London Whisky Show – Colourful Watt Whiskies

Back in June, I caught in Cape Town, South Africa a rather unpleasant version of COVID. It not only knocked me flat for weeks, it also robbed me of my olfactory senses – a complete disaster for a whisky aficionado!

I’ve often described the experience as akin to seeing only in shades of grey instead of a burst of brilliant rainbow colours. Gradually over the months, some sense of smell has returned but it remains muted compared to the previous clarity – where I could usually easily discern distinct elements, today it can be trickier and I often know there is something more a layer deeper that I just can’t quite penetrate or surface enough to describe. Frustrating indeed… but I’m at least grateful some sense has returned!

This brings me back to colours – in a recent impromptu tasting in Germany, I shared that when first exploring different types of whiskies, one idea is to consider what colour one would associate with that particular whisky profile? This is a great technique to start processing more creative impressions – Does it remind you of a hot and fiery red? A verdant cool green? Or more seaside in style, bringing hints of blue to the fore? What about sunshine yellow?

I’ve seen some “colour coding” before – most recently Gordon & Macphail’s discovery series uses green for ex-bourbon casks, purple for ex-sherry, and grey for peaty drams. However what if the colour wasn’t according to such strict logic?

Enter Watt Whisky – a new independent bottler started by a husband / wife duo Mark and Kate Watt in Campbeltown. As Kate shared, they both came from the industry and decided to set-up their own range with a view to bringing interesting affordable whiskies to the world. The colour approach comes from her husband’s synaesthesia, where he literally smells colours!

We were tipped off that the Paul John was worth checking out, so this was the 1st we sampled.

Intrigued by Kate’s story of how they began their independent bottler journey in challenging times (2019 then….COVID!) with this being their 1st big whisky event, we continued on to the Dunbarton 21 year followed by the Belair Athol 13 year.

We were highly tempted to continue, however, this was getting into the later stage of our whisky wanderings where you know you need to become highly selected else every impression will simply blur together, losing its magic of discovery!

Well worth exploring more another time… enjoy our quick impressions from a small sniff, swish tasting at The Whisky Show London 2022!

Paul John 4 year (2016 / June 2021) 57.1% (Watt Whisky) 1 of 279 bottles

  • Nose – So incredibly tropical – taking the normal PJ tropical fruits and ramping them up several degrees
  • Palate – Intense spice, a bit of a flavour bomb, tropical fruit bowl, chocolate
  • Finish – Ahh… there is that spice shifting into bitter
  • Water – Yes, please!

It was great trying Paul John‘s character as selected by Kate & Mark Watt. What do they have to say:

Fully matured in an underground warehouse in Goa. Tropical fruits, spices, cloves & plums.

We shifted from India back to Scotland with a discontinued Lowland distillery – Dumbarton is a Lowland grain distillery, which also housed Inverleven and Lomond malt distilleries. Previously used primarily in Ballentine’s blends, the distillery closed in 2002 and is now demolished.

Dumbarton 21 year (2000 / June 2022) 57.1% (Watt Whisky) 222 bottles

    • Nose – It started off quietly, gently unfurling, caramel, light smoke
    • Palate – Clearly a grain, what was a light peat influence on the nose became a full-fledged smoke bomb…. frankly more like sipping an ashtray
    • Finish – Closed on more smoke

Wow! I don’t know what exactly I expected. One normally thinks of Lowland grains as being either gentle or harsh alcohol. I think this may be the 1st that I’ve tried which was finished in an ex-Caol Ila Hogshead,

What do the Watt Whisky folks have to say:

Finished for 9 months in an ex-Islay cask. Light, dry smoke, butterscotch, syrupy, ashy and medicinal.

We then moved on to the Highlands with the Blair Athol 13 year (2008 / Sep 2022) 56.7% (Watt Whisky) 301 bottles.

    • Nose – Nice! Extra berry, jammy
    • Palate – Well rounded
    • Finish – Dry and peppery

What a brilliant contrast to Dumbarton! Kate shared it was matured in a Hogshead and then finished in an ex-Red wine cask.

What do the Watt Whisky folks have to say:

Rested in a red wine barrique for 16 months. Strawberries, jelly sweets and cured meats.

This pair – Dumbarton and Blair Athol – had the same coloured labels and yet could not be more different in character! Fascinating.

What fun being introduced to another interesting independent bottler. Wishing Kate & Mark the very best with their venture!

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Chorlton – Blair Athol 12 years 56.6%

Next up in our Chorolton evening was another from the Diageo stable – Blair Athol. Over the years, there haven’t been as many Blair Athol experiences as one would expect… Just the Flora & Fauna official bottling 12 year 43%, and two from independent bottlers – Hunter Laing’s “Old Malt” collection 16 year (1997) 50% and Signatory’s 27 year (1988) 55.7%.

So what did we think of this one from Chorlton?

Blair Athol 12 years 56.6% 268 bottles

  • Nose – Chocolate, prunes, toffee, nutty, ginger bread, marmalade, marmite, pink peppercorn, berries, even a hint of apricot?
  • Palate – Delicious! Ginger snap, spice, toasted almonds, a nice oily fullness, fruity and well rounded, with that marmalade quality on the nose eventually coming through on the palate as well
  • Finish – Carries through the depth, character and sweetness

Amusingly we had quite a divergent opinion on this Blair Athol.

While two of us nattered on about its complexity, character and how with each sip, we enjoyed more and more. Our third lady got none of what we found – none.

A couple hours later? She came back with an exuberant – “I finally got it!!!”

What could account for the difference? Likely several factors – not the least of which is glassware. Usually when we taste together it is with glencairn glasses. In the past, I would bring to our tasting sessions in Mumbai. After my move to Germany, the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai invested in a couple sets which get passed from host to host so that consistency remains. We also were tuning in from our homes – from Scandinavia to Bretagne to Bavaria. Each likely having some lingering aromas of our every day indoor life.

What ever the reason – it was most amusing that, in the end, the Blair Athol came through!

What does David have to say?

A complex, earthy and waxy whisky this, in a very old-fashioned Highlands style. The nose has orange peel, malt extract, herbal pastilles and dark berry fruits. The palate has a long development that starts on honey and ginger beer, becomes more nutty, and ends with orange syrup, Blackjack sweets and a touch of salt. Blair Athol isn’t a big name, but this is a delicious and characterful whisky that rewards your attention.

I purchased this whisky directly from the Chorlton website for £62.50 plus shipping.

Here are the Chorlton‘s sampled with the Blair Athol:

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Blair Athol 12 year 43%

Blair Athol is a Diageo whisky that previously was found either in blends or independent bottles… our previous brushes with Blair Athol was the robust sherry cask strength Signatory 27 year and the Hunter Laing 16 year.

We sampled it blind….

Blair Athol 12 year 43%

  • Nose – Initially quite organic, sharp old cheese, fresh rain, slight salt behind the spice, cranberry sour not sweet, a bit acetone sharpness, narrow profile, edgy fume, nutmeg… After sipping, spice, yoghurt. Leave for some time and get caramel and fruits, then goes back to spice, then gulkand rose.
  • Palate – Very smooth, silk, sweet, fruity spice, buttery oily, liquorice, so easy and light, nice and enjoyable. Such spice, fruit and something else.
  • Finish – Grapey, coffee
  • Water – Absolutely no need

We found it had no off notes, quite a “happy” whisky. We thought it likely did not have natural coloured likely low alcohol.

And the reveal?

Not one we would have guessed but also only had limited past opportunities to sample whiskies from Blair Athol.

The official tasting notes share:

A rich, sweet malt best drunk with only a drop of water, when it holds its sweetness better.

  • Nose – Muscat grapes and Madeira wine, brimstone in the background, even tar. Dried apricots in the foreground, and treacle toffee.
  • Body – Medium to full bodied, but not cloying.
  • Palate – Rich and mouth-filling, with a good balance.
  • Finish – A curious sweetness is introduced at the end, after the acidity and dryish finish has passed.

What else did we sample that evening?

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Affordable Adults – Imperial, Benrinnes, Linkwood + Blair Athol

I returned from a terrific trip to Singapore to enjoy an indulgent evening of whiskies acquired by a member of the Bombay Malt & Cigar club in London.

Some were “pre-selected” by another member and I during our June 2016 Covent Garden The Whisky Exchange stop… falling into the category of “no brainers” for being different, none official distillery bottlings and all at a relatively reachable price…. made more so thanks to the “Brexit Booze” discount with the pound falling.

Needless to say, exploring a more affordable avatar of “adult” whiskies was a much anticipated treat!

Imperial, Benrinnes, Linkwood, Blair Athol

Our ‘Affordable Adults’ evening included:

Unfortunately between the time of purchase and consumption (Aug 2016), only the Blair Athol is available at TWE however some remain obtainable through other sources for reasonable prices.

Good to know there exists quite decent older drams that won’t break your piggy bank completely!

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Blair Athol 16 year 50% (Hunter Laing – The Old Malt Cask)

Blair Athol distillery is part of Dieageo, however it isn’t one of their single malts that is so well known in these parts. That said, if you’ve ever had Bell‘s, you’ve had Blair Athol whisky.

We were fortunate to try a 16 year old from an independent bottler… read on…

Blair Athol (Old Malt Cask)

Blair Athol 16 year (Old Malt Cask) 50%

  • Colour – Deep gold
  • Nose – Heather, saddle ready to go horseback riding, subtle caramel, more distinct matured cheese, sour curd, citrus orange, in the ‘rancio’ category
  • Taste – Coconut oil, sweet and clearly an older whisky from a bourbon cask
  • Finish – Long, delayed spice
  • Water? Too enamoured with the full flavours to be distracted by a drop of pani (water)

Reactions – An excellent winter whisky without smoke

Quote of the eve – As though an elegant lady sauntered in the room, then turned out to be completely wild! 

The reveal – Part of Hunter Laing & Co’s Old Malt Cask series. From May 1997, bottled in Oct 2013, 1 of 545 bottles.

We first sampled this in Oct 2014 together with Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu ‘The Floor Malted’ 3 year and Glen Deveron 20 year.

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