Wednesday, 27 February 2013

An evening with Berry Bros & Rudd

I was thrilled to be invited to an evening tasting at Berry Bros & Rudd last Monday evening, where Doug McIvor, Berry Bros & Rudd's very own Master of Cask Selection, took us through the widely acclaimed Blue Hanger blended malt.

Berry Bros. & Rudd is Britain's oldest wine and spirit merchant, having traded from the same shop for over 310 years, being established in 1698 by the Widow Bourne at 3 St James's Street, London. Members of the Berry and Rudd families continue to own and manage the family-run wine merchant to this day

Berry Bros. & Rudd have a long association with supplying fine spirits through their `Berry's Own Selection' for well over a century, making Berry's one of the earliest Independent bottlers. By 1909, they were offering 1897 Macallan and 1885 Talisker by the gallon or dozen; to name a few.

In 1923 the company created Cutty Sark Scots' Whisky, and pioneered the vintage concept for The Glenrothes single malt Scotch Whisky. More recently a range of fine vintage Single Malts.

This event was held in the famous 312-year-old vaulted 'Pickering Cellar' located beneath the shop and adjacent town houses. The event was set to start for 6:00pm and I arrived in plenty of time to have a walk around the area beforehand including a browse through their impressive whisky selection in the shop.

It was good to see a few familiar faces from whisky enthusiasts, writers and bloggers that I'd met over the last year during the whisky shows, and great to meet some of the people I had been following since the beginning of my whisky journey.

We were greeted with an aperitif, a 1988 Invergordon Single Grain Whisky (Berry's Own Selection of course!) served on the rocks and billed as Doug's Monday night dram. I've never added ice to my whisky before, and to be honest don't think I'll be doing it again, it did seem to kill the flavours I should have been experiencing from this twenty four year old single grain.

With everyone settled we were introduced to Doug McIvor who told us how one of the his first tasks when he joined the company was to evaluate the state of the reserves of Scotch whisky Berry's have been storing. He tasted around four hundred casks scoring them between 1-5 and how over two thirds were rejected due to poor cask management. The vintage single malt whisky looked good on paper to the accountants, but after Doug was through grading them all they had to write off the perceived value.

Doug then went onto explain how Blue Hanger came about. Originally the name of a blend introduced in 1934, named after a loyal customer from the 1790's; William 'Blue' Hanger.

In 2003 Doug was experimenting by blending a handful of aged Speyside malt samples when he came across a combination that seemed to bring the best out of each of the single malts. It was decided to revive the Blue Hangar name in order to release the new limited edition blended (vatted) malt which consisted of a blend of these aged Glen Grant and Glenlivet casks.

Last year the 6th Release was launched which went on to win 'Best Scotch Blended Malt in the World' at the World Whisky Awards 2012. This has almost sold out (you really had better be quick!) and so Doug was now working on a new release for later this year.

Sadly there were no bottles of the first release of the Blue Hanger blended malt available to start our tasting, not even in the Berry Bros & Rudd archives and so we commenced our evenings education with a dram of the 2nd Release, which was followed by the 4th, 6th and a sneak preview of the 'work in progress' 7th release due to be launched later this year.

Whisky Discovery #315

Blue Hanger 2nd Release 25 Year Old (45.6% abv, Bottled August 2004)
Blended Malt Whisky
No Longer Available
The youngest whisky in this vatted malt was twenty five years old at the time of bottling came from casks from just two distilleries just as the first release. The blend consisted of four hogsheads of 1974 Glenlivet, one sherry butt of 1974 Glenlivet and two hogsheads of 1974 Glen Grant.

1757 bottles were filled, naturally coloured and non-chill filtered

So What Did I Think?

Naturally I was blown away! Here I was sitting drinking 'liquid history', not only in the presence of some of the people I was reading when I first started learning about whisky, but also in the presence of its creator!

Upon first nosing this I was getting fresh licorice root (I love the stuff!) but after a short while it settled to give malty citrus notes, lemons and oranges. The vanilla from the bourbon casks taking a long time to come through. 

There was a slight grassy or straw note too. I kept coming back to each of the drams and this was certainly the lighter of the four releases we were experiencing.

Whisky Discovery #316

Blue Hanger 4th Release NAS (45.6% abv, Bottled September 2008)
Blended Malt Whisky
No Longer Available

This was 'the one' I had been hoping to taste ever since I saw it in Ian Buxton's 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die. It was also mentioned by Ingvar Ronde as one of his recommendations when I asked him a few questions regarding his whisky journey and how his Malt Whisky Yearbook came about.

Again Doug gave us the 'recipe' (as unlikely that I'd be able to recreate it!). With vintage stocks running short Doug had to select casks to bring about a 'family' flavour profile, whilst retaining the balance, complexity, elegance and texture.

So the 4th release was a marriage of two hogheads of 1992 Mortlach, one sherry butt of 1991 Mortlach, one sherry butt of 1991 Glen Elgin, one hogshead of 1976 Glenlivet and two more sherry butts from Glenlivet, one from 1975 and one from 1976. 

This was the largest ever release of the modern Blue Hanger series, yielding 3,256 bottles

So What Did I Think?

There is a much great sherry influence in this whisky than the second release, and a sweet smoky note, not peat, more of a 'char' like smell. I had a 'struck match' note but it wasn't unpleasant.

It was much sweeter on the palate than the 2nd release, softer, with burnt toffee notes, some dried fruit and orange and spicy wood. I preferred this profile to the second release.

Whisky Discovery #317

Blue Hanger 6th Release NAS (45.6% abv, Bottled 2012)
Blended Malt Whisky
£71.50 70cl
This is the current release, 2223 bottles were filled from  the following cask make-up: one sherry butt of 1998 Glenrothes, one sherry butt of 1990 Bunnahabhain, and two hogsheads from Bowmore, one from 1987 the other from 1990

So What Did I Think?

To me, these were getting better each time! Again quite a sherried influenced dram, with some licorice root on the nose, rich toffee, and a sweet light Islay peat smoke, like a driftwood fire smouldering on a beach. 

There was that 'struck match' note again, and when I returned to this later got a lovely smoked mackerel note. Glorious!

It had a sweet smoky entry with a lovely balance of sweet fruit, smoky BBQ and the salty sea air. 

Whisky Discovery #318

Blue Hanger 7th Release 'Work in Progress NAS
Blended Malt Whisky

With the 6th release rapidly running out, Doug had been tasked to create a seventh release, and he had brought a bottle of the current work in progress for us to share our thoughts. 

Doug told us how he brings various cask samples together in a small scale at first, using a syringe, blending the different cask samples to give the profile he is looking for. 

Once he has something he think might work, he has this made up into a bottle using the same proportions.

The 'recipe' so far consisted of a 1998 sherry butt from Glenrothes, a 1991 hogshead from Bruichladdich, a 1997 hogshead from Glen Keith and and 1997 hogshead from Clynelish. Because this is 'work in progress' it was tasted at cask strength, when it is ready to be released it will be bottled at the traditional Blue Hanger 45.6% abv

So What Did I Think?

Looking good so far, though I was missing the Islay element I had been enjoying in the 6th release. It had quite a sweet nose with a 'struck match' note, some wispy smoke and a honey and lemon note too. There was a light sweetness when tasting and quite creamy on the palate.

The next three drams were something that Doug thought would compliment the Blue Hangers we had just tasted, and because Doug was starting to investigate Rum added the 11 Year Old Panama Rum to the tail of this tasting session. Notes were fairly sketchy after the Blue Hangers as the formal tasting session had degenerated into simply enjoying the whisky!

Whisky Discovery #319

Glen Moray 1991 (57.3% abv Bottled in 2012)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
£71.50 70cl

I love a Glen Moray and have a similar SMWS bottling. No detailed notes, too busy enjoying the whisky amonst very pleasnt company.

Crisp and clean, chalky with white pepper. Gentle sweetness on entry before peppery spice. With water much sweeter and pears start coming through on the palate.

Whisky Discovery #320

Glen Grant 1974 (47.8% abv Bottled in 2012)
Single Malt Whisky
£140.00 70cl

I only wrote jotted down a couple of words for this one. Too busy talking and enjoying this whisky, my first ever Glen Grant. Tropical fruit notes on the nose, Lychee and Mango.
A splendid 1974 Glen Grant
A delightful1991 Glen Moray

The full line up as follows with links to Berry Bros & Rudd pages as applicable:
This was all washed down with a pint of Guinness in the pub around the back of Berry's after the tasting with most of the attendees. Many thanks for my invitation, it really was appreciated.

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