On Thursday 28th November, as America was in the midst of celebrating Thanksgiving, I made my way to Belfast's Hudson Bar to attend their, ever more popular, whiskey club.
With a nod to the American Holiday the line up for the evening's proceedings was to be small batch American whiskies, ryes and bourbons.
As I wandered through the bar and out towards the "Heel Bar", the regular venue for the bar's whiskey sessions, it became immediately obvious that the club's popularity was becoming greater and greater. The room, which has always been more than adequate for the numbers that attend, was visibly packed and I managed to acquire one of the few seats that were remaining. Even with the room already at breaking point there still was time to squeeze a few more punters in which gave the room a more than cosy feeling.
As usual the charismatic Michael Morris, one of the bar's owners, was to be master of ceremonies for the evening. A more than able person for the role given he is also heavily involved in the new Belfast Distillery which is being set up in North Belfast's notorious Crumlin Road Gaol.
Right, enough of the introduction and onto the whiskies. The format of the tasting was to start at the lower end of the whiskey range and work through seven, yes seven, whiskies to the upper end of the market.
George Dickel - Cascade Hollow - 3 year old - 40%
Nose - Familiar bourbon aromas of sweet vanilla, spicy oak and hints of honey and maple.
Palate - The spicy wood from the nose is here in abundance along with soft vanilla, some sweet dark fruits, and hints of smoke in the background. A very smooth whiskey which is light and unoffending although there's not much complexity here.
Finish - Short but warming and drying. A decent, simple whiskey that's very easy to drink as a relaxing dram but it won't set your world alight.
Roughstock Montana Single Malt - 45%
Nose - WOW this is different. Like no single malt I've ever nosed before. Tea leaves, light coffee and sweet cigars make way for raisin notes combined with chocolate, think Cadbury's fruit and nut. With a touch of water some sweet malt, toffee and caramel notes come through with just a waft of light smoke in there lingering in the shadows.
Palate - Sharp and fresh, as the initial sharpness fades sweet dark fruit flavours come through with vanilla cream, Christmas cake and again there's that smoke. The dark fruits really take over towards the end with touches of cinnamon and nutmeg. Has a sherried feel to it and the small addition of water definitely brings the sweetness out.
Finish - Fruity and medium. Highly enjoyable due to it being so far removed from what I normally would take a single malt to smell and taste like.
Evan Williams Single Barrel - 9 year old - 43.3%
Nose - Pine wood, glue (in a good way), green herbs, light oak and with water a more citrus feel comes through with orange and candied lemon sweets
Palate - Very fresh, high levels of orange and lemon with wood resin and light smokiness.
Finish - Short, sweet and spicy. Again a very different style of whiskey with unusual flavours competing with the more regular bourbon notes but definitely drinkable.
Four Roses Straight Bourbon - 40%
Nose - Youthful with raw alcohol spirit. Takes a while and some water to settle it down at which point green apples, light smoke and floral notes appear.
Palate - The young raw alcohol attacks the mouth and has a touch of chilli heat about it. Not really that pleasant. Eventually the apple comes back with spices such as cinnamon, clove and pepper. The usual bourbon vanilla also makes an appearance.
Finish - Drying heat leading to spices. In my opinion this is not enjoyable and is best avoided.
Knob Creek - 9 year old - 50%
Nose - Initial impression is that of crispy smoked bacon like the crispy cooked bacon you can buy to fill in sandwiches. This develops into some toasted oats, oak, nuts and sweet light spices.
Palate - Lovely warm spice and fruit in the style of mulled wine. Lovely juiciness which fills the mouth and moves into sweet oak flavours. This can take a drop of water which only adds to the experience.
Finish - Medium to long and again warming in a nice way, not like the burn of the Four Roses. This is most definitely a winter dram.
Jim Beam 6 Grains Signature - 6 year old - 44.5%
Nose - Gorgeous, amazing chocolate notes with lovely light sweet vanilla. As it develops in the glass some amazing dark fruits come through with the oak. Another with a very sherried feel.
Palate - Equally as good as the nose. Crisp and fresh leading to vanilla, oak, light warming spice and more juicy dark fruit. Lots going on and a little touch of water helps to open up the fruits to bring in some stewed oranges.
Finish - Medium, spicy and clean. Very smooth and very enjoyable. Not sure where the sherried feel comes from but it's an interesting and tasty move away from the normal bourbon flavours.
Maker's Mark 46 - 47%
Nose - Wood resin and oak. Very similar to Japanese whiskey such as Yamazaki. Herbal notes and green fruits come through with sweet vanilla, caramel and toffee.
Palate - Spicy, warming and sweet. Lovely oak hints and creamy vanilla in the style of creme brûlée. More fruits towards the end with oranges and raisin dominating.
Finish - Lovely, smooth and pleasantly warm. Great sweet aftertaste takes over and lingers for quite a while. Great dram to have in front of the fire.
As the tasting ended we were given a teasing notification that the Whiskey Club shall return on Wednesday 18th December with it being billed as a "night to remember". The general idea seemed to be that we shall be starting with a whiskey around the £70 mark and moving up the scale. It promises to be a belter.
Numbers for this event are being limited to 40 and tickets are to go on sale this Monday coming. I know I'll be at the bar first thing on Monday to guarantee my ticket.
All whiskies tried and tested all that was left to do was head back into the main bar and continue the discussion. Yet again the Hudson presented another cracking Whiskey Club night and all this for only £10, absolute bargain.
Until next time,