On Wednesday night, imyril, her boy, a uni friend of his and I went to a whisky tasting at Vinopolis in London Bridge. We tasted seven whiskies from the Japanese distiller, Suntory. They sent along their master blender to teach us about their distilleries and the amazing amount of control exercised over their products. For instance, these people don't just buy sherry casks from producers in Spain to put their whisky in to mature. Oh no. That's not good enough. They go to the oak forests in northern Spain, select the trees that they want to be made into barrels and supervise the drying of the planks. Then they go to the cooperage to make sure that the barrels are assembled to specifications. Then they go to the sherry producers and say, "Please will you put your sherry in our barrels for a couple of years." They ensure that the barrels aren't filled with water or fish or anything else that doesn't belong in there. When the sherry is ready, they empty the barrels and ship them to Japan.
I'm pretty sure no other whisky producers in the world go to quite such lengths. Anyway, this chap was clearly a big nerdy chemist, and I was loving every minute of it. He used the Latin names for oak types and wasn't afraid of mentioning tylose. I don't think my sentiments were shared by everyone in the room, though, as his geeky lecture prevented the tasting of the tantalizing glasses in front of us until a good 45 minutes from the start.
- Yamazaki 12 yo single malt: A light, honeyed easy drinker, with the exception of the rather smoky finish.
- Yamazaki 18 yo single malt: As the big brother of the 12, I didn't feel it quite delivered. Smoothing the edges out somehow took away some of the interest.
- Hakushu 12 yo: You know, I owned a bottle of this and finished it, and the second time around I didn't enjoy it. My palate was solidly overhwelmed by the smoke from nose to finish, and though adding water helped, it wasn't enough.
- Hakushu 18 yo: This rich, deep sipper with the curly caramel edges transported me instantaneously to my happy place. Mind you, I was already feeling pretty relaxed. It broke my will not to buy anything. A bottle of it came home with me.
- Hibiki 17 yo blend: Good for people who don't actually like whisky all that much and would rather be drinking cognac.
- Hibiki 21 yo blend: See above, except with an oily finish that lingers much too long, rather like an ex-boyfriend that won't go away. I can't believe this costs upwards of £200/bottle.
- Yamazaki Limited Edition Sherry Cask: On the other hand, I can't believe this is going to go for only £80/bottle. A piquant little delicacy, like rum-soaked raisins or chocolate-covered coffee beans. Sadly not available until September, but you can bet I'll save up for it.
We walked along the South Bank to Waterloo station to go home. You know, I've been here for five years and that view over the Thames, St Paul's Cathedral, the bridges, the dim lights in the water...it still has the power to make the thought hit me like a suckerpunch: god I love London.