Whisky Tasting at Cadenhead’s London UK

I recently had a business trip in Netherlands and had the option to either do a layover in London or Amsterdam. Given the many excellent whisky and cocktail bars in London, the choice was natural.

Entryway to the small quaint shop in London, UK

My hotel search centered around finding within-walking-distance rooms to the whisky store I targeted for my visit: Cadenheads. For the uninitiated, Cadenheads is one of the most famous independent bottlers and Scotland’s oldest. The founder, George Duncan, established himself as a distillery agent in 1842 and ten years later, hired his brother-in-law William Cadenhead as a traveller for the company.  Mr. Cadenhead acquired the company and subsequently changed the name.

I’ve had many of their rums (fantastic) and a few of their whiskies (also great – review of their 24-year Aberlour here) so I was quite excited.

Their London outcrop (the major store is in Aberdeen) provides free tastings of their spirits and more in-depth classroom setting tastings. The Saturday tastings (there are two, one at 2:30 and one at 4:30 pm) can be booked online for 25 Great British Pounds with a credit card – but with one critical caveat: it requires a UK postal code for the card. I tried to email them, but received no reply.

I crossed my fingers anyway and headed to Cadenheads right after checking into my hotel, and arrived promptly at 4:15, 15 minutes before the start of the tasting. To my utter delight, they gladly accommodated me and many of the other several walk-ins. After a short wait while we perused the store’s wares quietly and impatiently, we were led downstairs to the tasting room.

Our bottles for the evening in front of the powerpoint slide show

Frank, our host for the evening, was a slim spry man who looked quite young for his age (he mentioned he had been “trying whisky for 29 years”). We were encouraged to introduce ourselves to the table:

  • The first two gentlemen (old friends) were founding members of the Irish Whisky Society, which has grown quite successful in recent years.
  • An elderly gentleman that came by himself was previously a wino but had grown fond of whisky in the most recent year, so his daughter bought him a tasting as a birthday gift.
  • A pair (couple? Or friends?) comprised a young German woman who was fond of whisky but said she did not know much – and her Australian companion who was into whisky and had visited Scotland.
  • And last but not least me: red-eyed (from the jetlag) and clearly a geek (my notebook was out and pen was already poised for taking notes)

Behind Frank was a projected powerpoint deck, by which he gave a lot of whisky overview information between pours. It was well-paced and gave us around 5-6 minutes for nosing and sipping each 1 cl pour. The tasting was conducted blind, with pours first given and ample time to taste and consider before the big reveal, to remove preconceived notions. This ended up being very fun, and I confirmed the fact that I prefer peaty whiskies.

After letting us contemplate, he asked for our opinion on the first pour. It was largely silent. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out “meh” which on immediate afterthought was quite rude. I uncomfortably tried to qualify it with “fruity but tastes a bit like IPA”. He took it in stride. The Irish Whisky Society guys quite enjoyed it, dubbing it “floral” and “fruity”. The big reveal was that it was a West Cork 10 year.

As the tastings went on, inhibitions decreased and the tasting began to become a bit more participatory. Frank gave us some history lessons on why there is a “dash Glenlivet” at the end of many of their bottlings, despite each being a single malt. “The Glenlivet” is the whisky distillery’s name, but “Glenlivet” without the “The” was used commonly by all distilleries in the Glenlivet region. Most distilleries had dubbed themselves with a “dash Glenlivet” back in the day (e.g. Macallan-Glenlivet) but have more recently dropped the denomination. Cadenheads simply never changed their bottles.

On the most part, I enjoyed the whiskies but there were no standouts (everything I rated between a 6-8). The final dram was of a Strathcylde grain whisky that I was surprised I enjoyed (having absolutely hated others that I have tried, such as the Port Dundas).

While talking to the two Irish Society members, I said I really loved the Teelings 24. Frank overheard and told me he had a recommendation upstairs – and he said although he hadn’t had this year’s release, last was his favorite whisky of all time.

As a result, I left the store around 320 GBP poorer – with a Cadenhead’s 19 year miniature of Gley Spey and his recommended Gelston’s 26-year-old. I’m excited to try the Gelston’s but am afraid it may not live up to my expectations. From there on, I went to Milroy’s which I thoroughly enjoyed (link below).

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