Last night I went to my first whisky event in the vault below the long established Milroy’s of Soho. I couldn’t have asked for a better location for my first tasting.
A beautiful setting, the vault is below their shop, which you have to enter by walking through a bookcase, as you do.
The vault is dark and intimate, and it proved to be an extremely relaxed location, unlike the clinical board room I would associate with this type of tasting. Candles, and leather chairs added to the ambiance, and the focus, besides the pillar in the middle of the room which ‘props up Soho in its entirety’ was the cocktail bar in the corner.
The tasting was organised by Elise from the Whisky Squad, and hosted by the guys from Milroy’s.
Three whiskies were presented, blind tasted by the room, and each was demonstrated neat, and subsequently in a specially designed cocktail for its flavour profile.
Now I must add, I am no whisky expert, in fact I wouldn’t usually choose to drink whisky. The meeting came about when I met Joel from the whisky squad who suggested we could collaborate for a pairing class, thus, the tasting was mainly for research purposes. I would never have imagined that I would enjoy it so much, and realise that I do in fact like whisky.
To begin with, we were presented with a glass;
‘Smell it, Taste it, and now guess its provenance, age, cask type, distillery…’ I was a little overwhelmed but went with it nonetheless!
This first was Glenfarclas 15 year old, a Single Malt Speyside whisky. On the nose it was unmistakeably sherry, with hints of dried fruit. On the palate, christmas cake, dried fruits, and sherry. It was warming, not too harsh, with a complexity which was fun to unravel.
The cocktail we were presented with was called the ‘Queen Victoria’ a red wine and scotch pairing. Apparently Queen Victoria drank this cocktail as a 50:50 red wine and scotch ratio, however this combination is far from pleasing to the palate so the mixologists gave us a combination of Fleurie, Cherry liqueur, Carpano Antico (red vermouth) and Aperol.
This cocktail was extremely well balanced, the whisky was blended in so that its presence was mainly discoverable on the nose, and it brought up an interesting discussion on what to eat with it. My table decided it would work really well with venison or duck, and we would also drink it with a dessert such as a cherry sorbet.
Whisky number two was presented blind again and infinitely different. It was clearly a bourbon owing to a cloud of vanilla which filled my nostrils. There was also a mixture of toffee, and toasty oak, a very sweet nose overall.
The palate was similar to the nose with a lot of vanilla, toffee, brown sugar and some citrus notes. There was a certain degree of heat from the alcohol which I didn’t find in the Glenfarclas.
It’s cocktail pairing was named ‘Globe in a Glass’;
A mixture of Château de Lacaze Armagnac 1982, Amaro del capo and Vermouth in a lemon washed glass. The mixologist doesn’t like to use non-alcoholic components in his cocktails, thus the glass was simply washed in lemon instead of lemon juice being added.
This was by far my favourite cocktail, refreshing, zingy, I wanted another, and in the heat of summer.
The final whisky was as far away from the flavour profile of the first two as possible. It was peaty. I am not a fan of peat, and I knew it wouldn’t be to my taste as peaty whiskies are what made me think I dislike whisky altogether. I realise that it is a ridiculously closed minded view, and I’m happy that this tasting opened my eyes a little.
The whisky was Kilchoman Machir Bay, which spends approx six years in Bourbon barrels and is finished in Oloroso casks. Kilchoman is a relatively new Islay distillery, established in 2005. The whisky exuded a pleasant sweetness and some tropical fruits, however for me the peat was just too overpowering. The whisky guys suggested that peaty flavours seem to diminish with age, which would make sense as this is a relatively young whisky.
It’s cocktail had by far the best name, ‘Hebrides and Ivory’;
It consisted of Genepì, St Germain liqueur and hopped grapefruit bitters with fresh lemon peel on top. The aroma was intoxicating, and I kept telling people how much I would love to take a photo of the smell. The flavours on the palate were balanced, however again, the peatiness just came through too much for my liking.
This tasting was a real eye opener for me, a non whisky drinker, and I even stayed at the bar for one more neat whisky before leaving. Thank you Whisky Squad and see you at the next event.