Thursday 28 July 2016

Dramboree 2016 - Part 1

Whisky Discovery
The first weekend of July has been the weekend of ‘Dramboree’ for the last four years. A chance to get away from it all, along with sixty or so other whisky fans, for a long weekend in the land of Scotch. While we both missed the inaugural event, and Kat, unfortunately missed the second event too, it’s now a highlight of our Whisky calendar.

This year we returned to Rowardennen Lodge, a Youth Hostel on the Eastern shore of Loch Lomond, and the home for my first taste of Dramboree, two years ago.

The Dramboree weekend commences precisely at 1400 on the Friday, usually at a bus depot, and this year was no exception as it was Glasgow’s Buchannan Street Bus Station, Stand No.26 where we all congregated. We were even listed on the digital Departures board!

Our weekend started much earlier though, an eight o’clock train from Milton Keynes needed to be caught before we could climb aboard the Dramboree charabanc. Arriving at Glasgow Central at around 1330 it was just a short stroll through the city centre to meet up with friends, both old and new.

Amazingly, we had all heeded the warnings that the bus would leave without us if we were late. We were, on time, and in full, allowing our bus to depart on time for our short trip up the A82, running along the Western shore of Loch Lomond, to Tarbet, where we transferred to the ferry that would take us to our lodgings.

The 45 minute trip across the loch was where we made our first Whisky Discovery. Maverick Drinks Brand Ambassador, James Goggin, presented the official Dramboree 2016 exclusive bottling; a 19 Year Old whisky from the Isle of Arran bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company, and in keeping with the Boutique-y series the label is packed full of Dramboree-related fun.
Whisky Discovery
The official Dramboree 2016 bottling
The heavens opened up, with a short sharp shower as we approached the lodge’s wooded jetty, a weather pattern that was sadly to be the format of the weekend, but we didn’t let that spoil the fun. With rooms allocated, I found I’d been assigned the top bunk in a room of six – it was going be very interesting weekend getting up and down that I thought!

Like the well-oiled machine Dramboree has become, everything was running to the agenda, and if anything we were slightly ahead of schedule for the first listed event, which allowed us to quench our thirst with a cold beer while catching up with old friends. The dram table was starting to load up as everybody unpacked their bags, and I opened the bottle of Port Charlotte I had taken this year, a private single cask bottling, it had been sitting behind my sofa for the last two years waiting for the opportunity to share it. Kat had brought along the bottle of Mortlach from Wemyss Malts, we picked up during our visit to their Kingsbarns Distillery last year, and a bottle of Balblair, ’97 Vintage. 
Whisky Discovery
With the first dram down I started to peruse the table and spotted a bottle of Italian Single Malt from the Puni Distillery and thought I really ought to get this on the Liquid Log too!
Headline Masterclass

The first official event of Dramboree is the headline masterclass. Two years ago it was Stephen Marshall from Dewars, showcasing the new single malts not yet released at that time from Royal Brackla, Aultmore, Deveron, and Aberfeldy. Last year we had three presenters, from new, or young distilleries; Ballindalloch, Strathearn and Ailsa Bay, tasting what has gone on to be a very successful launch for William Grant & Sons Lowland Distillery.
Whisky Discovery
The Headline Masterclass with an unusually high proportion of Paul John Whisky Glasses!
This year’s tasting was another collaborative event, but this year between three of the oldest and most well-regarded companies independently bottling whisky today - Berry Brothers & Rudd, Britain's oldest wine and spirit merchant, having traded from the same shop since 1698, Gordon & MacPhail, founding partners, James Gordon and John Alexander MacPhail, established the business in South Street, Elgin in 1895, and WM Cadenhead, Scotland's Oldest Independent Bottler founded in 1842. These three family-owned companies have an amazing 613 years of history between them in total, and each procures, produces, ages and bottles an incredible array of whiskies.

With introductions over Cadenhead’s Mark Watt lead us straight into a 19 Year Old Glenlivet, distilled in 1996 and bottled at 52.1%. It had been drawn straight from the cask and can only be purchased as part of their Cadenhead Warehouse tastings. 

Gordon & MacPhail’s UK Sales Director, Steven Rankin introduced us to a Clynelish from their ‘Connoisseurs Choice’ range, distilled in 2000 and bottled in 2015 having been matured in a refill ex-Sherry Hogshead and a refill sherry butt.

In the mid-1960s Gordon & MacPhail took the unprecedented step of launching a range of single malts from different distilleries under the brand name 'Connoisseur's Choice', and offered the range for sale in the rapidly expanding Italian, French, American and Dutch markets. This move laid the foundations for the significant interest in malt whisky in these countries that remains to this day.

Next up was Berry Bros & Rudd’s Rob Whitehead, who had brought along a 30 Year Old from the long closed Lochside Distillery. The Lochside distillery was established in Montrose in 1957. The distillery was producing malt and grain whisky up to the early 1970's but was still producing malt whisky until it was mothballed in the mid 90’s. The distillery was sadly demolished in 2005, and very few single malt bottlings have been released, mostly originating from independent bottlers. Lochside single malt is indeed very hard to find, so this was indeed another rare treat
Whisky Discovery
The full line-up, and in order!
(Photo courtesy of Martin Sykes Jones - Manchester Whisky Club)
Mark Watt introduced his second whisky to us next, again drawn straight from the cask, and only available from the distillery, a 19 Year Old Springbank from a re-charred sherry butt bottled at 55% abv 

Springbank, Scotland’s oldest family run and owned distillery, established 1828 in Campbeltown on the site of the families illicit distillery dating back to the mid 1660’s. Springbank, unlike most other distilleries, carries out 100% of the production on-site - from the malting of the barley to the bottling of the aged product.

Steven followed with his second whisky and blew us all away with a 1965 Strathisla. This whisky was bottled in 2012, making it at least 45 years old!

Rob Whitehead concluded the tasting with a young Ledaig, again from their 'Berry's Own' range, not quite five years old being distilled in 2005 and bottled four and a half years later at 62.7% abv. A full strength sherry matured single cask that was actually bloody good! Fruity ‘sherry-bomb’ notes dominate the sweet peaty palate.

With the masterclass behind us, it was onto dinner. Haggis, Neaps and Tatties – just what you need for the beginning of a whisky extravaganza, and there was plenty of it! Enough for seconds if you needed it.

With dinner cleared away, it was time to introduce the dram table. Everyone had brought at least one bottle, some had brought two or three. We each had exactly 15 seconds to introduce our whisky before we explored the table, and what a wonderful selection we’d brought together. Whisky from across the ages and indeed across the world, with whiskies from The Netherlands, Italy, and Iceland to name a few! 

The choice in front of me was pretty daunting to say the least, so I decided to check out That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s Islay Blended Malt #2, A 27 Year Old, and another cracking blended malt made exclusively with single malts from Islay.

Grey Dogging with Goggin
Whisky Discovery
James in action! I think Kat has just tried the 19 Year Old Cask Water!
(Photo courtesy of Martin Sykes Jones - Manchester Whisky Club)
One of the highlights of the weekend for me was a workshop hosted by Maverick Drink’s James Goggin, entitled ‘Grey Dogging’ that was held on Friday evening

This was full-on whisky geekery at its finest! James had deconstructed a 19 Year Old Ben Nevis into two separate components by vacuum distillation. In one bottle we had 19 Year Old’ new make spirit, in the other bottle was the woody water.

New make spirit is known as ‘White Dog’ but this new make spirit had been matured for 19 years in a sherry cask! It was now known as Grey Dog for the purposes of this workshop. Once free of the water and cask impurities it was once again clear, with all the vibrancy and potency of new make spirit, ending up at over 70% abv.

The dirty cask water on the other had was cloudy, and rather less than appealing! However, bring the two back together and ‘hey presto!’ We have our whisky back! The woody water turned clear, and smelt and tasted like the whisky before it was separated.

James had also brought along some virgin new make spirit. James had matched the abv to the alcohol removed during the vacuum distillation, and added some of this to the 19 year old cask water, to see if we could recreate the whisky again. I can tell you it didn’t work, and wasn’t a patch on the original single malt. 

With a late night the previous evening (we’d been in London for the launch of the Tomatin 1971 Vintage) and an early start that morning, I was beat!. I needed to get to my bed, and indeed work out just how I was going to get up the little wooden ladder to my top bunk! I’m pleased to report I made it through unscathed, and slept soundly until my usual ‘oh my god it’s early’ natural alarm clock, although did return home with some significant unexplained bruising to my right arm and chest that is still visible after three weeks!

An early start was on the cards for Saturday as we all had to be aboard minibuses for 0930!

Slainte! Dave

1 comment:

WhiskyDad said...

How fascinating! I have never heard of this process before, nor thought it possible. I would love to experience it in person.