Best Whisky Bars, Glen Moray on Taste, Favourite Whiskies, Looking Forward to 2023
I hope you and your businesses had a great Christmas. We can now look forward to the end of 2022 and hope for better things in 2023. Here in the UK plenty of on-trade venues are worried about energy prices killing their business, not to mention people cutting back due to cost of living increases. Customers are keen to get back out as long as their finances allow but that will be the hard part for many. Off-trade drinks sales will surely feel it too. I wonder also, how many people will be participating in Dry January this year for those same reasons. I prefer to limit my intake to only three days per week (+ a few special occasions) year round and will continue that as I feel the need to support my industry. I‘d be interested in knowing how on-trade places (bars/hotels/restaurants/licensed cafes) are faring from any of you outside the UK who may be reading this. Certainly, on a recent visit to Paris, I noticed that some familiar places had closed and others were rather quieter than usual.
Thinking of whisky bars, I was privileged earlier this year to judge Whisky Bar of the Year for Scottish Licensed Trade News. We had a fine collection of 6 finalists to visit back in summer and early September with the winner announced at the awards banquet early November. Slap me round the head as I didn‘t mention it in my November columns. One entrant was a previous winner but this year‘s award went to The George Hotel in Inveraray for its whisky bar. It hadn‘t been a finalist in any previous years I have judged. It was a pleasure actually to stop in Inverary even for a short visit as I‘m usually just driving through on the way to or from the ferry port at Kennacraig for my Islay trips. As one of my fellow judges put it when we were deliberating, which place could you just walk into and feel welcomed with a great whisk(e)y selection, sensible pricing, comfortable surroundings and friendly, knowledgable staff who will encourage you to drink your whisky however you like it? They display their range by flavour profile too and aim to be a training hub for other on-trade outlets. They also have a great outdoor area for the warmer months serving good food, though that wasn‘t part of the criteria for this award and have been fortunate in hanging on to lovely European staff despite Brexit. I‘m hoping they‘re still there! The two highly commended bars in this category were Seumas Bar at Sligachan Hotel, on Skye and The Ensign Ewart in Edinburgh, on the Royal Mile up nearer the Castle. Seumas‘ Bar was the 2021 winner as mentioned above. It‘s not that it had slipped back in any way at all. It‘s an excellent place but The George put up the best showing this year against all judging criteria. Seumas‘ Bar also does great food as we allowed ourselves a little bit of sustenance there on a long day of driving. The Ensign Ewart is one that I‘ve passed often but never been inside. What a super whisky bar and well worth a visit if you‘re in our capital city.
Now, two final whiskies that I‘ve had sitting for a few weeks were finally nosed and tasted recently. These were the alst two Glen Morays mentioned last time from The Glen Moray Warehouse 1 releases – Glen Moray Amontillado Finish (57.5% abv and distilled 2013; no indication of how long the finishing period was) and Glen Moray Oloroso Fully Matured (60%abv and 8 years in cask). A pair I was really looking forward to comparing. The former has the more immediately appealing nose – and it is, indeed, very appealing. I don‘t think it‘s less complex than the Oloroso Matured, just quite different.
Glen Moray Amontillado Finish
Appearance: Light amber / lion‘s mane colour. Tears swift and close at first. Second wave slower, stickier and more widely spaced.
Nose: Barley / demerara sugar at first. Rich toffee and apple skin. Sweet wood, almost cedar. Heady spices and some florals. Caramel and baked, honeyed fruits. With water, more toffee but also wax notes. Touch of citrus zest / oils but sweetness predominates. Soft, fine leather plus milk chocolate with caramelised nuts and warm oak.
Palate: Quite mouth coating; sugars and glacéd fruits but also wood tannins and shavings. Slight sulphur catch in the throat. Dried herbs and some astringency. Touch of toffee and dark caramel bitterness.
Finish: Quite long with a touch of sweetness but mainly dry and a touch of herbal astringency with a little sulphur note too.
Glen Moray Oloroso Fully Matured
Appearance: Medium amber, rich cream toffee colour. Tears very slow and sticky.
Nose: Struck matches just extinguished; then sweetness (though not as upfront as the Amontillado). Warm, dark honey with dark fruits and warm spicing – clove and ginger. Then the vine fruits come through. Warm, waxed polished wood . With water, a little more sulphur at first and richly malted barley. Oak, vanilla and eargthiness. It gets waxier as it sits with the matchstick note again. Nut oils.
Palate: Slightly mouth coating and very quickly mouth drying.Ginger warmth and white pepper with wood and the sherry cask sulphurous note; Some hazelnut and dark chocolate this time.
Finish: Quite long, herbal and very dry with the struck match catch in the throat lingering.
Still time before New Year to get either of these for your celebrations. I enjoyed the nose of the Amontillado Finish much more immediately. Hard to decide on the taste as both were so different but I think the Amontillado might just edge it for me. It‘s priced at around £75 with only 1,248 bottles released while the Oloroso comes in at about £77 (1,950 bottles available at release). Some places are selling them as a set of three with the price for the set less than for the three individual bottles at around £200 – £230.
Sometimes at each year end I like to muse on my favourite whisky of the year, whether from those I have been sent to nose/taste or those I have used in tastings and dinners. This year there were plenty of good ones. As mentioned last time, I was recently reminded how good is the Isle of Raasay Single Malt and very much enjoyed the Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2022 used at my Islay dinner with the dessert this year. One I massively enjoyed back in March/April was Benriach Cask Edition Virgin Oak Barrel 24 Year Old and The Glendronach 31 Year Old from the Cask Bottling range. One that came to me as a gift was Jameson‘s Redbreast Lustau edition – another little beauty. The Jura Distillery Single Cask Exclusive Feis Ile 2022 was very limited in number of bottles but delightful to taste.
So that‘s us for 2022. I wish everyone out there in Whisky Ambassador Land a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. Any 2023 whisky predictions from me? No – far too dangerous other than to know that there will be plenty of cracking whiskies for us all to seek out. Enjoy some New Year drams and I look forward to being back in January.