Stewart Harvie has a great job. He has put his qualifications as a bio-chemist to good use and is the master blender with Inver House Distillers.
He gave a very interesting talk last night about the processes involved in producing a single malt. There is a great step by step presentation HERE
He also spoke of there being an element of 'black art' involved in the process of producing good whisky. This is why the Japanese for example struggle to make a comparable product.
I was invited along to the club's last meeting a couple of months ago. I am no expert on malt whisky but as the saying goes I know what I like! My friend Keith on the other hand who invited me along is what you would call an enthusiast. So much so that he has a huge sideboard full of various brands of malt whisky, some of which he buys and sells at auction. He has many books on the subject and is fascinating when he talks on it.
Last night's tasting centered on the product from two distilleries. Pulteney in Wick is the most northerly distillery in mainland Scotland. Knockdhu which although officially classed as a highland distillery, produces the aCnoc brand which has the typical characteristics of a Speyside malt.
The club is the brainchild of Duncan Reid who as well as being the manager of the local Oddbins branch is a learned and passionate supporter of quality single malt whisky. He is ably assisted by Dr. Jim Schultz.
Jim, originally from Millwaukee in the USA is a chiropractic doctor who is also a big music fan and has done the sound for my band on a couple of occasions. He has also become involved in the Whisky Club and seems to pop up everywhere!
I will give my comments on each whisky as it was served
1) Old Pulteney 12 year old. Made in second fill Bourbon casks this has hints of vanilla apple and oak with a spicy salty finish (Impressed?)
2) Old Pulteney 17 year old. A kind of rasin, chocolate taste. There are two hogsheads of Spanish sherry added to this at the final stages which adds to the rich colour and flavour. A bottle of this'll set you back £45
2) a) a cleansing ale to get the palate back in to line here
3) Old Pulteney 21 year old. I can definitely tashte bananash here. Very nishe. Did you know that Pulteney dish….dishtillery has only a manager and shix shtaff?
4) aCnoc Now thish ish a whishky which I buy now and again. A very good all rounder.
5) aCnoc 1993. Awfy nishe I wash thinking that whisky shtands the tesht of time better than mosht things! You wouldn't buy a 1993 car would you? Thish tashtes of Christmas cake and almonds.
6) aCnoc 1975 Thish was made when old Harold Wilshon wash the Prime Minishter! Smooth shweet and full bodied – no not Wilshon the whishky! ha! ha!
7) Old Pulteney 30 year old. We are honoured! the firsht people in the world to get a tashte of thish! Not even on the market yet! Altogether now! For Stewart's a jolly good fellow!
Some facts about Malt Whisky
1) It is always matured in previously used oak barrels. The majority are American Bourbon barrels because these must be new and used once for bourbon. A good business arrangement for all! Sherry casks are also used.
2) Stewart reckons it really doesn't matter much whether the barrel has been used for sherry or bourbon as any flavour from the barrel comes from the oak.
3) The 2% lost during evaporation in the process is known as the 'angel's share'.
4) The current popularity of Scotch whisky has caught producers unawares. There is a serious shortage. It is a notoriously difficult business to predict.
5) Complexity of flavour is the key to a good whisky. There have been 350 compounds identified in whisky but Stewart believes that there are another 650.