I'm a terrible slacker, I went to this tasting back in February and have only just now got round to writing up my notes. BAD ME.
It's largely due to Glenfiddich's marketing back in the 1970s and onwards that single malt whisky is now so popular. Unfortunately, while their standard bottling may have been interesting back then compared to the crappy blended whiskies that dominated the shelves at the time, it's rubbish by modern standards, but it kept selling mostly because it was cheap. I believe that they've discontinued it. It certainly wasn't part of this tasting, at which we sampled seven different bottlings as well as a new-make spirit bottled straight from the still.
New make spirit: the nose was cherries, pears and paint, the taste pure unadulterated evil. With water the nose was sweeter, the taste still evil.
7yo: nose of paint and fruit, taste (with water) was sweeeet with apricot and pepper. Surprisingly good.
12yo, 1997: the nose was similar to that of the new make - cherries and paint, with the pears replaced by orange peel. The taste - mint. With water it dies completely. This should definitely be drunk unwatered.
15yo, 1994 "Solera": this is an odd beast. After being aged in the normal way (which permits the age statement - in whisky, the age statement is that of the youngest spirit in the bottle, which may contain much older spirit as well, as the distillery blends several casks together to make each batch of the final product), casks are then blended together Solera-style in a large vat. When spirit is drawn off from the vat and bottled (the vat never being fully emptied) it is topped up with more casks. This is, I believe, unique amongst whiskies. The resulting product is pretty good, with a nose of fruit cake and honey, tasting os raisins and brandy.
18yo, 1991: nose of apples and brandy, the taste sweet cinnamon. With water it didn't change much, but just became a bit less interesting. This was pretty good, but not great.
21yo, 1988, rum cask finish: this was an excellent whisky. The nose was mellow with leather, beeswax and vanilla. The taste of spice and - predictably - rum. With water some citrus came out too, but it's better without.
30yo, 1979: nose of chocolate and port
30yo, 1976, cask strength, sherry cask finish: this was spectacular but isn't generally available - you might be able to buy it at the distillery if you're lucky. The nose was of dry sherry and honey, the taste replaces the sherry with good tawny port. Doesn't need water despite the strength.
Despite the date on this journal entry, I'm actually writing it nearly a month later, because I'm a goddamned slacker. However, in the middle of August I went to an Amrut tasting. Amrut, as you will of course know, and so I don't really need to explain this to you, are a whisky distiller from India - Bangalore specifically. They make a damned fine dram, which I was introduced to in a pub in Northshire a few years ago. I was keen to try some of their other bottlings.
We had eight drams in a blind tasting, plus a sample of Amrut's new make spirit. Of the eight, only six were Amruts.
Amrut new make spirit: this isn't something that you'll ever find in the shops, or even particularly want to drink, but it's interesting to compare it to the actual products that come from it. The nose was overwhelmingly acetone.
Amrut single malt, 46%: the nose is lubricating oil, the taste reminded me of good cider brandy / calvados. A very short, almost non-existent finish. Benefits from adding a little water, and is very drinkable indeed but nothing special. 6/10. This is almost the same as that first Amrut I had Way Back, although they've tweaked the strength slightly which can make a difference.
Glenfarclas 10yo: nothing really stood out in the nose, although with water there's some coal smoke. The taste included eucalyptus. The finish was salty, although not too much, and had something of a dentist's surgery about it. Only 4/10.
Amrut cask strengh, 61.9%: the nose is honey, violets, perhaps some brandy. The taste, coal, salt, hot spices. The finish very long. Slightly meaty without water, but with water like a sweet n sour takeaway - from a good takeaway. 7/10.
Amrut Fusion, 50%: this uses a mixture of Indian and a peated Scottish barley. The taste was of the sea and spice, the finish huge, with smoked eel. 8/10.
Amrut peated, 46%: this is made with Scottish barley, in India. Their other expressions use Indian barley. The nose was currants and heather. The taste dry, with pervasive light smoke, and mint. With water the smoke became rather over-powering and slightly bitter - thankfully it's at a reasonable strength so there's no need to water it. 9/10.
Bowmore Legend: carbolic soap and a slightly acrid nose. The taste smoke, bacon, cocoa nibs. 7/10.
Amrut peated, cask strength 62.8%: great on the nose with rum and spice, but so strong it needs water. And unfortunately when you add water it just goes to shit. 5/10.
Amrut Two Continents, 46%: this gimicky whisky is matured first in India, then shipped to "a secret location" in Europe for more maturing. The nose is floral, the taste fresh and summery, perhaps slightly barbecuey. Unfortunately only 4/10, and my notes have a gigantic "MEH" scribbled on them.
Those of you paying attention will have noticed that the one I rated the best was a peated Amrut, which I rated higher than the Bowmore. And I'm pleased to see that my original high regard for Amrut didn't subconsciously include marking it higher just because I wasn't expecting an Indian whisky to be any good.
This evening I went to a Nikka tasting at The Whisky Exchange in Vinopolis. Nikka being a Japanese whisky distillery company. I realise that some people will be horrified at the idea of me drinking whisky from anywhere but Scotland, but, I'll have you know, the Japanese make some crackers. As do the Irish, Welsh and Indians. I've heard good things about a Swedish whisky too, and am very much looking forward to trying something from the St. George's Distillery in a few years time.
[update: I've been asked to mention that the Uppity Colonials also make good whiskey. Unlike the less uppity northern Colonials.]
But on to my rather brief tasting notes.
From the Barrel: this blended whisky (Nikka own two malt whisky distilleries and one grain distillery; this uses all three) is a little beauty. The nose is all honey, but the taste is fire and salt, with sap and resin in the finish. A fairly strong 51.4%, but would make a good whisky to spend several hours drinking and chatting.
Pure malt "black label": a rather uninspiring nose that smelt of, well, whisky. I didn't really get anything else from it, so was prepared to be disappointed. It had a little peat, with the dominant flavours being salt and sweet. With water, it became sweeter and less salty. Quite a delicate dram, and quite different from the robust whiskies I normally go for, but I liked this a lot.
Pure malt "white label": the nose was hard to describe - eventually we decided it was soap, hospitals and bandages. The taste, however, was utterly different. The whole mouth fills with violets and roses, like having a boozy liquid Turkish delight. This is an awesome whisky.
Finally two ten year old single malts, one from Nikka's Miyagikyo distillery, the other from Yoichi. After having three out of four of the "impure" whiskies turn out to be stunners, I was expecting these to be really very good indeed, especially given how highly I know others rate Yoichi. But I was disappointed. Neither was particularly special, the Yoichi edging slightly ahead with a nice loooooong sweet finish.
The booze columnist for the New York Times recently made a frightful error. But to give credit where credit is due, he then Did The Right Thing and got his editors to correct their style guide. However, while the new style guide is better than the previous one, it's still wrong. The rules for when to spell it whisky or whiskey are as follows:
Malt never has an 'e', unless made in Ireland or the US, in which case it always does;
Everything else always has an 'e', unless it's Canadian or a Scottish blend, in which case it never does.
"Citation needed!" I hear you cry!
Very well! A citation you shall have! Stroll leisurely over to your drinks cabinet, and from it extract bottles of Amrut (a single malt from India) and Yamazaki (a single malt from Japan). Notice how they spell 'whisky' - without an e. Then visit one of your friends who lacks taste, and examine his bottle of Famous Grouse. That too has no e. Now, look at your bottles of Jameson's, Knob Creek and Blanton's. They all spell it 'whiskey'. Finally, look at the website for that rare bird, the American single malt, and also at one for a Canadian single malt. Notice that the American distillery uses an e, where the Canadian one doesn't.
This evening I went to a tutored whisky blending session run by John Glaser, the founder of Compass Box (sorry - Flash site). Compass Box produces some interesting blends, and they also really piss the Scotch Whisky Association off. Annoying suits has got to be a good thing! You can get a good idea of the stupidity that was involved here when the SWA said "quality is completely irrelevant".
The first half of the evening was devoted to tasting some of their blends. I was very impressed by Oak Cross and Peat Monster.
The second half was us paying punters blending our own whisky. I ended up mixing 30% Rosebank, 50% Aultmore, 5% Caol Ila, and 15% an un-named experimental whisky that the Compass Box people have been playing with. The end result was really quite good if I may say so myself.
Obviously we tasted all the drams before blending them, and I have to say that normally I wouldn't particularly like that particular cask of Rosebank (although I've had some lovely Rosebank in the past, this cask didn't do anything special on its own), nor would I normally go for the Aultmore. My first instinct was to mix something quite peaty with lots of Caol Ila with a little of the Rosebank and Aultmore to soften it, and not use any of the very woody Experiment at all, but the particular cask of Caol Ila we were playing with was even more peat-reeky than normal, and would have over-powered everything else and produced a rather one-dimensional drink. So I decided instead to use the lighter whiskies to make something more delicate, and give it more body with the Experiment. I couldn't resist adding just a wee drop of Caol Ila though. Got to have some GRRR in a whisky!
Posted at 22:56
by David Cantrell keywords: whisky
Having come back from Edinburgh after the weekend with a splendid bottle of the society's Laphroaig, I was pleased to discover a whisky shop in Vinopolis near London Bridge. At which there was a bottle of 50 year old Talisker, which I persuaded to come home with me.
I'm doomed, and not just when the credit card bill arrives.
Posted at 15:08
by David Cantrell keywords: whisky