Tasting is sharing; Nikka & Balvinie with a nosing of Ardbeg

So when you have no more whisky to sample, but you still have friends who haven’t tried them. What is one to do…Impromptu (ish) whisky tasting. So my friend came over after many, many failed attempts to connect in purely whisky tasting way.  On Saturday afternoon, I haphazardly threw a baby bok choy and scrambled eggs taster. My friend had previously stated that he was a Chival Regal fan, and that was his go to whisky of choice. Having only a vague idea of what Chival Regal is about (i.e. Speyside, blended. So warm, inviting with a medium body, maybe). With that in mind I endeavored to create a new tasting experience based on similar yet distinctly different palate and mouth feel. So I went with what would be a nice entry into the world of Japanese whisky and a higher end Speyside single malt first fill Balvinie.

Part of hosting a whisky tasting is sharing, ideas, impressions and new expressions. So I tried to suggest a progression of flavours that would ease one on top of the other without overpowering. So the rest of this post is mostly my friends reactions to trying these to whiskies and his candid discoveries that were similar but different than my own.

A little advice that I tried to give in the tasting process was, take your time at every level of discovery. Take a whiff let the flavours roll in your nose and repeat the process. Then do it one last time but, at you inhale through your nose, open your mouth and see if you can delve into the next layer. It’s a fun little trick and the payoff is watching someone do it for the first time and getting that extra note. It was fun and the notes that were taken down on paper somehow seems to add to the experience and is helpful if you want to recall your impressions for posterity. And the notes for the Nikka Coffey Grain were:

Nose: Citrus and vanilla (the vanilla came after)

Palate: Smooth, sweet at the front and vanilla, coconut and pear in the follow through. This combined with a light tingling in the mouth feel that transitioned to the finish.

Finish: Light and long lasting

For the second selection I wanted to add a bit of a wow factor and the Balvinie Single Barrel First Fill was  assuredly the way to go. I had a good idea that the contrast in intensity would garner a different reaction from the more subdued Nikka. And I was right the full 57%ABV creates an effervescent rollercoaster on the palate and it was aptly described as a red carpet unrolling in your mouth.

And the notes for the Balvinie are as follows:

Nose: Sexy, sweet and plum

Palate: Carpet rolling out, heavy yet smooth layers

Finish: Mild after taste

This was a new experience for the both of us and I enjoyed the role of purveyor of information and tips. Maybe the best tip I could leabe you with would be this old chestnut, Try to leave the dram in your mouth for moment while your saliva is activated and see the difference in flavour as the alcoholic content is lowered with the addition of water. It’s a low tech way to bring out those additional notes in higher alcohol percentage.

And the last thing I did was make my fiend nose my Ardbeg Uigeadail, really just to see how he would react to the vastly different flavour profile. I don’t have a picture but his initial reaction was: is that medicinal rubber mixed with fresh leather. And a deeply wrinkled nose. I can’t help but smile, that tasting will be for another day.

 

Slainte mhath

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Balblair 03′

Easter Brunch was had and a surprise cache was found, and out of the cache a single malt was selected for the after-meal digestif. Packaging was a factor in the selection, a center joint opening box, it’s a nice alteration, and another particularity to this is expression is that there is no age statement on the bottle, only the year it was bottled, in this case 2003. IMG_5499

Having been advised that this Balblair 03′ was a cask strength first fill expression there was an anticipation of full a frontal assault to the palate. And to the nose it was surprisingly unassuming, with wafting notes of an airy oak and some light fresh cut hay, or what i assume is fresh cut hay. Not to say that I was dissapointed  with the advertisement of cask strength being mild, it was a slow lead in to what was a surprising first sip.

 

FullSizeRender 6The first sip fills the cassem with a gentle brush fire that sparkles.  The sparkles then coat the mouth with notes of honey and light citrus matching the naturally clear appearance of the dram. This is followed further down with other layers of equally light floral citrus and plays around in the fields of fresh vanilla orchids. Despite the power of the ABV (46%) which seems low for a cask strength, having seen measures upwards of 58% there is a pay off on the back end of this expression, the finish, the finish  finishes for a good long  long time. This finish can take a few sips of coffee, compliment the delicate poached cardamon and saffron pear dessert and slowly phase out.

This is a stand out dram, the light and balanced flavours pair well against the strength of the intense mouthfeel. I enjoyed the surprise discovery and am excited to delve into the many other surprises that lurk patiently to be explored.

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Slainte mhath

The Glenlivet Hyatt Tasting

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I’ve hosted my own tasting, I’ve been to paired down multiple expression tastings. But this was my first proper sponsored tasting event.  The Hyatt Regency’s Six Resto Lounge hosted a Glenlivet exploration, showcasing  there new Founders Reserve, then following it up with a solid showing of Glenlivet 15yr and rounding it out with the Glenlivet Nadurra.

Now, the stand out difference between the previous iterations has to be the addition of a stand out brand ambassador for Glenlivet (Pernod-Ricard), Frank Biskupek.

The added information and expert presence elevated the night from a group of like minded people enjoying a dram to a captivating learning experience both anecdotal and factual. Helpful hints on better nosing, to construction of the casks to give the various flavour profiles that result in the wonderful  range of expressions.  An incidental bonus is listening to Frank’s roguish brogue, as he regales his audience with stories of ‘Josie’s’ well, the original source of water for Glenlivet. The same source is still used but the water is now diverted directly to the distillery and helps produce the over 15 million litres of product.

The event was attended by about 25 people ranging from a corporate group of ten to some private wine importers..whisky enthusiasts. Even a couple having a date night. Something for everyone. And me, the guy with the notepad, taking forever to sip and let the taste sink in. The staff were courteous and unobtrusive, passing by cleansing amuse-bouches between each dram.

This event is clear and away the most fun I’ve had drinking quality expressions with strangers. Furthermore the price tag of 22$ is more than reasonable.

The whisky evaluations will be generalized as this posting is proving that I might need solitude to give an individual expression it’s due.

Starting with the Founders Reserve, a new offering from Glenlivet. It positions itself as a great entry into the night. The nose gives off a confident citrucy oak.  The palate turns the rather simple nose intro a more nuanced and deep experience. The first sip tingles the tip of your tongue and then proceeds to hug you all the waydown. The finish stays comfortably in the mouth and holds well.

The 15yr has a sweet and spicy nose, and the palate makes your mouth water for more, with a smooth citrucy wave that folds over to creamy hints of vanilla and oak.

The Nadurra was the stand out expression of the night, it has the brilliance of flavour from the first fill ex-bourbon casks. The nose is neutral and unassuming, it doesn’t give away the surprise. The surprise is a full mouth experience, the flavours of robust citrus and vanilla that roll around and hug the senses. It reminds me of a super smooth bourbon that I couldn’t afford. It doesn’t burn, it glides down the throat and opens up into a slight banana mellowness and transitions to light pleasant tingling.

All in all this is an experience to do again, and again.

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Slainte Mhath

Hakushu 12yr

So writing a weekly weekly blog is more than a past time. This new transition is an adventure and a growing passion for flavours and experiences. I have been blessed with a pretty solid starter pack…imagethat varies from light and smooth to deep and peaty smoky. This stock pile has reached it’s nadir.

This post is brought to you by a kind and thoughtful reader, and again this review is a reprisal from the tasting from 2 weeks ago.

So let’s give this tipple it’s due.

Hakushu 12yr, a Suntory staple; represents a different offering from your average Japanese whisky. It seems to try to embody a narrative that is more akin to the Islay island scotches. Straight off  the bat the perfume that hits the nose is loaded with evergreen and sliced apples. The back end reveals a citrusy medicinal quality.

Once on the palate the Japanese style hems through…It’s a clear dram; notes develop imageclearly independent of each other. The medicinal citrusy notes start on the front of the palate with the body coming from the oak barrel. And on the first sip this seems to be the whole story however with subsequent tastes a clear hidden taste of smokiness reveals itself, but only as long as it lingers in the mouth. The mouthfeel is complimented with a clear film that dissipates once you swallow.

The finish is lacking staying power. It’s there and then it’s gone. But it’s enough to warrant going back for more.

Maintaining this weekly production is a pleasure, however the well is starting to run dry. So when my friend said she would drop of a bottle so that is could get another chance to better make observations I thought it would be a dram on the go. Instead:

an interesting option, certainly more economical option, also it’s really cute.

Sainte mhath

Balvinie Single Barrel First Fill 12yr

imageBalvinie Single Barrel First Fill second look. Although I have previously mentioned this particular bottle before however I did not give it the time and description it deserves. So I took the time to delve into this expression.

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Things to note about this expression, the specifications written on the bottle: single barrel  first fill refer to fact that this is a small batch production. Meaning. Each bottle is taken from a single cask (approx 250-300 bottles per cask) and numbered by hand this is cask 5821bottle #44.

 

The second thing to note on the bottle is “first fill”, and this has a major influence on the taste. Balvinie and many other distillers use ex-bourbon barrels to imbue additional complexity to the nose and palate. This practice adds the strong fruitiness, corn sugars, and eventual vanilla and caramel layers [Aside: as I write my blogs in a Starbucks it strikes me that describing whisky could be mistaken for ordering a really pretentious macchiato]. And because it’s a first fill this batch benefits from all the transition of purpose from ex-bourbon cask to whisky.

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The nose springs to step with a lively evergreen freshness, and the more you dig your nose into it the more it develops additional hues. Moments of crisp granny smith apple and mellow vanilla languish around and urge you to get on with it and taste.

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The palate tingles as you sip the dram, and that’s because there is a solid 47.8%ABV behind it. As it mellows on your tongue the spicy tingle rolls over to honey sweet and a creamy mouthfeel. Left long enough on the palate and notes of the apple return with a vanilla denouement.

The finish is long and sweet trailing along with notes of the vanilla whispering to take another dram.

This is a great bottle that takes a time to develop when tasting, the patience is rewarded with those added complexities. The oak presence is there but really it’s just a supporting character to the other party guests. The first fill is a young tasting whisky, but reveals a real drinkable journey.

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Slainte Mhath

Glenmorangie Extemely Rare 18yr

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Glenmorangie is a distillery in the highlands of Scotland and man do they do smooth well. This expression has been aged in ex-bourbon casks for at least 15 years and then finished imagein sherry barrels. The result is a natural honey sweetness overlayed by strong fruity notes. The use of those bourbon casks really is the underpinning of the flavour profile. The sweetness and character are a result of the maturation process, the slow transfer of caramelly and fruity notes take time to develop and mellow. Once imbued, the finish in the sherry casks serves to add a subtle brightness that develops in a slow rolling tide.

The nose of this single malt gem is instantly sweet and complex, at the onset you pick up on a clear honeyed orange aroma that parlays into a light caramel undertone. It feels like you’re only getting the sweetest aspects at first but that floral orange belies a more complex palate to come.

imageThe dram is a gentle wave pleasantly rolling through the mouth with a gentle warmth. What is clear is the eminent smooth drinkability of this expression, it shimmers with hints of vanilla and buttery complexion. The captivating result from the mellowness is a mouthfeel that has a present and agreeable presence. This aspect will continue to appreciate after every sip, creating a languishing sensation of buttery caramel.

The finish builds on the enveloping warmth in the mouth and plays on the notes of the floral fruits from the nose and hums slowly away, inviting you to take another sip that play across your tastebuds again.

This is a well rounded pleasure, the only downside is the price point, it’s a bit of doozy. This is a top shelf affair the bottle and the box to match; and should tasted if and when the opportunity arises.

McClelland’s

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So this is a single malt Scotch from Islay (pronounced “Eye-la” for some Gaelic reason). imageHaving reviewed a few single malts from this region before I one the profile and can say that this is a great introduction to the style. The style in question is characterized by peaty – smokey – with a slight slant of salty. Sometimes this signature style can be over present and imposing to the uninitiated. This not the case for this expression, it is a great entry into the island mix

To those who wish to explore in a different direction, the price point and assuaged flavour profile are ideal for new comers.

With a nose that gives an easy scent of smoke, peat and spice you are invited to try the palate that is true to the nose. It gives over to a clear mouthfeel. Once on the palate there is a clear presence of imagespice on the tongue, it’s a quick passage but it registers.  The peat and smoke develop as I swish the liquid around my mouth trying to extract any hints of other flavours. I had occasion to share this tasting with a “peat head”, and she was able to discern some accents of sea salt, once it was pointed out I confirm that the tail end of the palate has hints of salt. It’s always nice to have another palate to play out the flavours that one can miss. And sharing a dram over conversation is really the tangible expression of whisky.

The finish is quick, it goes away in a whisp, slightly underwhelming but invites a second take. The peat is almost a suggestion compared to the spicy notes that have a slight medicinal quality. But all of that fades away and leaves a slight glycerol film, not unpleasant, just too fleeting.

This is a good bottle to open up the view on what different scotches can offer, they aren’t all ambrosia and that’s a good thing, a dram for  every taste. As well the price point is attractive, it’s a good stop gap in the cupboard so you won’t drain all the good stuff.image

Aberfeldy 12

imageFirst new bottle of the new year, it’s fitting.  As a new bottle with no expectations I am imagein effect an initiate and this is true for every first tasting. Bring no baggage with you and you will benefit in your sampling. Thinking that you know how something will turnout  can only dampen the experience; either by confirming your bias; it becomes as expected or it blocks the openness required to pick up on subtleties  that take time to develop.  So I venture with a blank slate.

Tabula rasa is a good approach to an initial tasting, this is part of the enjoyment of imagewhisky, palate discoveries. The other thing that I enjoy is discovery through research, wanting to know more and reading can add to the vocabulary needed for description. Broadening what I know sometimes with other more/or less knowledgeable people with equally passionate views adds to the dialogue and enjoyment. Either by hook or crook (read; purchase, gift, exchange or random)  there is no bad way to experience a new experience.  I know with circular, but it’s my circle so grab a dram and friend and have at it.

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Aberfeldy 12yr is actually the first entry, so fitting.

Aberfeldy 12 is a single malt Highland Scotch Whisky,  the Highlands are reputed to be light and floral (I just read this post tasting) and the Aberfeldy 12 plays well into that trope.

The nose is sweet with fruitiness in the front and then mellows out to a floral orange, kinda like if Triple Sec wasn’t syrupy and maybe just a hint of young oak to balance it out.

The palate takes the floral notes and turns them into orange honey, pleasantly covering the lips with a light gloss. The mouth feel is imagea smooth and pleasant, very palatable and easy to consume. It is not a challenging whisky, but rather an inviting one.

The finish is a sweet that lasts with a touch of spice. It also lingers longer than one would expect from the light touch, kind of like a good friend at a party trying to say goodbye to everyone there. You say goodbye to them and then it takes them a while longer to actually leave (in a good way).

Aberfeldy is a product of Dewars, reputed for its blended scotch whiskies, when imageDewars acquired Aberfeldy they decided to keep a portion of the bottling  as a separate independant single malt. Well done Dewars. This is a great bottle for the newcomer to single malts, it’s inviting and easy and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s also relatively cheap for a 12 year, grab it and share it.

Slainte mhath

 

Happy New Year

Thank you for joining me on the beginning of my whisky adventure. I hope you enjoyed my musings and imageobservations. With a new Christmas haul, I have some new content to deliver in the new year.  And I look forward to sharing my discoveries with you all.

 

All and only the best from your friend who likes whisky.

 

Slainte mhath, enjoy a dram.

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The (a) List

It’s the holidays, let the wish lists begin. I am officially the easiest person to shop for during the festive season. That being said a little nudge, guidance and information can only only help myself and others. Whisky being a large and foreboding milieu for the un-initiated and the for any one staring blankly at the multitudes being offered at your local booze dispensary. Here are some things to consider.

scotch whisky map regions of scotland

Price isn’t the point. Novelty with forethought can go a long way to bringing a smile. If you know you’re market (gift receiver) then think laterally and move away from their favourites. Don’t be drastic; if they like a certain style try to slide up or down the intensity scale.

So here is a simplistic map outlining the predominant regions and resulting flavour profiles. If you’re still not sure and to be fair that’s entirely normal. Let  the expectations go and just go with a Gaelic sounding thing and see where things land.

A gift of whisky is a gift,  and can lead to new experiences or bring back fond memories that were forgotten. Like that time you “tasted” a 3/4 of a bottle with a friend because the bottle looked pretty (I’m looking at you OId Pulteny 12yr). Below is a helpful chart, through a dart and make someone happy.

 

Slainte Mhath