I think we need to be quite up front and straight about the fact that Chichester’s Whisky Women are probably the type of girls that you would expect to be drinking whisky: verging on mature with quite a bit of life experience. We are not youngsters exploring whisky with as much gusto as any other spirit or cocktail base: we know what we like and that’s why we meet and share such fun tastings.
The consensus of opinion on this tasting was more unanimous than for any other during our first year of events: we are one year old in February 2016 and have tasted nearly 30 whiskies together to date. We had two hot favourites this time, the Glenfarclas 15yo single malt and the Great King Street Glasgow Blend from Compass Box. I was particularly pleased about the latter as I had taken a chance and asked for the whisky to be served with our supper of slow braised beef cheek with baby root vegetables and lardons. Quite a few of the Whisky Women had previously struggled with even lightly peated or smoky whiskies but, on this occasion with the beef, the Glasgow Blend was a triumph. On a cold night with a rich slow cooked casserole or stew, why wouldn’t you complement your food with a warming dram?
How does Whisky Women work? After we have had a responsible and tummy-lining one-course supper we crack into the tasting of 5 whiskies and 4 or 5 tasters of seasonal foods. With the Winter Collection we tasted a warm Caerphilly cheese dip, a salad of flower sprouts with chilli and toasted pine nuts, a winter fruit salad with oranges and dried fruits, vanilla and star anise, and then some wonderful cakes from Honeybuns bakery in Dorset. We had the Almond Moon and Heathcliff Brownies - all Honeybuns cakes are gluten free - and the Whisky Women were all wanting the details of the bakery for mail-order or to know which supermarkets stock the tray-bakes and cookies.
Dalwhinnie’s Winter Gold single malt from the Highland region was our first dram after supper. Created to be drunk from the freezer it was generally felt that, while the sensation in the mouth was good, the whisky itself did not have a great deal of flavour. It was interesting that as the evening progressed and the whisky left in the glasses warmed up, everyone commented on how different it was, first chilled then at room temperature. One or two preferred it warmer but most liked the sauna experience of it, a cold blast of whisky against the delicious warm cheese dip. Hot and cold - always very sensuous in the mouth.
AD Rattray’s house single malt no5 was generally enjoyed and most people felt it to be excellent value and a good everyday whisky. However, most were unsure that, given we would have to purchase it by mail order, that they would buy it over their standard whisky of choice. I know that I would much rather drink the Rattray than anything else similar of price that I have tasted to date. If you are on the Ayrshire coast why not pop into the shop and get a bottle? It makes a very enjoyable holiday souvenir.
The Glenfarclas 15yo Speyside sherry cask singe malt whisky assaulted our palettes with its richness and delighted with the winter fruit salad. I had toyed with serving this with the beef instead of the Glasgow Blend - either would have been fantastic - and actually both were very good with the cheese dip. The Glenfarclas is a classy whisky with a depth of flavour that delights and fills the palette but does not overpower, with or without food. There were a few comments that supermarkets which have stocked this in the past are not doing so now, a great shame as it is a splendid whisky but I do agree that the packaging, although authoritatively elegant, is not as eye-catching as some whiskies pitched at a younger market. Maybe this is why it is loosing shelf space to other brands? Check out your local independent retailer.
I was very surprised that the Spice King blended whisky from Wemyss Malts did not find more favour on the evening. This plumy, salty, spicy dram was a favourite when I did a tasting on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour with Jenny Murray and the team, but it didn’t hit the spot with Whisky Women. We were tasting the no-age statement Spice King in the Winter Collection - maybe it is not the same as the previously enjoyed 12yo? Anyway, I think this would be a great whisky with Asian foods and stir-fries, duckling and lamb, and these food pairing ideas caused much interest.
The Great King Street Glasgow Blend was the surprise of the night in the Winter Collection. It was almost universally enjoyed, a huge step forward in our whisky appreciation, and over half the Whisky Women said that they would buy it - 14 for Glasgow Blend and 17 for the Glenfarclas - but these girls are not into buying whisky on the internet: that’s the next challenge! They want to be able to pop into a shop for their bottles so let’s see more independents stocking the whiskies that multiples don’t have on their shelves - please!