We are all merely temporarily strangers

Out of my depthIt's the anniversary of the 7th July 2005 London bombings today, and lots of people have stories about how close they were to danger.

That's human nature. A strange kind of braggadocio that we all succumb to - albeit in this case in the noble cause of trying to encourage empathy in all around us.

I was fairly safe. I worked with one of the victims, but can't really claim to have known him well. Our office was on Bunhill Row in the City of London, we worked on different floors. But that day, our department was out on a departmental away day. We were over at Lincoln's Inn Fields, near Holborn.

Over the last decade, on each anniversary's reflections, I've come to think of James Mayes as a person I almost knew. I'd bumped into him a few times, but only exchanged greetings and a few sentences. At our little departmental away day, the intention was to get to know the other colleagues in my department better. We might have learnt how to build a bridge out of six sheets of A4, three paper clips and a pencil. We'd have been bored during speeches. And we'd have done our best to hide our suspicion that most of the team bonding would have been better done in a pub.

(And I'd have certainly been going to the pub afterwards. We had that kind of team, and lots of the other teams in the department were the same!)

SMWS July 2015 Outturn

DSC_0215A very good list for the warm weather - a little something for everyone, but mostly lighter and sweeter notes that met the hot weather well. Apparently, the drams are matched with jazz tracks this month. Which means very little to me, but the deviants jazz enthusiasts that I know seem to have enjoyed it, and who am I to stop them?

A lot of people have been asking me about the Bladnoch, but I don't think it's all that. For me, the pick of the list is either the waxy and fruity Clynelish or the incredibly well constructed Royal Brackla - both superb drams.

The clean, light and fruity Balmenach also stood out for me, as did the caramel and cigar boxes of the Mortlach. And for the peat-freaks, the vegetal earthiness of the Kilchoman is going to tick all the boxes.

Sadly, this is a bad list for fans of the sherry cask - not one in sight!.

But if you want an unusual wood, you're in luck! Don't forget the ex-port barrique Longmorn, which brought plenty of well integrated fruits. There's also the first-fill toasted oak Glen Moray - which gave everything from Turkish Delight and red apples to shoe leather and dark chocolate.

SMWS June 2015 Outturn

DSC_0212The July outturn had an interestig mix of wood - a little more sherry than usual, and plenty of first fill bourbon.

There are two bottlings with limited edition labels - the Clynelish and the Bowmore. Both were excellent.

The Dailuaine and the Glenrothes are both wonderful examples of older whiskies, elegant and very well constructed.

That having been said, by volume my favourite of the outturn seems to be the Linkwood - it was excellent every time I went back to it, and I went back to it a lot. It only scored 3.5/5, but it's so drinkable. And we've had a lot of hot summer's days this June... *hic*

The Girvan Vial Pack

I was kindly sent a Girvan "vial pack" as thanks for some photos I took of their stand at The Whisky Show last year.

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of grain whiskies, so I viewed this as an excellent kindness on their part. But it's also no secret that I'm something of a proselytiser for grain whisky, and I realised that it would be quite immoral to keep this bounty to myself! I arranged to share it with Ben Cops and The Whisky Cyclist, both of whom have kindly put up with my grainy predilections over the years. After talking about it for several months we finally set a time and location and got down to it.

The pack has four 50cl bottles at 42% abv:

  • Girvan Patent Still New Make
  • Girvan Patent Still No. 4 Apps
  • Girvan Patent Still 25 Year Old
  • Girvan Patent Still 30 Year Old

We topped this up with two independent bottlings:

  • The Whisky Agency Girvan 48 Year Old
  • SMWS G7.2 "Fascinating and inspiring"

About Girvan Distillery

Girvan is a grain distillery built in 1963 by William Grant & Sons, who also own the Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Ailsa Bay and Kininvie malt distilleries. It first distilled on Christmas day in 1963 and is the second largest distillery in Scotland producing around 103 million litres of spirit per year. (They could produce a little more, but stop distillation for two weeks of every year to clean everything.) It has three sets of stills, and uses a unique multi-pressure system that allows distillation under partial vacuum - thus lowering the boiling point, and allowing flavours to be carried by the boiling alcohols without being burnt. Clever! But this behemoth of a distillery isn't what everyone would call a pretty face. The traditional distillery image of a pagoda roof and whitewashed walls isn't the case here - Girvan is an industrial site, planned with purpose and run with precision.

Which, frankly, sounds like my kind of place - I'd probably spend hours tracing all the piping trying to reverse engineer their stills!

Now, let's get on to those tasting notes...


This is the wooden front of Edmund Martin Ltd's shop - tripe dressers, meat & offal salesmen, according to the sign that I conveniently left out of shot.


Taken back in 2008, this shop was demolished as part of the Crossrail works, which is a great shame.

SMWS April 2015 Outturn

Another month, another great outturn from the SMWS. How do they do it?

Some very nice whiskies here, covering pretty much all the bases (except grain).

Unusually, there were two first fill white whine hogsheads - the Ardmore and the Miltonduff. (My preference was for the Ardmore.)

My favourites from the list included the Dailuaine and the Bladnoch. As usual the Glen Grant was superb, and the Glenlossie also impressed me. If you're looking for peat, then the Ardmore impressed but the real pick was the Bowmore.

The only disappointment for me was the lack of the Kilchoman (129), as there had been a small misunderstanding. It originally came out on a mid-March top-up list, and the London Rooms sold all their bottles. When it appeared on the April list again it was a bit of a surprise, and they didn't even have a dram of it left. A pity, as I recall it being a good one when I tried it - I just wish I'd drawn up some tasting notes then!

SMWS 7.113 - "Takes you to another place"

24 years old, distilled 11th December 1989, 51.7% abv, second fill Port Barrique, 147 bottles

(Released in Denmark, but a case somehow made its way over to the UK and the SMWS London Rooms - thanks Sam!)

The nose has raisins, midget gems, and a hint of spice - cumin? There's also a suggestion of smoke - perhaps incense? The mouth-feel is lush and juicy, but not very coating. The body has ginger, cumin, and fried duck. The finish is light and has a return of the midget gems from the nose.

Water brings big, thick whorling that expands quickly and lingers for quite a while - very nice! The nose now has less of the midget gems and a little more of the incense. The body has light caramel notes, and the spices have moved towards the back of the palate. There's also some melon and a hint of florality. The finish is sweeter - melon, midget gems and ginger!

A very good, graceful dram that would suit a picnic basket.



In 2010 I was fortunate enough to get access to the newly renovated Thames Tunnel, and took a few photographs.

This is one of my favourites from that day:

There's no selective editing here - that's pretty much what I saw. The overwhelming greyness of the background makes the red signal look slightly fake, which is an interesting effect in itself.

SMWS March 2015 Outturn

A smaller outturn which has plenty of decent easy drinkers - just in time for spring!

One of the whiskies was a repeat (the Dailuaine), and some might lament the lack of big hitters - but I found plenty of very pleasant drams. At the rooms, everyone seemed to want bottles of the Laphroaig, but supplies were quite limited. My personal favourite was the Glenrothes - an aged whisky which exercises restraint in delivering its delights. The Glendullan was also superb.

There were also four peated drams - two heavily, two lightly. My favourite was the Coal Ila - a great micture of smoke and meat with sweetness and herbs.

A very pleasant list to write reviews for.


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