When you visit the island of Helgoland, you are lucky if your stay correlates with one of Helgoheiner’s weekly whisky tastings (which usually take place on a Thursday afternoon). And you are even more lucky if you not only get to attend a regular event, but a masterclass. Last weekend, me and my friends took part in one such get-together. On a sunny Saturday in June, no less than 15 spirit aficionados met on the terrace before Heiner’s Duty-free Shop to degust, discuss and celebrate whisky amidst like-minded folks. But not just any whisky…
The tasting started with a 45 (!) years old Inchgower from German indie bottler Alambic Classique. Since all of the attendees were seasoned drammers, Heiner skipped the “Whisky’s made from three ingredients” part. Instead, he shared with us interesting facts from the years in which the selected spirits were distilled. Did you know, for example, that this old-as-the-hills Inchgower trickled out of the still the same year that AC/DC was formed? Unlike the sound of Down Under’s most popular rock band, however, the drop in our glasses was not wild, loud and heavy at all. Instead, it was sweet, mellow and savory. Its beautiful nose was soft and inviting with butter biscuits, whipped cream and chewy caramel. The mouthwatering palate had more caramel as well as liquid honey, sliced almonds and candy canes. Typically for a grain, the finish was not too long, but finger-licking good. Besides Werther’s Echte butterscotch, I also made out latte machiato and sunflower seeds. Even though this was the most expensive dram of the evening, Heiner sold all his remaining bottles right after the tasting. I guess this says a lot about the quality of this ancient ‘Gower.
Next up were two whiskies from Glenrothes. Despite the fact that the 1997 expression by Dun Bheagan and the 1990 bottling by Signatory Vintage both originated from the same distillery, they were extremely different in character. Fully matured in sherry wood, the Glenrothes 19yo was heavy, thick and brimming with tannins. Red wine, black tea, dark grapes and dried plums were some of its most prominent flavors and aromas. During the robust finish, woody and sulphuric notes stepped forth. This was not an easily accessible dram, for sure. But its many rough edges made it all the more exciting! The Glenrothes 27yo, on the other hand, was matured in a hogshead. Sweet and summery, it offered all kinds of light, exotic fruits. When I sniffed it, I sensed pineapple, lime and gooseberry. In the mouth, it remained fruity while simultaneously becoming more complex. Besides a lot of tropical notes, I also discovered cheese cake, prosecco and white chocolate. The finish was medium-long with wine gums, garden fruits and citrus fruits. The different parts harmonized perfectly with each other and everyone agreed that this was an outstanding whisky of masterful make.
Just like the Inchgower we enjoyed first, the Miltonduff that came fourth was also released by Alambic Classique. Its year of origin – 1995 – was particularly special in the given context because it was the same year in which Heiner opened his store on Helgoland. As only 88 units of this well-aged pour got filled, it seems probable that the cask got split among several bottlings; normally, the angels in the Highlands are not THAT greedy! Aroma- and taste-wise, I found this 23-year-old Miltonduff to be extremely fascinating. It opened with the rich scents of sugared oranges, burnt almonds, lemon cake and Capri Sun drink packs. On the tongue followed cassis, brown sugar and coffee-flavored ice cream. The lasting finish was pretty powerful. In it, the fruity and savory notes we tasted before got accompanied by toasted wood and dark caramel. Excellent!
Whisky number 5 stuck out for several reasons. First, it was the only original distillery bottling in the line-up. Second, it was the only whisky without an age statement. And third, it was the only one that was not a Scotch. In regard to the spirit’s quality, however, none of these points seemed to matter. The Fino expression from Kavalan’s award-winning Solist series turned out to be a real beast of a dram! At 56.3 per cent ABV, the fox-brown liquid was the strongest sip we had that day. But despite its muscle, it was surprisingly soft. Its vibrant bouquet offered icing sugar, crystallized fruits and an abundance of oranges. Its mouthfeel was very dry, while its flavors were intense. The finish seemed to last forever. For most of the attendees, this slightly exotic and helluva deep whisky from Taiwan was the highlight of the tasting.
But my personal favorite was yet to come. The 12-year-old Williamson by the Spirit & Cask Range, which concluded the degustation, blew me away upon first sip! This super-peaty smoke bomb is essentially a Laphroaig with a “tea spoon” of another Islay malt added to the mix. In regard to its complexion, it was dirty, rough and powerful. Or, as Heiner put it, “a really filthy bastard”! Once you fought your way through the soot and the smoke, however, the whisky surprised you with a stupefying complexity. Enshrouded in chimney smut and drenched in engine oil, there was a richness of light fruits, toasted wood, dried herbs and old leather. I even sensed a beguiling sweetness that reminded me of blossoming trefoil and chambré apple juice. To a glowing ‘Phroaig fanatic like me, this was the best-possible finale to such an exclusive master class. And even though the price of 119 Euro was rather steep for a tea-spooned malt of reasonable age, I could not help but take a bottle of this dreckish, old-school whisky home. When I crack it open, I will not only get a full dose of peat and power on my palate, but also be reminded of one of the best whisky tastings I ever attended in my short but enthusiastic dramming career!
Invergordon 1973 by Alambic Class. (45yo / Single Grain / Highlands / 44.5% / ~239 Euro)
Glenrothes 1997 by Dun Bheagan (19yo / Single Malt / Speyside / 46% / ~109 Euro)
Glenrothes 1990 by Signatory Vintage (27yo / Single Malt / Speyside / 48.3% / ~99 Euro)
Miltonduff 1995 by Alambic Class. (23yo / Single Malt / Highlands / 48.5% / ~129 Euro)
Kavalan Fino Solist (NAS / Single Malt / Taiwan / 56.3% / ~219 Euro)
Williamson 2005 by Spirit & Cask Range (12yo / Blended Malt / Islay / 55% / ~119 Euro)
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