Cadenheads is a lovely – if a bit dusty and cramped – little shop off a ridiculously upper class boulevard in Marylebone. We stepped in one Saturday afternoon to try a few drams of whisky in one of their well established tasting sessions.
The whole experience got off to a false start when, despite a long email chain regarding our tasting, they didn’t have our booking. They clearly thought that their extremely technical paper booking system was infallible. I was looking for a “sorry we misplaced your booking” instead I was faced with a man who seemed too posh to admit he was wrong. His attitude might have been because of the fact we turned up in jeans and band t-shirts instead of matching salmon pink shirts, which seemed to upset him. Overall it soured the experience slightly.
We returned two hours later for our hastily rescheduled tasting, and we squeezed into a small but lovely basement room with a table laid out with snacks, water glasses and surrounded by whisky and whisky paraphernalia. The whole place oozed a stuffy tweediness – which wasn’t unpleasant.
Richard, who guided us through the tasting was friendly, pleasant and lacked any twattish pretense. I liked him. After a brief history of the making of whisky we tried six different malts – ranging from smooth and pale to smokey as hell, not to mention strengths from pleasantly warming to eye watering (see notes below).
The experience was unforced and Richard was keen to hear about what we tasted instead of him merely telling us what we tasted. This made it feel informal, relaxed and enjoyable. Although, for those in the crowd with less tasting experience than others, a bit more information and guidance might have been welcome. Of all the six whiskies, none of us were particularly struck by any of them – which seems a shame and unlike us as we all love the crap out of whisky. But hey – the pretzels were good, and the short history of whisky was interesting and informative. Most intriguingly we learnt a lot about how to correctly mix your water with your whisky, with vials of water from the various whisky areas (Islay, Speyside and Highlands) to complement your specific dram – dropped in with pipettes.
At the end of the tasting we were expecting the chance to peruse the little shop and dusty bottles to find a suitable souvenir – however we were rushed out of the door by people apparently keen to get home for tea. Maybe they could hear their mum calling.
An enjoyable experience, interesting with plenty to try and just about worth the money. Shame about the poncy gentleman who seemed to be the organiser – we did get an apology as we left, but only after we’d spent £50 on a bottle. That seemed to warm him to us.
Here’s what we tried…
Hazelburn – Lowland
This is a triple distilled, 12 year-old from a bourbon barrel and a forerunner of Japanese whiskies like Suntory Yamazaki. It has a light, sharp taste with notes of citrus and vanilla. The cheapest of the session at £36 a bottle. This was billed as the father of Japanese whisky and was probably my favourite.
Miltonduff Glenlivet – Speyside
24 year-old, bourbon cask. This is the highest in alcohol at a blistering 65.3%. As a result, the flavours hit the back of the throat hard. Features fruity notes, orangey even. Even smoother than the Hazelburn but stronger. Flavours develop further with a drop of water.
Dalmore – Highlands
22 year-old, bourbon cask at 59.5% alcohol. It’s full-bodied whisky, with orange, chocolate and coffee flavours.
Clynelish – Highlands
20 year-old from a cream sherry barrel at 55.4%. Although classed as a highland whisky, the Clynelish has coastal qualities: it smells like the sea and tastes like the sea. It is quite oily and dark in colour. The sherry notes from the cask make for a long lasting taste on the palette. After taste is rich and chocolatey.
Springbank – Campbeltown, Mull of Kintyre
This 10 year-old is two and a half times distilled (a traditional method). It’s described as a double wood. It spent five years in a bourbon cask and five years in an oloroso sherry cask. A smooth, highly drinkable whisky with notes of the sea. It has a light peatiness derived from the malt being smoked for six hours. Water releases some of the smokiness and spreads flavour across the palette.
William Cadenhead Lagavulin – Islay
A 59.1% alcohol, 7 year Islay. The malt for this island whisky has been smoked for 54 hours, giving it an intense peatiness, while the sherry cask gives it a spicy sweetness. Interestingly, notes of TCP can be detected. This is from iodine leached from seaweed which end up on the barrels after storms.