caskstrength, we decided to go to the event together, and resolved to deliver a masterclass on some of our favourite whiskies from closed distilleries.
Having set off for the drive from Tunbridge Wells to Dover in ‘plenty of time’, we managed to miss the ferry like a complete pair of rejects (well, one reject, and an immaculately dressed man in Crepe Soled Shoes at any rate). Having secured passage on the next available ferry, we settled in at Dover for the wait. After what seemed like an eternity, our Ferry arrived, and we boarded. After ascertaining that there was nothing of interest in the Duty Free Shop, we repaired to shoot Zombies (we couldn’t find a ‘boy in care’ to help us out, and were consequently killed reasonably soon).
On disembarking into France, we worked out that given the distance we had to travel, the time we had to do it, and the fact that we were prepared to get a bit of a wriggle on, we would probably be able to arrive at Maltstock on time, despite the fact that we’d been delayed by a full hour and a half by the Ferry Debacle.
[paragraph removed on the advice of our lawyers]
So, after all that, we arrived at Maltstock with just 12 minutes to spare before our ‘Lost Distilleries’ tasting was due to commence. After the fastest ever setup of 6 whiskies and 6 food pairings in history, we launched into, it has to be said, a fantastically successful tasting.
We showcased 5 whiskies:
- Littlemill 1990 18yo (Murray McDavid) Bourbon Matured 53.5% - Paired with a Physalis, to bring out the huge tropical fruit notes from the whisky.
- Glenlochy 1980 30yo (Signatory) Hogshead 55.9% - Paired with a sweet and tangy Cashel Blue Cheese.
- Tamnavulin 1981 16yo (Master of Malt) 2nd Fill Sherry Hogshead 55.1% Paired with a more powerful Vintage Gruyere to emphasise the notes from the Sherry cask.
- Caperdonich 1972 38yo (Duncan Taylor) 53.6% Paired with some rather delicious smoked Parma Ham to bring out the notes of Subtle Smoke from the Whisky.
- Hanyu 23yo – Ichiro’s Malt 58% Paired with some Amazing Valhrona Caraibe Chocolate.
And at the end, we presented the crowd a sample of a ‘mystery drink’, told them it contained whisky from a closed distillery, and asked them to guess what they thought it could be. Funnily enough, 8 or 9 people shouted out answers, and they all got it right. Guessed it yet? Yep – the final sample was of our much-famed ‘Brown Drink’, containing a total of 31 whiskies from closed distilleries, as well as over 500 other whiskies, rums, Cognacs and other spirits. We’ve still got about 10 bottles left at the time of writing, so if you fancy it – you can buy it here. This one was paired with some delicious Smoked Almonds, as, well, there’s quite a lot going on in the Brown Drink – and we wanted something that would stand up to the plethora of different flavours all jostling for attention.
After the rousing applause at the end of the Tasting - which we maintain drowned out the hubbub from the Speciality Drinks tasting happening down the hall - we settled into our room with Jon Beach, Port Ellen Collector Extraordinaire, and custodian of the superb Fiddlers Whisky Bar on Loch Ness – it has to be said that we lucked out for the second year in a row with our room, managing to get a ‘4’ as opposed to being in the dorms.
Venturing downstairs, we turned our attention to the ‘sharing table’ in the middle of the courtyard, whilst repeating the mantra “responsible drinking, responsible drinking, responsible drinking”…
Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve – an interesting one this – matured in Oak purported to be from the time of the Canadian confederation. Typical Bourbon nose, but perhaps slightly sweeter? More than a hint of Peaches (tinned) on the palate. I have to say that this one way much more reserved than we’d initially expected. Definitely one to try though.
White Horse 1960s bottling – an older version of the commercially available version (which we tried alongside it). Even in hindsight, this is a very strong contender for our favourite whisky of the show. Nose was all soft, buttery peat, but with a really rounded character. Put us in mind of a better Lagavulin DE release. Absolutely enormous mouth-filling fruit – huge, delicious, and with a seriously lengthy finish, where the soft peat makes a resurgency. Stunning, and puts the modern day equivalent to shame. It’s likely that this is composed of reasonably old Lagavulin, and Port Dundas Grain (with maybe a smattering of Linkwood from this era? Correct me if I’m wrong).
After another couple of (non note-worthy) drams, we headed off for the evening’s entertainment – the now legendary Maltstock Quiz. We formed a team (We Heart Master of Speciality Whiskybase Squad) with Billy and Jason from The Whisky Squad (Billy also has another job I think – something to do with traffic cones?) and the guys from Whiskybase.
Team Name: Succinct
Feeling perhaps slightly apprehensive, as there were only 6 of us in our team, against some other teams of 10 or more. After the first round, our confidence had taken a few knocks (if there’s anything geekier than a round called ‘stillspotting’ – I’ve yet to hear about it), but we came into our own in the second and third rounds, and by the time the first set of rounds had been marked, we were in the lead!
Another round or two of 27yo Dailuane and a serious amount of conferring later, the end of the quiz was in sight. The final result? We came second by one point. One point. I tells ya’.
The should-have-been victors
After our crushing defeat (shouldn’t complain, we won a couple of lovely bottles – a Dalwhinnie DE and a Glenkinchie DE which were sampled, then beneficently consigned to the sharing table), we returned to the sampling table for a few more drams, and a quick trip around the only bit of Maltstock that charged extra – the unbelievably well-stocked table of super-premium gubbins from Full Proof. Bless him, he’d even heard we were coming and brought along a couple of seriously old MoM bottlings from his collection for us to have a look at:
A wee video here of the collection (didn’t think writing them all down would be do-able, but this gives you an insight:
After a few more drams, and absolutely nothing else happening, we went off to bed. Yes. Let’s switch the lights off. Let’s turn them off. How do you do that again?
The next morning, we awoke refreshed, ate a hearty breakfast courtesy of the Highlander Inn, and set off to sample a few more drams. Not before the guys from the BBQ team who would be responsible for our dinner turned up with the single best piece of apparatus I’ve ever seen in my life, though:
First Cask Highland Park 1974 – Nose all on fruit Salads (the sweets, not the good for you stuff you have with muesli). Touch of Heathery peat in the palate. Very good example of Highland Park, perhaps slightly tired cask, but I’m being picky.
Wasmunds Single Malt Spirit and Single Malt Whisky – Another American Micro-Distillery, but looks like they’re doing it properly here. Spirit is very applewood rich. At first I was reasonably convinced I was picking up notes from the BBQ, but a bit of investigation on the bottle label reveals that the barley is actually dried over Applewood, so there we go. A very rich palate on this – loads going on – cattle feed? Onto the Whisky, and we’re simply tasting a carpenter’s workshop. Wood Glue, Varnish, Wood shavings it’s all here. Astonishing. Not exactly easy-drinking, but very interesting nonetheless.
Blau Maus Schwarzer Pirat – Like eating banana strings. Deeply bad.
Burn of Speyside – the coolest whisky story I’ve heard so far this year. This is from a cask of teaspooned Balvenie that was submerged in a shipwreck in the New Water Way, and is hence matured, at least in part, underwater. There’s plenty of young Balvenie Character here, with a good touch of salinity (either real or imagined). Points to the bottler for audacity after ‘altering’ the labels following a cease and desist notice from the brand owner ;0)
21yo Glen Grant (1970s Italian Market) Hugely Caperdonichesque (probably because it basically is). Meaty, Rich, loads of old-sherry rancio. Post-curry Armpits in there too. Maybe a bit crusty.
In the afternoon, we were booked into a Benriach/Glendronach tasting. A fascinating insight into the upcoming products from this very progressive distillery. We sampled the new Benriach Horizons bottling, but the star of the show (for me at least) was a cask sample from a cask that was destined for the new bottling of Solstice, but by gosh this cask was a good ‘un.
Tasty Benriach. Mmmmm.
Neil Liked it so much, he turned into some kind of Benriach-Seeking Zombie…
Zombies are, by their very nature, inconsistent
After the tasting it was decided that Neil and I needed to retire to a safe distance with a couple of drams we’d purchased from the Full Proof Guys (notes are both of ours combined):
Clynelish - Manager's Dram 19yo
Nose: Effortless and fruity. Fruit salad sweets, waxy red apple and slightly perfumed pomanders.
Palate: A perfect sphere of red apple goodness, rich sherry notes, some playful spiciness and fruitcake notes. Beautifully integrated.
Finish: Becomes waxier, as time passes- classically Clynelish, with the red apple notes still performing well and Lebkuchen biscuits.
Overall: A time capsule of a dram. Perfectly highlights just how good these bottlings are from a time recently gone by.
Nose: Classic old Ardbeg swimming pool peat, wet skin, iodine and elastoplast. A nose you could live with for hours and hours, yet never tire of. With time, some slightly wood-smoked bacon notes come to the fore.
Palate: More sweet-cured bacon, bonfire toffee notes, and a little milk chocolate, wrapped up in a waft of aromatic smoke.
Finish: Hints of thick, tarry rope by the sea. Salty lobster pots. Absolutely mesmerising.
Overall: And on the 7th day, the Lord created Ardbeg 1977.
After these, it was definitely time for a well-earned nap, so off to bed we went.
Arising refreshed a couple of hours later, we were served perhaps the best BBQ I’ve had since ‘that day’ on Islay… delicious Pulled Pork, Chicken, Sausages (although I’m going to use the term ‘links’ to best describe these), a red pepper filled with Spicy Beans, and absolutely ridiculously good tri-tip.
If I’m honest, I think that maybe the one weak spot of last year’s Maltstock offering was the food on the Saturday night, but this had been remedied in absolutely spectacular fashion with undoubtedly the best commercial BBQ I’ve ever had. A solid win here.
Musical accompaniment to the BBQ was provided in spectacular fashion by Jock Shaw and Jon, our roomie – their rendition of ‘Beer Drinking Woman’ was both timely, and apt.
After a thorough Porkulation (a term coined by Jason, inbetween groans and the meat-sweats), we settled in for a few more drams before the culmination of Maltstock – the campfire.
Yep – that’s exactly what it looks like – a Whisky Barrel Piñata
The campfire entertainment was a combination of songs, story-telling, and a really quite spectacular ‘discussion’ between a couple of Glenfiddich and Glenrothes Brand Ambassadors about whose whisky was
the best (whilst stripped to the waist, doused in their spirit of choice, to a chant of ‘fight, fight, fight’). The highlight of the evening (apart from the extraordinary testosterone display of course) had to be Sietse Offringa - Hans Offringa’s (of The Whisky Couple fame) son delivering an acapella rendition of the Irish folk song ‘The Sick note’ with only a healthy-sized Black Grouse and coke to help him through. [Insert some kind of half-hearted joke about Dutch Courage – ed.]
After the singing and story telling, it was time to set about that piñata we’d seen on the way down. The amazing Dr. Whisky - Sam Simmons – Balvenie’s Brand Ambassador, had brought along not one, but two of these piñatas stuffed with vouchers for whisky goodies, and a whacking great malt shovel to bash them to bits with.
Shortly before the descent into Lord of the Flies
Obviously the ‘shovel’ bit of the Malt Shovel failed within seconds, leaving only an enormous pickaxe handle, being wielded by a group of blindfolded, thoroughly dramlaxed men. Here follows my favourite quote from the weekend:
Okay – you’re going to have to listen when I say stop, because there are other humans around you! – Dr Whisky – 2011
After another quick dram or two, it was time to make our excuses and slink off to bed at a frankly pathetic midnight (the courtyard was still being rallied by a round robin of Bohemian Rhapsody, American Pie, Wonderwall, and whatever else the guy with the guitar could play until about 06:30).
The following morning, we roused ourselves, snaffled down a quick breakfast, and headed for the border. The way back was quicker, taking a shade over 3 hours thanks to the lack of traffic. After a brief interlude to have our passport photos laughed at (out loud) by the customs officer, we were on the boat again.
The way back provided not only the opportunity for a power-nap, but also for a bit of reflection about how the weekend fared in comparison to other ‘festivally-type-things’ available to the discerning whisky drinker. Instead of summing up myself, I’m going to leave the final word to my travelling companion, the ever-immaculately-dressed Mr Neil Ridley:
“Well, that was a smashing surprise. The thought of a 200-strong (predominantly male) crowd sitting round for 2 days, surrounded by some of the greatest bottlings of whisky ever produced was a little alarming at first. It screamed ‘carnage’ on every level, but the memories I leave with were of friendship, civility and above all else, drinking some truly mega whiskies with my mates, in the countryside. Maltstock is not the whisky industry’s equivalent of a Star Wars Convention, it is a coming together of a bunch of very amusing folks, all with the goal of expanding their palate whilst having a bloody good time. Gentlemen (and ladies), I salute you…”
That just about sums it up for me too to be honest.
So, as I draw this absolutely epic post to an end, we’ve got a couple of interactive thingies for those of you who’ve soldiered on all the way to the end of the post:
Firstly – we noticed this recidivist on the way out of Maltstock. He’s donned a clever disguise, but if you see him, you should alert the police at once…
Secondly – I snaffled all the gubbins that the ‘bigger boys’ tend to leave lying around at events like this, and will be giving it all away to one lucky winner. The winner will be the person who correctly name the highest number of bottles (accurately) from the video of the Full Proof stand of rare and old gubbins. Just post a comment below, highest number of bottles wins all of this: