SMWS Outturn 319 - All Together Now

SMWS 108.55 - Treasures of the SeaFinally circumstances allow a preview tasting, for both myself and Matt. When the whiskies were divided between us I found a new distillery, a corn whisky and an oddity on my list.

The Gathering will be happening in September, but those whiskies will be coming out separately and weren’t available for preview. That leaves a slightly smaller than expected list, but still some treats.

My favourite was not what I’d expected - the Allt a Bhainne. It’s lightly peated but has fruit, barbequed seafood and smoke in just the right proportions. I’d like more than one bottle.

A close second is the Auchroisk, which provides oranges, nuts and dark chocolate. I’d like a bottle.

There are a few I’d like another dram of, but I’d like to highlight the oddity that is the Ardmore. Matured in a peated cask, the peating is slight but it’s the chemical notes which make it a challenging but interesting whisky.

Overall a short but decent list, to tide us over until The Gathering bottlings arrive...

Matt reviewed the other half of the list, so if you don't see what you were looking for then try there...

The Philosophy Of Whisky by Billy Abbott

Before we begin, a brief disclaimer: I know Billy Abbott, and have done for some years now. Whilst I have approached this book as neutrally as possible, it would be foolish to assume that there is not some friendly encouragement involved here.

The British Library’s “Philosophy Of” series covers a broad variety of topics, from beards to beer, but it is inevitably whisky that brings it to my attention.

The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show 2021

I’d been looking forward to The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show (hereafter just TWEWS) for a long time. I’ve been to every physical one so far, and some standholders have the partial deafness to prove it!

For those that don’t know, TWEWS is the best whisky show in the UK. It’s one of the best in the world. It’s a hall filled with wonderful whiskies and more wonderful people, where you can learn more about your passion whilst sampling some of it. It all happens at Old Billingsgate Market in the City of London, over a three day period.

There were some obvious questions about how different TWEWS would be from previous years given that we are still at the tail end of The Event. The Whisky Exchange ensured that everyone was either vaccinated or had a negative test recently, and everyone - visitor, staff or exhibitor alike - was then tagged with a bright green wristband. No wristband, no access. That really helped allay people’s fears, and is just one of the many reasons to thank all the people who worked hard to put on the show.

This year the queueing moved from the front of the building to the rear, more due to the London Marathon than anything else, but it was a welcome change to see the sunshine occasionally and have a view of the Thames as we waited. I hope they can keep that arrangement for the future!

As is traditional I was early to the queue each day, so that I could chat with people from distant lands and maximise my time at the show by being one of the first in. Here is the first of two negative notes - the absence of some friends. It was perfectly understandable given the events that have been happening. Some weren’t here because it wasn’t certain that they’d be able to get into the country, and tickets sold out by the time that was solved. Others chose to stay away because they were sheltering vulnerable family members. Both are excellent reasons, but the list of people I’m hoping to see next year is longer than I’d like it to be. Then again, I’d like it to be empty!

The other negative note is the bottle buyers, who were early to the queue so that they could dash in and buy the expensive and rare bottles. I understand that this is good business sense, but it still sits uneasily with me that my hobby is also - for a minority - a cutthroat business. Much discussion each day amongst the drinkers was around what could be done at the show to fix this, and three main suggestions met with approval:

  • Token the bottles, with the shop giving the stands tokens for each day’s stock before opening. The tokens are only to be given after a sample has been tried. Upside - each buyer will have to pick one bottle. Downside - small administrative overhead for the shop.
  • An assault course between the doors and the shop. If you didn’t go through the course, you can’t buy bottles. Upside - free entertainment for other visitors. Downside - disabled accessibility will be an issue.
  • The buyer must take on The Whisky Exchange’s champion in single combat, preferably on a rotating plate with spikes as seen in Flash Gordon. A number of Champions are available, going up in difficulty as the bottles get more desirable. Dare you defeat Dawn for a Dalmore? Can you beat Billy for a Ben Nevis? Who shall assault Alex for an Ardnamurchan? Upsides - entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. Downsides - may not pass Health and Safety checks.

All three suggestions will be passed on to the organisers, so here’s hoping that next year we’ll see an improvement.

Sadly there may not be space next year for that rotating plate, as this year there was a little more room between stands and a few traditional exhibitors were missing. Mostly they were the smaller businesses, who could not afford to lose staff should the worst happen. It was rather a disappointment, but completely understandable. Their return next year will be the only reason I’d accept for a lack of a rotating spiked plate and an angry Ollie wielding a jagged broken bottle of Oc1...

And there was plenty of good stuff on the stands that were there. As usual it was a great selection of different spirits. Not just in terms of the whiskies available, but also the approaches to selling them. From fancy flash stands fully manned and flaunting freebies, down to plain and simple stands that want to let the whisky do the talking, it’s all there. And the exhibitors are always gracious, generous, knowledgeable and delightful. Even when you’re travelling the stands alone you’re never truly alone, as a good chat is never far away.

This year was three days instead of the usual two, and that still wasn’t enough time to do all the stands. You really have to just accept that it’s not possible if you also want to spend quality time talking about the whiskies and set your expectations accordingly.

There are of course the things we can’t possibly write about. The secret samples behind some stalls. The things that happen in the queue. And apparently at least one idiot had enough whisky samples to open his own stall! These people simply must be stopped...

So what about the whisky? It feels odd to do a review about a whisky show without talking about a single whisky, but as I thought about my favourite of the show I realised it was for the right reasons. My favourite was Benromach Organic. It wasn’t the best whisky I had at the show, it was just a very good whisky. I definitely had better other whiskies that were better than it. But I picked it for the memories it brought back. It transported me through time to a birthday party long ago, surrounded by friends, around a table filled with bottles of whisky we were yet to discover. Sometimes the impact of a whisky is more than mere flavours, and much more important than any flavours could ever be.

After a year of not having in-person whisky events, TWEWS 2021 was a welcome chance to make more such memories with friends both old and new.

See you all in 2022. To make more memories.

SMWS Outturn 308 - Spice Up Your Life

SMWS 3.333 - Slowly Forgetting the 1980sThis list is another large one, with plenty of variety - and spice!

Unfortunately I had to do these previews alone, as Matt was on a trip to Scotland. This left me with the temptation of simply picking all of the whiskies I thought I’d like - but I went for two of the three Spicy & Dry drams, at the cost of skipping a lot of the Spicy & Sweet. And I feel that was a good choice. The drams I picked were interesting, and what is the SMWS if not a home for interesting whiskies?

My favourite of the bunch was the Bowmore, which not only had a pleasing number (all the threes!) but balanced floral, fruity and peated notes with grace and poise. I’d like more than one bottle, but it’s sadly limited to one per member.

We can cleanse the palate with the Auchentoshan, which had plenty of sweet fruit notes and some clean oak, making it a superb summer dram. Why was this not released two months ago? Such are the mysteries of the SMWS...

Lurching towards the extremes of sherry, we get to the Dailuaine, which lived its life in two sherry casks before being bottled. You’d think that would be overkill, but they married well and produce something that’s lighter than I expected - oranges, milk chocolates and ginger make for a seductively sweet combination.

My last two picks are both oddballs.

The Linkwood was placed in a cask that previously held peated malt. Personally I usually find this provides a whisky of two distinct halves, with “cask peating” often arriving late in the body and boorishly dominating the proceedings. But this dram has managed to find a rare balance, and the odd combination of strawberry notes and bonfire smoke was quite enchanting.

Lastly, the Inchmoan. It’s finished in a Jamaican rum cask - could the name be a clue as to which distillery the cask was from? And this is not the usual rum finish. Again, decent integration has occurred here, with stewed fruits and barley sugars dancing around the rum notes.

There have always been those who complain about finishing whiskies, often trotting out the dumbest statement I’ve heard outside of politics: “They’re just saving a bad whisky” - as though making a whisky more drinkable is a bad thing! But I think that the three here show it’s worth doing, because when you get the balance right, it’s great.

Kudos to the team handing the SMWS stock, as they’re really hitting their stride with these unusual casks. And for those who disagree - carry on disagreeing, as it means more great whisky for the rest of us!

SMWS Outturn 306 - Power Pairings

SMWS 93.166 - Hole below the waterlineThis is a remarkably suitable list for summer. Plenty of good fruit notes - lemons, apples and pears keep cropping up, and the whiskies as a whole are a little lighter than usual. My picks of the list are not what I expected, and I have five whiskies I want to highlight - not bad from a tasting of 12 drams!

I found three whiskies I wanted more than one bottle of. First up is the slightly crazy Auchentoshan, which marries rum and light whisky brilliantly without losing sight of either spirit. Then there’s the wonderfully zany Glen Scotia, which is very hard to describe as it balances its smoke, florality and fruit. By comparison the elegant and brilliantly balanced Benrinnes is almost striking in how conventional its fruit, wood and waxiness is.

I also really liked the Braeval, which delivered flowers, fresh sappy wood and fruits. And last but not least is the Fettercairn, which has bright fruits and then wood notes and a touch of spice.

I can only hope that Matt had as pleasant a selection of whiskies as I did - sadly we couldn’t do the tasting together due to scheduling conflicts. His notes will be at The Dramble as usual.

SMWS Outturn 305 - Enter A World of Flavour

SMWS 91.31 - An old soul in new shoesIt’s been a long time, hasn’t it?

And we’re back with a decent list. 27 drams, which myself and Matt managed to taste alongside each other - it was great to catch up!

This list doesn’t have any major holes - you could criticise the lack of grain or international whiskies, but most flavour profiles are represented and there’s plenty of sherry and peat here. And most importantly, the quality is high. (And it’s rare to find a list on which you can do a comparative tasting of two Bunnahabhains AND two Caol Ilas!)

My favourites were the quite delightful Clynelish which is waxy, fruity and light - just my style. I’d like more than one bottle of that!

There’s a lot I liked on this list. The Highland Park balances light sweetness and heavy coal smoke notes with finesse. The Dufftown is a superb, competent dram that packs in an odd combination of flavours and yet makes it work. The Auchentoshan is sweet, fruity and slightly spicy without being over the top. The Bowmore has liniment, fennel and lemon - which will appeal to many. And the heavily peated Caol Ila (Port Askaig Meets Sanlúcar) is a solid peated dram that also brings pineapple and lemon.

That’s a lot of whisky to find myself recommending!

I’d like to single out two drams for brief discussion. The Macallan tried to juggle a lot of flavours but sadly fails in its endeavour. The Dufftown accomplishes exactly the trick that the Macallan fails with, being packed with flavours that complement each other in a surprising manner. Yet we all know that the Macallan will sell well regardless, because some people have a palate driven by brand loyalty rather than curiosity. This is a shame - we’re heading into July and August, which will provide exactly the hot summer days on which the Dufftown will shine. It’s quite literally the right whisky at the right time. It’s not the best thing you’ll ever taste, but it’s far from the worst and it’s not exactly expensive. So I ask you to give it some consideration. Our curiosity should be encouraged and rewarded with drams like this.

Matt’s tasting notes on the other half of the list are available at The Dramble.


Link Dump 2021-06-20

Many links this month - it's been an informative time for me!

Is 85% of US Critical Infrastructure In Private Hands?; society, security, politics; The comments here are fairly good, but it's the basic question that's interesting. Should critical infrastructure be in private hands? If so, how do we ensure that it's secure without constraining business? THis one question raises many more, and I don't really have any easy answers.

How to stop procrastinating by making any kind of work interesting; productivity, lifehacks; This works better than many other solutions I've tried. Just do it, and don't care about the quality. Quality can come later...

FLOSS and linguistic diversity; language, open source; I've been doing quite a bit of documentation and training at work, so this resonates. Fortunately I don't have to get my work translated, but this reminds me that decent documentation solves more problems than you'd think...

How We Live Now: Reimagining Spaces with Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative; exhibitions, culture, architecture; An interesting small exhibition at The Barbican Arts Centre. It reminded me that I need to check my assumptions when designing my solutions.

New tunnel starts digging under south London; infrastructure, engineering; There's a huge tunnel being dug to carry power cables. Because these need to be inspected and maintained, it'll be big enough to walk through. Another reminder that a city is more than what you can see on the surface...

1990: LambdaMOO; gaming, history, culture; An interesting tale of a very old internet text-based game, its technological development, and is highs and lows. This reminds me of Monochrome (which I really should log in to!), but is different enough to be interesting.

Thomas Becket and Magna Carta; history, law, religion; A devotee of Thomas Becket was instrumental in the recognition of the Magna Carta - a curious connection that I had no idea about.

The Way Forward (Network Rail Wayfinding Signage And Rail Alphabet 2, Part 1); typography, design, infrastructure; An interesting review of signage on the UK train networks, and how it's selected. Part 2 is here.

You’re Not Rational; pyschology, transport; An interesting read on the psychology of public transport, and how we're not necessarily understanding people's relationship with it.

Writing from the Age of the Gods; Japan, history, nationalism, culture, writing; An urge to define national history pushed people towards fake ancient scripts. I don't think I'll ever understand nationalism...

Could the pantograph make a return to London’s buses?; public transport, infrastructure; I've been converted to trolleybusses in recent years, but it seems that they really don't need a pantograph for much of their route - which could be very useful. Also the 358 route runs near me, so I might get to ride one of these if they do get put into the fleet!

Full Employment, Capitalism - And Beyond; economics, politics; Is full employment desireable? What issues might it create? Are they really that bad, or do they just threaten traditional power structures?

Laguna del Maule (volcano); geology; Did you know that there's a volcano in South America which is currently undergoing swelling and might erupt? Also, the planet is trying to kill us, and just works on a very slow timescale...

Manchester Victoria’s Telpher; transport, history; I didn't even know what a telpher was. But this is a very interesting solution to the problem of moving large goods and luggage around a train station.

See you in July!


Link Dump 2021-05-16

Is it the third Sunday already? Seems early this month, possibly because there are five Sundays in this May.

Not as many links this month because of that.

Marine Eequipment Adapts for HS2 Project; transport, logistics; It seems that there are points in HS2's route where water access is easier than road access, so they're using barges to help with the transport and construction. It's great to see an existing resource being used, and to see a little innovation for our waterways.

Nestlé threatened with cease-and-desist over alleged illegal water use; politics, capitalism; A company gaming the system so that it can exploit natural resources for its own profits? I'm shocked! Shocked! Well, OK not that shocked. But what I find interesting here is that the measurement was an imprecise one - a number of train cars. Over a century later after the agreement was signed, our train cars have improved and carry over twice the amount that they did in 1909. Calfironia is currently in a long drought, but this doesn't just affect the provision of water to people. Tapping too much from the water table lowers it, making trees and vegetation drier as they have to work harder to get water. Drier trees are more flammable. Basically, the more I look at this the more villanous Nestlé look. Maybe it's just time to cut their losses on this brand?

Beyond Calibri: Finding Microsoft’s next default font; technology, typography; Microsoft are looking at changing the default font used in Microsoft Office. They did this in 2007 to introduce us to Calibri. There have been a lot of words written about this on technology and typography websites, mostly about the fonts in the selection. Their merits and people's opinions have been solidly explored. What I find odd is that nobody is questioning the fundemental issue - should there really be just one typeface for the whole of Office? Surely whilst Word needs a good Serif for lon text, PowerPoint would benefit from a Sans Serif for impact? Whilst experimenting on this I noticed that some spreadsheets that are filled with numbers benefit from switching to a monospaced font like Consolas. I think that Microsoft should consider a familt of fonts and use the right one for the right product. But I doubt that this will happen.

'Biggest data grab' in NHS history stuffs GP records in a central store for 'research' – and the time to opt out is now; politics, healthcare, privacy; I haven't actually opted out, and I may not do so. But this is a big change, and at a time when we have a government determined to privatise the NHS by stealth. How much of our health data might go to private companies, and from there to who knows where? And health data can be very identifiable. This worries me. At the moment I'm taking an attitude of "opt in and help the NHS", but I will be watching for any signs that I should opt out.

The Brexit roots of the scandals; politics, brexit, ethics; There is a strong strain of "the rules don't apply to us" in the current British Government, and it will likely not end well. Rules are often there for a reason, even if nobody can remember that reason anymore...

The realities of sovereignty; politics, brexit; We were always Sovereign whilst we were in the EU. That is a fact. The idea that we were not is something that should have been directly called out as a lie, and those politicians that repeated this lie should have suffered consequences. That having ben said, many of the issues that make Brexit a failure are based on this misunderstanding of what Sovereignty is, coupled with the inability to understand that other countries are also Sovereign.

That's it for May, see you in June!

Link dump 2021-04-18

Things are getting busier for me due to work, and lockdown is ending. Only one thing about whisky in this month's links - it's all gone a bit quiet, and with the various festivals cancelled I suspect it will remain so for a while. It's mostly transport, politics and computing. Which is fine for some, and terrible for most...

Scotland’s railways to be nationalised next year; transport, politics; I still struggle to understand privatised railways. The best service improvement I ever had was after Connex Southeastern died - the not-for-profit temporary company did a much better job. The same thign happened on the East Coast Mainline. It's long past time to admit that the privatised railway experiment has failed, and move ownership into public trusts. Scotland is choosing nationalisation by the same means - moving services into a not-for-profit "operator of last resort". It'll be interesting to see how that goes.

COVID-19 killed the last man of an indigenous Brazilian tribe; news, history; I suspect that when histories of our period are written, this will surface as a more important item. It's more an indicator of the state of the world and COVID-19's impact than anything else - it could be argued that globalisation and international trade killed his tribe. COVID-19, spreading like wildfire because of the cheap transport that enabled globalisation and international trade, was merely the final blow.

Paddick on Clapham Common vigil report whitewash; politics, policing; Brian Paddick was Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the Met Police, and paints a pretty poor picture of how the vigil for Sarah Everard was handled. A failure to plan, and when they saw known agitators travelling to the vigil they just noted it in their log - no actions taken. Wow. This seems to have been one oversight after another - almost as if the leadership just didn't want to do their job.

How the Supreme Court saved the software industry from API copyrightstechnology, law; This is a huge win for the whole technology industry. Oracle was trying to claim a level of ownership that would make it VERY hard for companies to make software that's compatible and interoperable with other software. Here's Ars' excellent write up of that.

Font size is useless; let’s fix it; typography, technology; Some typefaces are just ludicrously large or small compared to others. I applaud the idea of fixing it, but suspect that this is doomed.

Writing tools I learned from The Economist; writing; This website would be better if I remembered any of this...

France bans air travel that could be done by train in under 2.5 hours; travel, environment; A great move. I've never understood flying for short hops, but then I also hate airports. I can fly from London to Manchester in 45 minutes, but it takes me an hour and a quarter to get to the airport, then I have to check in and wait, then at Manchester I'm actually half an hour's travel from Manchester. It's not much slower than train - if at all - and the train is a lot less hassle. We should consider something similar in the UK.

Clerkenwell toilets hoardings turned into “art”; fun, environment; Somebody hung art cards on hoarding and turned them into "art" to protest how long the hoardings have been up. Granted, there have been delays due to COVID-19, but I still find this funny.

Prince Philip, inadvertent father of the Computer Misuse Act, dies aged 99; politics, law; Trust El Reg to find a computing angle - but it turns out that he had his BT Prestel account hacked in the 1980's and pushed for laws covering the misuse of computers. Vengeance or prescience? Who can tell...

The history of UTF-8 as told by Rob Pike; computing, history; Pretty much what it says on the tin. UTF-8 is one of those things that we use every day and take for granted, so it's interesting to see how it came about.

Present tense; whisky; In which my friend Matt muses on what the whisky market has become, then reviews some new releases.

Prehistoric notation systems in Peru, with Chinese parallels; history; culture; In which a linguist muses on whether there is a link between the notation systems of Peru and ancient China. Personally I tend to think our ancestors were at least as smart as us, just lacking in some of the opportunities and technoligies - so I'm not surprised if things are invented many times independently in many different places. But it's fun to watch academics speculate wildly...

That's it for April. See you in May!


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