Islay Dinner, Glen Moray Twisted Vine & Wolfcraig 30 YO On Taste


Back from Islay on 2nd June and I have many to thank. First of all The Port Charlotte Hotel which has been running this dinner with me (and, for a few early years, my late business partner as well) since 2003, Covid years excluded. Yet again, chef Chris, created an excellent menu and the team on the night with co-owner, Isabelle, plus Lorna and all others gave great service and had been well organised before and during the dinner. Fantastic team effort throughout.

Of course, major thanks are due to the whisky companies and/or their distillery teams who supported the event again. It was longer decision making process for me this time but I got there in the end. The menu showing whisky matches is here:

The first decision I made was to use the new Ardbeg BizarreBQ. On reading the e-mail they sent about it, I just had to fit that in and the obvious choice was with the main course. It did, indeed, work really well and had more sweetness to it than I expected. Starting at the top of the menu, again this year there were a few choices. Caol Ila would have been a good one but, as I said on the night, a great aperitif is often a fino sherry and, being a fino cask matured Kilchoman, this was even better. After tasting the recently launched Jura Pale Ale Cask, a refreshing saline, fruity, citrus and malty dram was a fairly early decision with the scallop and asparagus starter though I did also check it out with the Bruichladdich used further down. The Jura blended well alongside the food while the Bruichladdich was more of a stand out whisky on its own. Bunnahabhain is such a versatile whisky and often good with game, hams and, sometimes, red meats or desserts, depending on whether an unpeated or peated expression is used. The Bunnahabhain 12 YO Cask Strength 2022 pairing with the duck dish was much debated in my head alongside other Bunnas but it was just the sensible conclusion.

Bowmore, as mentioned in previous Islay dinner write-ups, can be an obvious choice with fish and seafood though I didn‘t want to overwhelm the delicate sea bass and crab flavours. However, given the little dots of sesame, chilli and lime with coriander too, I kept coming back to the 12 YO, which has a dose of lime zest in it anyway, but pondered others. The choice was made easier when the distillery didn‘t have in their stocks some of the older/rarer ones I considered, so Bowmore 12 YO it was and it was one of the nicest matches of the evening. Teaches me to trust my gut more! Same can be said of the Ardbeg with venison. Even without tasting it, I just had a feeling it would work and, eureka! The dessert had some Laphroaig in the brittle so it was an obvious steer and my preference from trials at home was Triple Wood. As we all know it‘s been discontinued, there‘s none at the distillery and my bottle at home didn‘t contain enough to use at the dinner. Laphroaig‘s super manager, Barry, suggested the nearest expression they had would be Laphroaig 10 YO Sherry Cask Finish so I tasted it at the distillery when I went in to pick up the bottles. It seemed a good flavour profile to me and was, indeed, a more than adequate and enjoyable pairing with the dessert and all the diners liked it. I still think the extra roundness in Triple Wood from the quarter casks would have been even better. C‘est la vie. Whisky doesn‘t always stand still.

Bruichladdich‘s The Regeneration Project (single grain whisky) was one I was also determined to use when I first tasted it at launch time. So I tried it with several of my approximations of the menu dishes at home. However, I finally plumped for the cheese match and it was another beauty on the night, each bringing out a little extra in flavour from the other. Incidentally, the only cheese I could get close in texture to try with the Bruichladdich beforehand at home was a vegan cheese. Utterly disgusting stuff. Fortunately, the real thing was so much better. I‘d got to the end of all this and realised there wasn‘t a Diageo whisky on the menu and it seemed a shame to omit them. Original plan this year was not to have tablet with the coffee/tea but we decided to do it after all and the only choice was a rich expression of Lagavulin, therefore a Distiller‘s Edition (it was 2021 they actually supplied) and a delightful way to send people home/back to their accommodations at the end of the night. Some guests hadn‘t encountered tablet before so a double treat for them. All of the diners gave very positive feedback and we‘re thinking about another dinner next year but in a slightly different format. So it‘s wait and see for now.

Glen Moray recently launched Glen Moray Twisted Vine (40% vol), aged fully in cognac casks.

Appearance: Old gold / light amber and old gold highlights.

Nose: Marzipan and a little struck match at first (though it‘s never seen a sherry cask); chocolate covered peanuts and a little smoky honey; savoury spices and salt air (oddly, as it‘s not beside the sea). After a little while fruit and oak begin to come through. Coffee and maltiness. With water, more sultana fruit and unripe hazelnuts; slightly waxy with a touch of toffee and barley sugar.

Palate: Slightly viscous, medium mouth feel. Quite drying at first. Maltiness and coffee grounds; peanuts, ginger, clove, mace; touch of honey and a little almond.

Finish: Medium length; herbal with spices lingering then residual sweetness.

This is a UK release and the first of a new collection. It‘s a bargain at £28 a bottle and they pack in a lot of flavour for such a great price as well as showing off some glorious packaging. Iain Allan, Brand Ambassador, told a group of us on a livestream that he‘d looked at some old distillery ledgers and found Glen Moray had been filling spirit into wine casks since very early in the 20th century e.g. madeira and sherry as well as… „sacro vino“. Presumably casks which had held communion wine!

The second whisky on taste this time is Wolfcraig 30 Year Old Premium Blend from the noses of renowned Master Blenders, Richard Paterson and Ian MacMillan working in tandem under the Wolfcraig name. This whisky was matured in first fill white oak ex-bourbon wood and then in PX and oloroso sherry butts from Jerez. The careful selection shows in the finesse and quality of this blend. Richard is, of course, a master of sherry cask use not to mention Ian‘s previous work at Distell and its previous incarnations.

Appearance: Tawny and amber with aged brass highlights.

Nose: Richly oaky with raisin fruit – almost concentrated grape must. Caramel and golden syrup, vanilla bean paste; fresh notes too of apple and citrus. Sweet cake spices and demerara sugar. Surprisingly no sherry cask sulphur at this point. It‘s beautifully rounded, opulent and enticing.

With water, there is a tiny bit of sherry sulphur. Vanilla is a creamy, fresh custard. Oak is a little more forward and there are drier spices. Honey and still rich and layered. Leave it to sit (covered) in the glass and then more waves of sweet things come at you including candied nuts and dark chocolate.

Palate: Quite luscious and creamy at first but quickly mouth and tongue-drying as many sherried whiskies are. Notes of caramel and dark chocolate; oak tannins; bitter almond and licorice.

Finish: Long with sweet and dry afternotes. Dark chocolate and candied citrus zest; light ginger syrup.

I could nose and sip this for ages – a long, slow sensory experience. Try this one on whisky snobs who believe blends are inferior and shame them. However, it‘s £425 a bottle if you can get hold of some. The company has another expression coming out later this week and there is a launch event but I‘m away and cannot attend. I‘m not going to steal their launch thunder here but I do have a sample and will show my own tasting notes in the end of June column. There‘s a gin too.

Well, that‘s a high note to end on for this column. Till next time, happy dramming.




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