Monday, April 02, 2007
Cask Strength Whisky Tasting (and Morwenna's Birthday)
Saturday March 31
Ian Brooks' place
7.30pm - late
Hosted a whisky tasting on Saturday, as we try to do every time we are here in Toronto. A good time was had by all and not a drop went unappreciated. Very happy that so many people were able to come and that everyone had a good time, including the birthday girl and her family. I have received many emails of thanks, and we thank all of you for coming and taking part in the magic of communal spirit consumption.
I should note that there are no professional whisky drinkers in the group, a few aspiring nerds, and a few guests who took some time to warm up to whisky. This is a welcome challenge to Kristin and I and I think it is safe to say that we can now add a few more names to the growing list of converts in our whiskevangelism. I also like to note that despite what marketers tell us in the whisky industry, the room was evenly split between guys and dolls. AND, most importantly, more women liked what we are told are "manly" Islay whiskies than men. Give 'er!
The tasting notes of each expression were noted on a pad of yellow legal paper that went around the room. I thank all the contributors and apologise if I do not use every note. I will credit the notes where credit is due.
Kilchoman New Spirit (50ml)
This is new-make barley spirit, something that most people never get to try and it is absolutely fantastic that Kilchoman has decided to release new spirit. Legally, it cannot be called 'whisky' until it has aged in cask for 3 years. This is the way whisky would have been consumed 200 years ago, with no time wasted on aging, just drinking it right off the still.
Kilchoman is a new distillery and has been distilling whisky for just under two years (began in June 2005). The distillery is one of the few that will be able to claim that every step of the whisky making process is taken on site and it is the first new Islay distillery in 124 years.
Salty fish water, dates-in-boiled-oats kind of sweetness, pear flavoured water, pissed-out fire.
"Tastes like a young Laphroaig" - Kristin Cavoukian
"Peardrops? Bollocks!!!" Jordan
Everyone was very impressed with just how drinkable this stuff was in spite of its strength, but were also surprised by the softness of flavours, a gentle sweetness unexpected by most, from 'immature' spirit. Everyone loved the smokiness. We all look forward to great things from this new distillery.
Chivas Regal 12yo (1750ml)
Blended Scotch Whisky
In 1836 James Chivas became a partner in an Aberdeen-based grocer and wine merchant and in 1857 Chivas Brothers was born. Chivas Regal was their flagship blend from the 1890s and was finding great success on North American shores. In Canada the brand earned much admiration from whisky distillers and in 1949 Seagram's bought the family of blends. The company subsequently acquired old and built new distilleries in the 20th century.
The blend is said to contain a high malt content of 40%, mainly made up of Speyside malts (Glenlivet, Longmorn, and Strathisla and for sure, and maybe Allt-a-Bhainne, Benriach, Braeval, Caperdonich, Glen Grant and Glen Keith)
The CoolBrands Council (!) named Chivas the UK's coolest whisky brand(2006).
Vanilla, cut grass, sweet and malty. Applesauce. Mango lassie.
"First time having it and I am pleasantly surprised. The box always gave me the impression that the whisky would taste like dust and 'English Leather', but it doesn't!" - Matthew Cowley
Many commented how it tasted really light later in the night, but this was no doubt because by that point we had already enjoyed 4 cask-strength whiskies.
A surprise to many who had stigmatized this whisky in their minds, Chivas Regal proved to be satisfying and widely appealing, although it was the last whisky bottle to be emptied on the night. Mind you, this could be because we had a 1.75L bottle...
North British 1991 (14yo)
Signatory Cask Strength Grain Whisky
It is not often that one gets to taste new make spirit and single cask grain whisky on the same night. Adding to the experience is the fact that this particular grain was aged in Californian ex-sherry casks; extremely unusual.
This distillery provides grain for many of the biggest blends(Vat 69, Dewar's, Chivas, Famous Grouse, Isle of Skye, and more), and produces 1.25 million litres a week(!). One of seven remaining grain distilleries in Scotland, and the only one left in Edinburgh.
Honey ice cream, sour grapes, dying flowers, sulphur and sewage.
Forget who said these, "sauna", "library dust", "dirt, earth", "sucking on a tree branch"
"Blood flavoured liquorice" - Brian Kobayakawa
"It makes me feel like I'm going to grow a big funnel/smokestack out of the front of my face--out of which I'll spew fluffy clouds" - Jessie Perlitz
"Matches dropped into a grainfield sparking a grassfire" - Jenn Gaudette
The "off-notes" (namely sewage and matches) polarized the room. Absolutely loved by many, enjoyed by most, and hated by very few. A highly unusual whisky that was infinitely interesting. Very memorable, and a gorgeous bottle that was highly coveted by the tasters.
Glenmorangie Traditional (100 proof)
Highland Single Malt Whisky
Glenmorangie is the best selling whisky in the UK and is pronounced, contrary to the belief of some cocky tourists I met in Scotland two years ago, "glen-moren-jee". Not that I was nit-picking, but they were just so obnoxiously pretentious and I insist on knocking the wind out of anyone who propagates the myth of snobbery that surrounds whisky enjoyment.
Glenmorangie is very proud to boast the tallest stills in the industry measuring in at 5.1m. They can also claim responsibility for the various wood finishes as they pioneered the resurgence of the method in recent years. In fact, the wood management at Glenmorangie is among the most strict in the whole whisky world and is the product of 20 years of ongoing research into slow growing trees and techniques of air drying the oak of particular trees from particular parts of the US, used for particular bourbons before being used to mature the spicy, vanilla rich whisky that we all know as Glenmorangie.
Fresh mint, fennel, vanilla pods, rooibos tea. An effervescent mouthfeel that becomes nicely oily with synthetic orange flavour and white pepper.
"Coating of fur on the tongue." - anon.
"High octane version of the standard 10yo" - Jordan
"Aerosol hairpspray from 1972" - Allison B
"I just really like it" - Brian Kobayakawa, Jillian Rogin
Dram of the night for many folks, myself included, this is powerful but elegant stuff with great balance of wood and whisky character. Water adds to the flavour experience and increases the beauty of the mouthfeel. Dig it.
Aberlour A'bunadh, Batch 17
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Taking it's name from the Gaelic for 'the origin', A'bunadh is a batch released whisky that is a vatting of different ages of exclusively oloroso sherry cask matured Aberlour whisky. When we visited the distillery a couple of years ago, we were told that the inspiration for this expression of Aberlour came from a bottle that was discovered in the walls of one of the distllery buildings. It was tested and it was decided to try and create a similar style of Aberlour, traditional and from an era when most distilleries were exclusively aging in sherry casks, and bottle it in an old-style apothecary bottle with a wood stopper and wax seal. This series has been a great success and is currently on Batch 18.
Founded in 1879 by James Fleming, a fire in 1898 destroyed most of the distillery. It was insured and rebuilt at an incredible cost. But it was worth it as the place is still stunningly gorgeous. The distillery remained water powered (it is located at a meeting point of the Lour and Spey rivers) until 1960 and was purchased by its current owners, Pernod Ricard(Chivas whisky family) in 1974.
Fire. Rich with cloves, cocoa, and loads of oloroso sherry. Hot. I need water.
"All I can say is smoooooooth. yum yum." - Joanna White
"Chocolatey, nougat-y, dessert-y smooch" - anon.
"Tasty, a dark cave with a monster lurking inside" - Chuck Erlichman
"Not unlike drinking a brick." - Zack
"Not so subtle." - Jill R.
"It burns. Olive and chocolate. and burn." - Brian K.
Another that was hit and miss. A whisky that benefits from being 4th in a tasting. Still too spirit-hot to many, but undeniably full of rich sherry and all the good stuff that comes with it. Another cool bottle, to boot.
SMWS 3.123 "jowl-shaking"
Single Cask Single Malt Whisky
Always good to end a tasting with something fiery and smoky, and this little beast from Bowmore certainly lived up to those expectations.
Kristin and I used to be on the SMWS tasting panel that considers the whiskies from individual casks in an attempt to determine which ones are good enough to be bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. We learned a great deal from the experienced noses at the table and are very grateful to have had the opportunity to take part. Young Bowmores have been very popular in recent years at the society and with independent bottlers. See Malt Mission 18 or Malt Mission 4 for more information on Bowmore and notes on other expressions of this whisky.
"Burning love... and plastic and war and turpenitine" - Zack
"This is the one... send the rest back. ISLAY FOREVER" - Kristin C.
"Ashtray mouth; if you have a need for it, this is where you get it." Allison
"Smokey, peaty, with a hint of maple and A535"
Smokeheads loved this treat, but they were easy to convince. It is the rest of the room that found something to like in it that was most impressive. Slightly antiseptic in its numbing affect. But lots of character for such a young'n. bowMORE.
Much fun. Thanks again, all.
Most abstract note:
"LIKE FIREWORKS WITH THE DOPPLER EFFECT"
runners up: "Not unlike drinking a brick", "Rip yer bitch-pants off"
Most Canadian note/comment:
"A HINT OF MAPLE AND A535"
runner up "No, I've got a couple beer"
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