Jolly Toper Tastings


Tasting Reviews

Tasting 02.03.17

So I recommend eating before drinking. Especially if you’ve been off alcohol for a couple of days. Especially if you have to sample whisky in order to pick the drams you’re about to pour. Also don’t drink too many weiss beers no matter how tasty they are.

20 of us settled down to a last minute shift from our regular side room to the front bar which wasn’t too cool as one has to be sensitive to the other bar users, no swearing and such you see. A bunch of Royal Mile Whiskies staff, other regulars and a couple of first timers made it a good mix. The first dram was the Asda 30yo blend – Tasgall 40%, we’d already done the 25yo and were fairly happy, this was the same. Definite qualities – shame about the strength and filtering. Colleague Martin commented that having saved a drop of each dram to retry at the end he was even more impressed. So beyond the short finish rather good.

Next was a very nice Old Smuggler 26 2/3 Fl. Oz. bottling supplied by Neil via a buddy who’d had it in his wardrobe for years. The company is pretty old and was taken over by Canadian Hiram Walker when manoeuvring into the ‘Scotch’ industry. Glenburgie and later Pulteney distilleries were acquired. It makes you think of how many hands a brand and particularly a distillery might go through over time. The classic old bottled flavours were present which most of us appreciated – but not all.

Next we tried a Springbank port wood expression distilled 1989 and bottled 2002. I’d opened it a couple of years ago but felt it lacked the qualities necessary for pouring but after breathing and a degree of desperation I went for it. One table deplored it but the others were fairly happy. No hallmarks of Springbank or Campbeltown though – something this era of production seems to posses – I wonder why. We also tried a rather delish Lidl 20yo tawny port – only £20 even if just 50cl.

Nest was Raasay batch 2. I can’t remember if I wrote up the batch 1 and the fact we actually tried the very Super Tuscan wine which had been in the the very casks used. Quite a unique experience for me and most of us I’m guessing. The cask were then re-used for an extended period of finishing for the peated single malt from an anonymous Highland distillery. Feisty stuff. The sour notes work for me but I’m a bit special for sherry casks. That same table weren’t impressed and generally not so popular as the Springbank but plenty people enjoyed the unique character of a younger lightly peated malt finished in wine casks. I’m not sure how important it is to keep the distiller secret so I’d better keep my trap shut which is a shame as the distillery is pretty amazing. Raasay continues to move toward production and I’m happy to bring their rather special offer to your attention:

Finally a sherry cask peated Bunnahabhain ‘Moine Oloroso’ – awesome.

Tasting 19.01.17

So another full house saw a goodly mix of regulars and newbies, locals and visitors, ladies and gents as well as novices and old hands.

We started the ball rolling with a Kirin 50% blend – half and half malt and grain and 50%abv. Typically ‘coy’ for a Japanese whisky its subtle notes either being lost on a dulled/demanding palate or coming across with delicate appeal. The guys were pretty stumped by the ‘dimensions’ – age, strength, designation. Good stuff if a little thin- a mixed reception with comments of ‘rough’ and ‘short finish’. £19 a bottle though : )

Next was Barry Crocket Irish pot Still. Classic bright, fresh, lively and fruity stuff. Think Bourbon cask matured Red Breast. Generally well received with often astonishment with the benefits of water. Wild under guessing of price – its £155.

To might pleasure the Tomatin cask strength – the just recently replaced ‘tall round’ packaging generally went down well. A real belter of a full bodied dram buckets of dried fruits and a touch of sour sherry notes. The nose alone is a delight. I’m not sure about elsewhere but RMW have this reduced to £43.

Anther bargain is Nomad. A blend touched by Richard Patterson. 41.2%abv NAS finished in sherry casks actually in Spain. For some to0 lop sided for others a treat of cask domination. Butterscotch and caramel were frequently cited notes. £27 with two free glasses! Think the chocolate mousse that was the Sheep Dip 1990 oloroso-amoroso.

Finally the winner on the night by a Royal Mile – Bowmore Vaults No.1 – allegedly displaying salty notes derived from the warehouse location (behind a sea wall) – this had almost a collective thumbs up which is unheard of for peaty number. Well done folks, another triumph.

Tasting 31st March 2016

Well a welcome day or 5 off work so a chance to write up last night’s tasting. I thought the line up was pretty solid so I was a bit underwhelmed by the turn out, 3 last minute call offs were cancelled by 2 unexpected ladies from San Francisco whom had just arrived in Scotland that day, there were also two groups turning up late, sigh. Oh well s**t happens.

The first dram was the Whisky Magazine’s World Best Limited Release Blend Glenalba 22yo 40% sherry cask finish from Lidl. I was pretty surprised to still find this in a city centre store about a week after the awards were released. £30(!), this doesn’t bode well for ticket sales for the next tasting – 25yo blends, the last time I did this theme the tasting was poorly attended and I swore never again, oh well – seems I’ve no self control.
Not an easy tasting to get the running order correct but in the end I crossed my fingers this was as good a place to start as any. To the dram – lovely soft sherry notes on the nose, not particularly age apparent but clearly well matured. To start the palate is gentle but not really thin, the mid palate begins to show the sherry notes with a degree of tantalising promises that don’t quite get delivered , this would have benefitted from 3 or 6% extra strength never mind dropping chill filtering. I wouldn’t have pinned this as a blend either. All fingers usually point to Whyte & Mackay for bargain single malts and blends in supermarkets, supply is credited to Clydesdale Scotch Whisky Company, Glasgow, G2 5RG. Tasting it now it seems hard to find the sherry burst I got last night – maybe my cooked breakfast has left a thick sludge on my taste buds, curious. Finish isn’t impressive but does linger a fair bit. In a whisky world where branding is seeing prices of well aged, as well as NAS, bottling out of the reach of most of us it’s great to see drams like this within purchasing power. Every thumb was up. I’ll be back to Lidl to grab their aged Islay dram me thinks. Thanks Lidl, not sure about their fruit and veg though…

Next Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye 45% (blended) Jim Murray’s most recent Whisky of the Year. Brought back from Canada by a pal this was a good chance to taste a not so easy to access dram here in Scotchland. Although the descriptor ‘rye’ in Canada is more a note of style than a designation of cereal this expression is made from a whopping 90% rye. Clear on the nose the rye component however is much more delicate than can be found in American ryes like Rittenhouse and Sazerac even at this generous strength. Perhaps this is down to the low maximum strength applied to distillation in America (80%abv) while this spirit would presumably have been significantly higher – 90+%? Fruity and floral on the nose it’s easy to understand how this dram didn’t go down well on the nose or palate with some of those present. Both novices and old hands had doubts while on the other side of the fence there was some appreciation for the soft, gentle notes and pleasing mouth feel – the finish was long, an oily aspect leaving a film on tongue and lips (or is that my brekkie again?). Fennel was mentioned more than once as was liquorice. Altogether I’d say this is good stuff, not for everyone, worth tracking down to see for yourself what the fuss is about. A better stepping stone for starting to cross the flavour stream over to the fields of rye is hard to think of. Best Whisky though, well no such thing exists, not a single person out of the 15 attendees had this as the best dram of the night, interesting. Jim Murray is open about his love of rye so perhaps his one man campaign to raise the profile of this powerhouse style of yesteryear was behind his selection – or maybe he thought of all the drams he tried this was the best, who cares? Not a flippant remark – a genuine question. The fact that The Whisky Magazine had a panel of judges elect the previous dram is certainly more democratic than a dictatorial approach to opinion but more valid? I think this dram is certainly more distinct, engaging and thought provoking than Glen Alba, and probably better – a grower, one to return to and share to see the reaction, a great addition to your whisky library if just for contention value.

Next – Wolfburn 46% non-chillfiltered natural colour matured and bottled at the distillery – that’s the way to do it! Well, you wait years for a new malt then two come a long at the same time. Bring it on. Still no Daftmill….
On the nose an immediate peat presence will a background of youth but in a very acceptable way. For me this is wonderful, having become fatigued with over young and over peated drams this one seems to have hit the balance between all influences – spirit cut, filling strength, peating levels, fermentation times, cask size, cask history, maturation length, bottling strength, etc. Whoever set these parameters knows very well what they’re doing. I could smell the nose for a long time, the palate has nip but not bite, the sweetness goes very well with the peat, inspired. It reminds me of the Norfolk whisky but does more than pip it at the post.
I’ll be very interested in Mrs Toper’s opinion on this one. I’m confused to report on complexity though, plenty going on but perhaps later releases will build the layers on a very sound foundation but maybe at the cost of the impressive boldness. It takes water too, which helps, at £45 this could be an easy target for those wanting to attack price – to age ratios but as always I think the price should mainly reflect quality whilst balancing production costs. Below £50 or there abouts seems acceptable for your averagely waged punter when considering luxuries: a trip to the cinema, a meal out, tickets for tourist attractions for the family – all about the same price. But compared to a round of drinks in the pub, a bottle of wine or similar wallet tapper I’d say 28 25ml drams of this (£1.61 a dram) is very reasonable. They built a distiller from scratch, bought raw material, paid wages and all business and operating overheads, bought casks and waited three years for return. They more than deserve profit, which presumably to a great extent returns to the business. If we want escape from blandness we need to show our support for the independents.

Now it’s no secret I’m a fan of grains and that they can slumber for decades and still retain a youthful zing. While a few recent bottlings of grains below 10yo have been enjoyable this Invergordon 1972 43yo is a perfect example of the grace possible from ‘blending fodder’. On the nose the simple marzipan and vanilla signature is very welcome for those of us with a sweet tooth. Strapping the glass to your noses and deep breathing might not be a look you’d want to sport in public but is recommended to find the subtler oak and coffee notes behind the headlines. Exquisite. The years deserve respect and it’s not difficult to pass time marvelling in the intricacies of the unusually dark gold bounty. Giving in to temptation the dram has more than a decent warmth while the main palate and finish is meticulously clean, free of any unwanted metallic notes, a dram to properly savour but the nose is the winner for me. Very popular.

Finally who’s have thunk it? It seems we’re happy to pay £50+ for an 8yo dram. Lagavulin 200th anniversary bottling 48%. This stuff hasn’t seen too many shelves in whisky shops with punters ordering their bottle in advance of release. Collectable, sellable, drinkable and affordable. again with the sweet peat on the nose, a nice piece of Islay in your glass. Sooty palate, spicy finish, Mrs Toper will be pleased. Expectations are always high for a new expression of Lagavulin – maybe sometimes unfairly and unrealistically high but stepping back from reputation and build up I for one am very happy with this offering from one of the giants of the world of single malts. Nice. Good label too.

So – do me a favour and if you’re on Facebook give the Jolly Toper page a ‘like’, leave a comment, or if you’ve been to a JT tasting stick up a review on TripAdvisor, or just visit I’d appreciate a bit of a leg up so these half full tastings get a bit of a boost and we can see more folks taking advantage of what I believe to be a fairly priced, enjoyable social night set around some decent drams. Ta.