Craig Heap attends Kill-Devil’s Epic Spirit Tasting.
Kill-Devil Spirit Tastings: The Epic Tasting
Arcadia Bar, Leeds, Thursday 27 March
The Epic Tasting session marked the first anniversary of the Kill-Devil Spirit Tasting sessions, presented by Jake Temple. To honour that, the session didn’t focus on a single spirit type as it usually does but on seven different ‘epic’ expressions. Jake is also celebrating the recent birth of his daughter and wanted to mark the occasion with an unforgettable range of drinks. All the ticket money gathered, and then a bit more from Jake’s own pocket, went directly on the spirits.
The event took place at the same venue as the Whisky Galore session, so for an insight into how the Kill-Devil Tastings work please take a look at our previous review. For the Epic spirits, read on.
Maxime Trijol Grande Champagne VSOP
Notes: There’s no fizz in the Maxime Trijol Grande; it’s a cognac. The grapes used in the product are grown in the chalky soils of the Champagne region. The vine roots are forced to grow deep through the mineral-rich soil to reach water, and this is supposed to contribute to the overall smooth, elegant taste of the finished product. ABV 40% and approximate price is £40.
Appearance: Dark, golden colour.
Nose: A supremely clean, subtle aroma, hinting at oak and an almost rum-like, Demerara sweetness.
Taste: Smooth and subtle but not without complexity: gentle wood notes leading to a slightly dry, astringent tannin quality caused some to compare this to whisky, while the Demerara sweetness I detected on the nose came through as a light, sugary sweetness. Occasional apple and vanilla notes.
Verdict: Exceptional. Given the price, it would be worth considering this rather than the more mainstream Courvoisier if you’re looking for something different in your cognac routine. If you don’t have a cognac routine, you could do worse than starting here.
Chateau du Breuil Reserve des Signeurs 20 yo XO Calvados
Notes: Calvados is Normandy Brandy, from the northern coastal region of France, where they grow around 200 varieties of apples. This particular expression is made with a long fermentation process, with the vats left open to allow natural apple yeast to get inside and make things happen. After a minimum of six weeks fermentation, the product is then aged for 20 years in oak. ABV is 41% and approximate price is £70.
Appearance: Mahogany brown.
Nose: There are definitely apples in the aroma, but the precise nature was debated: some took it to be dried, others believed stewed or even fresh. Dry wood notes are also evident. Either way, no real surprises from a fermented apple-juice extract aged in wood.
Taste: Initially a very dry, strong apple taste, with wood notes moving in before opening up the finish to take on a particular lightness – almost like apple blossoms or the froth on vigorously shaken apple juice. Gradually, a puckering dryness became apparent but this wasn’t detrimental to the experience. The body was light, and reminiscent of the smoothness of the cognac tried previously. There was no burn or kick at all.
Verdict: This was my first foray into Calvados, so it is impossible for me give a decent comparison. I liked it, sure, and if you gave me another glass of it I would drink it down, but this won’t find a place in my liquor cabinet.
Edradour 2003 Burgundy Cask
Notes: Is it rum? Another cognac? A wine, perhaps? If you’re not familiar with the exotic sounding Edradour distillery, it may not be immediate apparent they are a Perthshire based whisky distillery. In fact, they’re Scotland’s smallest distillery, boasting a very hands-on three-man team, and are respected in whisky circles for reasons we won’t go in to here. They make around 240,000 bottles in total per year, an amount some distilleries churn out in a month. This expression, aged for six years in nothing but burgundy wine barrels, is already likely to be sold out. ABV 46% and the approximate price is £43.
Appearance: Medium gold.
Nose: What the hell? The award for the Most Puzzling Aroma goes to the Edradour Burgundy Cask. My theory, and there were plenty of them around the table, was an immediate, almost overpowering sweetness which was most like burnt candy floss, then butter, rounded off by a dry, musty edge, like old grapes.
Taste: Like the smell, this gets right up inside you before you know what the hell is going on. Fire rises through the sinuses and the taste constantly explodes inside your entire head, though I’m still too shell-shocked to tell you what exactly that taste is. There’s a red wine quality mixed in with the long, dry aftertaste.
Verdict: Full of fire, this is a really meaty whisky to chew on without being peaty. I loved it.
Cold River Blueberry Vodka
Notes: Cold River is based in Colorado, USA (where a lot of good stuff is coming from right now: look up Stranahan’s and Flying Dog). Apparently, their aim with the Blueberry vodka is not an alcopop-esque sugary drink to be served in nightclubs, but to achieve natural fruit flavouring. Blueberries are steeped in the wheat vodka for a day. Sugar is added to balance the bitterness. ABV 40% and the approximate price is £45.
Appearance: Clear (any discolouration imparted by the blueberries is stripped out).
Nose: Blueberry, Parma Violets and sherbet (yeah, I know what you’re thinking).
Taste: There’s an immediate and surprising medicinal taste which reminded me of cough lozenges. That passes to reveal the Parma Violets and dusty, powdered sugar, and then the sugar sweet sherbet finishes it off. Contrary to my neat vodka preference, Cold River Blueberry Vodka opened up with a dash of water added to it, becoming much softer, fruitier and less sugary on both the nose and palate.
Verdict: Not how I like my vodka but it won many over in the room.
Pyrat 1623 Cask
Notes: Pyrat 1623 Cask is blended on the island of Anguilla and made from rums brought in from all over the Caribbean. The rums are blended and aged in Limousin French wood and virgin American white oak casks – by the time the product is bottled, it contains rums which have been aged for 15 to 40 years. The factory also makes some sort of orange distillate and there’s a strong suspicion some of this goes into the rum, though Pyrat aren’t telling. There’s a good brand image here: the bottle comes with a brass medallion of Hoti, the patron saint of bartenders, and he can be found dispensing sage advice to the ‘socially enlightened’ on their website. ABV 40% and an approximate price of £230. Yes, you read that right – £230 per bottle.
Appearance: Dark auburn.
Nose: Plenty to wade through: a bouquet of flowers, a basket of fruit, strips of leather, fields of coffee and bags of oranges.
Taste: It oozes smoothness, possessing the light, easy drinkability of golden rum and the complexity of dark rum. It has a gentle spicy undercurrent and oil of orange notes.
Verdict: The Magazine should have sent a poet to review this one. Words fail me. You might say nothing is worth £230. This is.
Notes: High West Double Rye is produced in Utah. The distillery is Utah’s first since 1870, and it fulfils a very particular niche as the world’s only ski-in, gastro-pub distillery. Don’t ask, that’s all I know, okay. It’s called a double rye as it is made from two separate rye whiskies: the first is 95% rye, 5% malted barley and aged for two years; the second is 53% rye, 47% corn and aged for 16 years. ABV 46% and the approximate price is £45.
Appearance: A light to medium gold.
Nose: Rich and wholesome, full of grain, corn and wheat, with spice and a hint of sweetness. Lovely.
Taste: A gentle woodiness, with vanilla and spice in the opening, then a long, fruity finish. It really opens up in the finish with plenty of flavour coming through.
Verdict: Deliciously smooth and gently spiced, this was a firm favourite amongst the session crowd. An expertly crafted product, and one that I hated for all the wrong reasons. When I drink rye, I want it so strong and spicy I feel as if an armoured Indian Police Force elephant has just kicked in my teeth. If you like your teeth attached to your face, however, then this may be the rye for you.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed
Notes: Wild Turkey, the choice of Hunter S. Thompson. Hardly a relevant point, but my notes had become pretty sparse at this point in the tastings so I thought I would mention it. The distillery owns a limestone-filtered well where it draws the water for its spirits. The quality is so good the rest of the town buys their water supply from the distillery. Like Guinness, they use a yeast strain which has been maintained since the 1800s. ABV 54.1% and approximate price is £50.
Nose: Milder than expected, given the strength, with rich coffee and grain notes backed up by a smoky hint.
Taste: It’s a sudden artillery barrage of taste sensation. Once the dust settles it layers on an excellent grain taste followed by fruit strudel, with both sugar sweet and tart fruit notes flaring up. If a large mouthful is taken in, a dry woody quality comes through. There was no discernible burn and it didn’t overpower.
Verdict: Amazing. My personal favourite of the tasting session (excluding the sublime Pyrat 1623 Cask but, given the current state of my wallet, at £230 bottle it’s more an abstract concept than an achievable prospect).