Last month we held a very special whisky tasting of The Kinship 2019 Collection; an incredible line-up of six, Islay single malts. One of the attendees did a write-up of the night for his whisky club, and shared it with us saying: "It was written to be over the top, but so were the whiskies!". With his permission we are sharing his firsthand experiences with you. A big thanks to Dewald Niemandt; we hope you enjoy the read.
It was the best of drams, it was the worst of drams…
This is usually how whisky tastings go. It is a cocktail of varying quality malts which usually leaves me with either wanting more of a taste, or more of a distance between myself and that one bottle of dreg which I couldn’t stand, couldn’t pronounce, and couldn’t remember 6 drinks later… and so ended up having another regrettable swig of the ill-advised dram.
This might sound like I am a whisky snob, but I am not. I am a whisky snoot. I prefer ‘snooty’ as it hints at peaty smoke with oily undertones, which is how I like my whiskies. *Snob sounds like the sound someone makes when they have serious hay fever.
Back to whisky tasting
On the 18th of September at the WhiskyBrother Bar in the Morningside Shopping Centre, the WhiskyBrother team had a special tasting of the 2019 ‘Kinship’ collection from Hunter Laing. And boy was it special. The tasting so opulently exquisite that some of the whiskies were bottled even before I was born. So, seeing as things are only really worth doing so long as someone, somewhere would disapprove (my wife in this case), I was one of the attendees that fine evening.
First impressions: The Bar
The bar is surely a Scotsman idea of what heaven should be. Rows and rows of bottles gleaming like ambient lighthouses with the promise of warm respite from stormy weather. 1275 Bottles to be exact. That is a lot of respite. My eyes caressed the collection of bottles like rays of light traversing a palace of crystal. I made my way over to the back of the room where most of my companions for the evening were already seated around tables where whisky glasses glinted with golden liquid. There was an excited susurration in the air, as if the sword was about to be pulled from the stone.
And so, Neil Paterson, our Master of Malt for the evening, gleefully announced the program. I sat there feeling like a priest in confession, as we listened to the journey of these bottles from Scotland to Johannesburg. More and more I started feeling that what we were about to do was sacrilege. This was the only known tasting of this collection outside of the Ardnahoe distillery opening (owned by Hunter Laing). This collection was specifically selected by the legendary Jim McEwan, the Lancelot of the whisky world. Whilst Neil was telling us that the bottles themselves where valued at a cool R90 000, I thought to myself: “O-K. Don’t trip. Don’t knock over the glasses. Remember, You break them… you run.” And so as I broke out in an existential cold sweat, the first whisky for the evening was introduced: A Bunnahabhain 30 year old, one refill sherry butt and one refill American oak hogshead, bottled at 48.5%
As I raised my glass, the universe drew breath… and that breath was filled with a slight sea breeze, with rich oak and sherry...such sherry. I was over-awed. So I mostly sat there in silent reverence as my companions quaffed and swigged and sniffed and swirled. “Honeycomb here”…“Sweet and fruity”…“caramel pudding”… Everyone fine-tuning their senses to unwrap the layers of this 30 year old mystery. We tasted sherry and spice, and crème brûlée and toffee. And like a Kenyan runner, the finish on this whisky just kept going and going and going without getting winded. This whisky was excellently balanced and the consensus was: We were impressed.
The evening was brewing along nicely
Next up, a Caol Ila 40 year old, in a refill American hogshead cask, bottled at 44.9%. Now, knowledge comes from experience and experience is often brought about by a lack of knowledge. I did not have the know-how to qualify or quantify this whisky. It is older and wiser than me - this whisky was there when Wayne Gretzky won the Hart Memorial Trophy in his first NHL season. It knew about Ted Kennedy authoring the Refugee Act. How could I adjudge this whisky? How dare I? It was the colour of honey. It had a nose that whispered secrets from the depths of a cloudy sea. I smelled something akin to hessian bags left in a wet barn for a few weeks. There was citrus, there was floral notes. I was surprised that a whisky this old could still hold so much nose. It had a soft and slightly oily mouthfeel. On the palate, there was some peat, there was a salty, smoky, chocolate. The finish was that of a shooting star, blink and you’d miss it, but boy would you have missed it. It was briny and salty and oozed class.
After our olfactory senses had returned to this decade, Neil informed us that the next whisky on the menu was one from the laddies, a Bruichladdich 27 year old, refill American oak hogshead bottled at 50.2%. It was the colour of apple juice. It was a Bruich on the nose with that smoke on the water. Scents of sweet honey, overripe fruits and vanilla. On the palate it moved from salt to smoke and in between there were sparks of floral vanilla, barley, sweet, salt, fruity like neurons firing away at the speed of thought.
It was complex, it was very, very good.
Feeling as if I was committing some form of infidelity by reaching for a bone-dry cracker to cleanse my palate after this Laddie tryst. And like a boxer, I steadied my hands and nerves for the next round.
It was the Bowmore 30 year old, from a refill bourbon hogshead, bottled at 46.2%. The colour was something between apple juice and honey. The nose had some pears, it was sweet, tinged with light smoke and, dare I say, lilac perfume. There was peat, there was mossiness, there was sweetness. Even though I found it delightful, some of the (probably more knowledgeable) patrons remarked that it had a rather soapy finish and more pronounced alcohol taste.
Then, we took a tongue-twisting trip with a Laphroaig 18 year old (the youngest of the evening). It was casked (or butted?!) in an Oloroso refill sherry butt and bottled at 56.4%. It was breath taking. It was a rollercoaster of the nose: smoke, salt, smoke, salt, sweet, smoke, salt. It was a cirque-du-soleil for the mouth. And just the very mention of this dram causes some sort of synaesthesia, and I see a green sea on a cloudy day with barrels of sherry crashing against each other in the foamy waves. I could not have too much of this and yet there was so little of it in my glass. And even before I could fully contemplate the existential nature of this incredible spirit, it was fully gone. And like Pavlov’s dog, I was left wishing I had a bigger bowl... and possibly a napkin.
Last, but certainly not least, we had the Ardbeg 26 year old, refill hogshead, at 47.2%. At this point I had been spoiled, my tongue felt pampered, my nose felt engorged. I had started the evening with an open mind, but these whiskies had come around and filled it. Exotic tastes and opulent aromas. I was wowed, I was wooed. Surely, this was the edge of bliss... but I was wrong. This was before the Ardbeg.
The Ardbeg was a sea gale colliding with an old sailing vessel. Between the creaks of splintering timber and oak, and the crashing spray of salty waves, and the smoky smell of burning decks. This was art, this was whisky as it ought to be. Oak and toffee, pepper and sweet lemon curd, salty and citrusy.
And as the sensory assault reached its crescendo, it blended into contentment and the nostalgia of remembrance. We few, we happy few, we band of pot-valiant brothers and sisters… for they who shared these drams with me, shall I call my whisky kin.
What an evening, what a set of whiskies.