A few weeks ago I asked via Twitter which whisky I should purchase for the weekend. Instead of simply purchasing one bottle, I chose three recommended single malts that I had yet to taste. The price ranges went from $32 to $120. I was eager to go all in.
The three bottles chosen are: Glen Moray Classic Chardonnay Cask, Ardbeg An Oa, and Balvenie 15 YO Sherry Cask. Over the following week I spent time which each bottle. Very lucky me!
I read the PR on the boxes and decided that the Glen Moray with its Chardonnay Cask Finish made the most sense to be my first taste. Glen Moray is a 40 % ALC Speyside that promotes itself as an Elgin classic. Price: $32. I tasted the whisky on two different evenings with the following results:
Finish: lush, chardonnay comes through, late vanilla
Nose: fruit in a can
Palate: citrus, heather, sprinkled with salted cinnamon and honey
Finish: pleasant citrus, light
With a hint of surprise, I am quite glad that I purchased this easy sipping whisky.
I am a fan of heavy peat as well as sherry bombs. Knowing that peat can be overwhelming, I chose to taste the Balvenie 15 YO Sherry Cask next. The 15 YO at 47.8% ALC is another Speyside whisky. The packaging is detailed with information from many aspects of the production…good reading. It is aged in European Oak Sherry Butts and is bottled as a single barrel whisky. Price: $120. I stayed away from the second tasting for more than a week…I found I kept giving it a frowning sideways glance.
Nose: green apples, popcorn
Palate: where is the sherry?, no punch, spicy
Finish: berries, lime
Somewhat disappointing first taste. Hmmm, why is that?
Nose: green apples, ALC kept pushing through
Palate: spicy, back end of sweet fruit, the sherry
Finish: burn flash, touch of berries
Not so disappointing; I knew what to expect and modified my bias.
This whisky needs my going back to it a few more times. The flavor is there, perhaps I am the one who must adjust to its subtlety…definition of subtle…delicately complex and understated. Could very well be.
Ardbeg. What can I say? I have many, many different expressions of this fine Islay whisky. I follow the peat, smoke and salty trail.
The Ardbeg An Oa is the total opposite from the single cask Balvenie 15 YO. An Oa states “here we marry together whisky from several different casks, including new charred oak, PX sherry and first fill bourbon.” Price $60.
I was looking forward to tasting this the third of my new threesome. Yet, my first tasting was puzzling. Where is the Ardbeg standard of a burst of peat and smoke? This was a youngster wanting to play in the big league. I enjoyed it but thought something was missing and wondered how it would compare with the two other Ardbegs that I hand on hand – the Uigeadail and the Corryvreckan. The Corryvreckan has remained near the top of my favorite list for many years. The Uigeadail, not so much at the top but somewhere in the general mix.
So to help resolve the puzzle, I poured a dram of each and over the course of the evening tested and compared through two tastings.
An Oa 46.6% ALC
Nose: oily fire, tinny, earthy, Dentyne gum
Palate: smoke, cinnamon, wood
Finish: fades too soon, I want more kick
Uigeadail 54.2% ALC
Nose: damp wood, oily paint
Palate: peppery spices, cinnamon, peat
Touch of water tames the high alcohol
Nose: melted butter, earth
Palate: big, sooty, spicy
Finish: long and hot
Touch of water again tames the alcohol
Tasting #2 – Some revelations
Nose: cinnamon, light tickle and burn
Nose: caramel burst
Palate: more camp fire, syrup
Palate: powerful, peaty, ashy
The tasting of the three Ardbegs was revealing. With the An Oa, once I had the punch and kick of the other two, I wanted the An Oa more. The Uigeadail, with the deepest color had the most distinct nose and the caramel stood out. The Corryvreckan carried the smoke proudly.
Clearly, the An Oa fought its way to my heart. The Uigedail went up the ladder a few notches. The Corryvreckan shouted it’s best on its own away from Ardbeg competition. I didn’t expect that at all.
As a sidebar, my Ardbeg tasting buddy didn’t know which three she was tasting. Her favorite for the evening was the Uigeadail…interestingly enough that has long been her favorite. You can fool some of the people some of the time….
There you have it. A whisky journey with three new-to-me whiskies. This hobby, aka passion, is replete with surprises, enthusiastic recommendations from fellow imbibers, and all around fun.
Lest I forget…thank you to @CoullFay @WeeRockWhisky @RatherBeOnIslay and @jaethan for your recommendations.
I raise a glass to new discoveries and evolving opinions.
Kavalan Whisky – the star of the show – is fairly new to the whisky world and from an unexpected region…Taiwan. Check out their website for more information. Try their whisky if you can.
Ok, enough gushing….here are the details.The group of about 28 guests were welcomed with a Kavalan private bottling for Gordon’s (liquor and wines shops located in the Boston area), aptly called the “Symphony”…after the Kavalan Soloist editions. And what a nice beginning it was. The Symphony is silky, vanilla nosed and on the palate with a hint of brine and finished with some fruit notes. A dram to ease us into the evening.
The order of the whisky was to go from dry to sweeter and all are cask strength. The first course, beautifully presented was a wild boar terrine with apricot, cranberry and pommery mustard. Paired with the Kavalan Fino, which showed raisins and sherry on the nose, followed by a subtle sherry palate.
The second course, a duck confit, pickled grapes and bitter greens was eaven more heavenly than the terrine. I was contemplating if there was a way I could gnaw on the duck leg and lick the plate. Oh wait, there was a whisky to pair with it! The Kavalan Manzanilla showed its big alcohol on the nose with some sugar cane and salt. The palate offered more salt, a hint of melon said someone, but I found a sweet burn of orange rind.
Between courses, Kelly and Holly spoke about Kavalan in general as well as the individual notes for each of the six whiskies. The pace of the evening gave the four guests at each table time to enjoy the food and converse about the whiskies.
The third course was a lamb lollipop, perfectly cooked to a medium rare and tender on the bone. Paired with the Kavalan Amontillado, I found my perfect combination. The Amontillado is more distinct than the Fino and Manzanilla. There is floral on the nose and a deep, rich color. I was surprised to find coconut and nuts on the palate along with some tobacco and earthiness. My way too soon empty glass spoke of lingering cinnamon.
And there was more to come. The Kavalan Moscatel was paired with a beautiful New York strip, potato, and roasted bone marrow butter. I found this dram sharp with fruit notes. The sweetness of the moscatel came through.
Dinner could not be complete without dessert, meaning (in my world) chocolate. Two chocolate French Macaroons were paired with the Kavalan Pedro Ximenez. Ahhh….deepest color with dancing pears and chocolate wafting their way across the tongue. A wonderful ending.
The rich food and the rich whiskies tried with all their might to overload the senses. At times they did, but I believe in the end I came out unscathed but completed satiated and with a new appreciation for Kavalan whiskies. The price of the Kavalan Rare Sherry Cask Expressions is not for every day purchasing. The range is from $414 to $584 locally. Egads and holy bat shxxt!
While there is not a poor whisky in the lot, I was able to distinguish preferences amongst them. I did break the bank and purchase one of each of my top three. From favorite to least fav ended up like this:
Amontillado Sherry Cask
Gordon’s Symphony (only 1/3 the price)
An evening well spent is the understatement of the day. I raise a glass to those who plan and present high end whisky and dinner events. Thanks!
What is one to do when six bottles of Japanese whisky are begging to be tasted? Call in the troops, call up the pastry chef, and call the event a mini-fundraiser for the local Council on Aging. All that was left was to drink.
I knew the six bottles had contrasting flavors, age statements, price points and more. The six tasters were all women with an equally varied experience with whisky – Japanese or otherwise. Perfect set up all around.
My goal was to pair the whiskies with desserts that would complement and not contrast all the while relaxing on a cool summer evening overlooking the beach.
Each of the ladies received a handout which gave a brief history of Japanese whisky, websites, books to read and general whisky definitions; a whisky wheel to help with descriptions of the nose, palate, and finish; as well as a review of each whisky posted on distiller.com. (I still have a bit of my workshop presenter in me! I can’t help but share information.)
After a welcome non-alcoholic cocktail and appetizers, the six were gathered and the serious business of tasting began.
The first two whiskies: The Chita by Suntory vs Nikka Coffey Grain. Both are grain whiskies. The Chita is not yet available in the USA but I am told it is coming! The dessert was a shortbread cookie with a matcha glazed leaf shape shortbread.
The group tasted and talked and nibbled and tasted and came up with the following descriptions:
The Chita: buttery, light caramel, banana fruity, woody and sweet.
Nikka Coffey Grain: sweet and smoky, soft milk chocolate, smoker after the shortbread cookie.
The Mars and the Hakushu are very different whiskies, which is why they were in the middle of the tasting. The Mars is a blend and the Hakushu has more peat than any of the other whiskies tasted during the evening. These two outliers were paired with almond bites topped with a swath of dark chocolate ganache. YUM!
Mars Iwai: does not jump out at you, cinnamon, spicy but mild, smooth.
Hakushu 12 YO: tart and tasty, fruity and jammy, earthy and yeasty, sweet peat.
The final pairing brought on the big names from Suntory Yamazaki, both a tad harder to find and both only going up in price. I believe I spent $300 on the 18 YO….good thing I love it! The desserts paired with these two whiskies included a sour cream coffee cake with peaches, dark chocolate and raspberry cupcakes and strawberries dipped in white chocolate. Just like the whiskies….something for everyone.
Yamazaki 12 YO: fruity to caramel, sweet nutty toffee, balanced and smooth.
Yamazaki 18 YO: deep smoke, cinnamon, cherry pie, leather, licorice, very strong.
The tasting results were interesting, not everyone was partial to the Japanese whiskies overall. The scores were all over the place. The method used was:
1 = never buy this 2 = buy this for me, maybe 3 = definitely buy me a bottle, honey 4 = honey, please buy me two bottles of this and I will hide one.
The final results, from highest overall score to lowest:
Hakushu 12 YO = 3.6
Yamazaki 18 YO = 3.6
Yamazaki 12 YO = 3.3
The Chita = 2.8
Nikka Coffey Grain = 2.1
Mars Iwai = 1.5
The tasters were not told the price points nor my favorites until after we finished and on to gobbling up more desserts. Oddly enough though, this is how I would have ranked the whiskies with maybe an edge to the Yamazaki 18 YO.
At the end of the day, every palate and preference is different. Enjoy the whiskies that call to you. I raise a glass to tasting good whisky for a good cause and with good friends!
June is a significant month in many ways – the year is half over, weddings abound, winter is clearly in hindsight for us Northeasterners; and for me especially it is time to visit the dentist and have a whisky tasting. Yup. OK, so it is actually the end of July and I am behind in posting this blog. Another casualty of summer distractions.
Dr. Paul and I have been scheduling my appointment at the end of the day for about seven years now. Doesn’t everyone drink with their dentist at the end of their appointment?
Over the years with Dr. Paul I have expounded my everlasting love for Lagavulin 16 YO, but for some odd reason we have never shared a dram. With that in mind I brought three different Lagavulin expressions to taste. The intent was to bring the full Lagavulin experience to him. As I was packing the bottles, I realized that I have NEVER tasted three Lagavulins together. This ramped up my interest.
Dr. Paul brought a few familiar bottles, just in case – Highland Park 18 YO, Hakushu 12 YO, and the Irish Glendalough. The Hakushu was the only one I secretly thought worth sampling along with the Lagavulins. My peat and smoke preference was rearing its spoiled head.
The Lagavulins were cracked and the first pour, the 200th Anniversary 8 YO, was offered…in dentistry rinsing cups no less…one must make the best of available “glassware”. My plan was to say nothing and let Dr. Paul give his opinion without any slant from me. He said there was a sweetness and no burn and that he didn’t get a lot of peat until the finish. He commented that he would drink this one straight up.
I mentioned that this time I was going to take a few notes when he commented on each whisky. He jumped up to rinse his mouth, which he never did during our tastings before, because he said he wanted to give a clean opinion of each whisky.
The 16 YO was next. Besides noting the deeper color, his expression completely changed after the first sip. I knew he was hooked. He immediately said it was smoother, with some caramel and rounded out edges. He went on, “You want to sip this to get the after taste where the smoke adds to the taste. The 16 is proportioned better than the 8. I definitely like this. I’ll buy it.” He quickly copied down the name and year. His perfect scenario was to buy a bottle and enjoy it while sitting in his library with a good book.
The third taste was the 1991/2007 Distillers Edition double matured Lagavulin. Richer in color still, due to the maturation in Pedro Ximenez casks, Dr. Paul only found a subtle difference in this whisky compared to the 16 YO. He remarked that it didn’t overpower and he admitted that five years ago he wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the nuances of any of the three expressions. I felt a tingle of pride knowing I had a hand in bringing him not only over to the Islay side but to an awareness of tasting and appreciating the differences in whiskies in general.
The Hakushu 12 YO was poured to see how it stood up to the Lagavulins. It didn’t stand out but it managed to stand alongside them. That surprised me. Some of the delicate smoke of the Hakushu was lost but it still presented itself overall well. (More on the Hakushu on my upcoming blog about six Japanese whiskies poured for a local fundraiser.)
While we were finishing the Hakushu, Tommy, I assume a patient, came in and handed some cash to Dr. Paul. Tommy joked that it was his bookie money. We offered him a “glass”. Tommy first read all the labels, stated that he was a Jameson guy, and went right for the Glendalough, poured and drank it right down with a big thanks to follow. Then off he went. Not quite our usual ending of the tasting day.
I came away thinking the Lagavulin 8 YO a disappointment after the 16 YO and the Distillers Edition. Actually, how could this have been a 200th Anniversary special bottling? It is drinkable, but lacking and not up to Lagavulin standards.
The 16 YO shines brightly for me again and again. My comfortable shoes, the sunset over the ocean, all the warm and fuzzy things in life – constant and consistent. The Distillers Edition provides a campfire smoke that sets it apart from the 16, not better, not lacking, simply well worth a good pour.
I raise a glass to quiet moments sharing a few special drams…even if it is with a dentist. See you in December Dr. Paul!
Welcome to the ninth installment of my 10-4-10 series of interviews. Ten people who are swirling winningly in the wide world of whisk(e)y answer ten questions. This month Holly Seidewand – herwhiskylove.com and Instagram as herwhiskylove – entices us with her eight month journey into whisky around the globe.
For those who might be unfamiliar with your background and blog, tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Holly Seidewand and I am Her Whisky Love. I started Her Whisky Love and I guess you could say became Her Whisky Love a little over a year ago. I worked in retail store design for 4 years. The first three working in New York City and the last year in Oakland, California. I had my “whisky awakening” during my first year in New York. I was handed a Lagavulin 16 and I had never smelled or tasted anything like this before. From that moment I was exploring every nook and cranny that single malt scotch had to offer. During my year in California I was surrounded by the viticulture craze. I started taking classes at UC Davis through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). The professors and curriculum were pushing me towards wine. That was where the money was and the career opportunities. It felt as if at that time the best option for spirits lovers was to go into mixology and bartending. I knew this couldn’t be true and I wanted more. It was at this time I put together a very simple plan: visit the largest whisky producing regions of the world and learn everything I possibly could from the experts. If my parents have taught me anything it sometimes the best you can do is to just show up and work hard. That’s what I did over 8 months and in 5 countries.
Since no one was giving me the tools I wanted to learn more about branding, production, process, regionality and the whisky industry overall, I was going to find it myself. I put everything in storage in Oakland and embarked on an 8 month journey as “that girl who is chasing whisky”, that girl who “that girl studying whisky” that “girl that loves whisky” and yes that was me, I was her and whisky was what I loved, hence Her Whisky Love. I truly started the blog to document my progress through each country. A sort of documentation process and also for my family and friends to see my education progression. I made a handful of business cards and set off. People started reading and commenting to the journey my stories. My approach is quite unique in the fact that everyone had to learn with me. I was no Jim Murray or professional whisky blogger. I was just following my passion and learning as I went. This spark lives in many of us whisky fans. It is that thirst to learn as much as we can about this spirit we adore. I feel people really connected with that. I am not extremely technical and I’m not an extremely good writer, but I have passion and stayed true to my interests.
I spent 3 months in Scotland, one month in Ireland, two months in the States (primarily Kentucky/Tennessee) but also New York State, one month in Japan and one month in Tasmania. Every meeting, distillery, marketing manager, distillery manager etc. that I met with or chatted with is documented on my blog.
What is your current position?
Via Her Whisky Love and Her Whisky Love on Instagram, Gordon’s Fine Wine & Spirits approached me and asked me to join as their Scotch & Whiskey Specialist. I am still writing on Her Whisky Love and collaborating with a few other sites, but most of my time is focused on building the Gordon’s Whisky Program. I write all marketing materials, emails and social media materials. I also test new product lines, curate and buy for the whisky sections of the stores. I also coordinate weekly events such as Whiskey Wednesday and lead tasting seminars. Our seminars are everything from old and rare whiskies to intro to whisky classes.
How many distilleries have you visited around the world? What, in your opinion, should be on the “must see” list?
I have visited just over 100 distilleries in one year. People call me crazy for saying it, but Glenglassaugh and Bunnahabhain are two of my most memorable visits for Scotland and Wilderness Trail for the States.
Glenglassaugh is like traveling in a time machine. It was opened in 1875, changed ownership a few times and then was closed from 1908 to the mid 1950’s. Since this time it has changed ownership multiple times and been mothballed a few times again as well. This meaning their spirit has only been produced sporadically and it is hard to find anything older from Glenglassuagh. Their distillery architecture shows the tumultuous life it has had. New structures and buildings were built during different time periods and then closed. The 60’s architecture of the still house is incredible. This distillery also sits in the most adorable town of Portsoy on the coast of Northern Scotland. Within a 200 yard walk of the distillery you are on the beaches of the many coves of the North Sea. It’s untouched and quaint as can be. Such a magical day can be spent here. The spirit is great, underrated and the history of the distillery is well and alive. It is now owned by Brown Forman.
Bunnahabhain is the forgotten distillery if any on Islay. It has also had a rough past and with new ownership has really shown its true colors with its distillery bottlings. It’s a one way, dirt road to the distillery, but worth the risk of running into a tractor trailer that just delivered grain. It sits right on the sea and on a clear day you can sit out on the pier with your dram and see Tobermory. The people that work there are so friendly. Don’t forget about Bunnhabhain when visiting Islay!
Wilderness Trail is a “craft distillery” in Kentucky. The founders actually are chemists and biologists by trade and are the main suppliers of custom yeast strands to the distilling and brewing industry of North America. The welcome center is in an old farm house and the distillery sits up on a hill overlooking the property pond. For any distillation nerds this is an incredible tour. The two founders have their yeast propagation labs now on site and they have a brand new distillation facility. They experiment with all different kinds of corn, grains and yeast that leave you in awe of their knowledge. This is a great stop in-between all of the big boys like Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark (which are all great).
What is on your wish list for whiskies to try this year? Why?
Anything Springbank or Clynelish. I would love to try anything from private bottlers that is cask strength Clynelish. Also, I would like to try the new release from Heartwood, the private bottler in Tasmania. It is a Tasmanian single malt, cask strength single cask (always cask strength single cask) release from Tim Duckett at Heartwood. It is first aged in a 2nd fill port cask for 7 years and then a 1st fill sherry cask for 3 years. . It was filled in August 2006 and bottled May 2017. Only 337 bottles were released. Everything I have tried from him is SENSATIONAL.
Do you have a go-to whisky at the end of the day? Any cocktails on your current favorite list?
My go to whisky right now is simply- Sazerac Rye. I love that stuff. It ever gets old and is perfect for the summer days right now. I know that could go into a cocktail, but I’m not much of a cocktail person. I like to know the basepoint, exactly what I am tasting. I drink everything neat. Once and awhile I like an old fashioned. I know, I’m boring, but I don’t like super sweet!
One of your blogs features Canadian Club, what other Canadian whiskies have you tried? Any that stand out for you?
Canadian Club was one of the first brands I ever visited. Unfortunately they do not offer you to take a look around the physical Hiram Walker Distillery, but the brand heritage center is quite an experience. Beam Suntory is actually closing down all tours, so I feel fortunate that I was able to visit the venue in Windsor, Ontario. Besides that we are drinking Canadian Whisky all the time! Most of WhistlePig’s product line is sourced Canadian rye. Also, Lot 40 rye is always a crowd favorite and that is from Hiram Walker in Windsor as well since it is owned by Pernod. Although the name brands such as Crown Royal, Black Velvet etc. don’t always travel with the best reputation, Canada is producing high quality whisky. You just have to search a little harder than usual to find it.
Are you considering taking your writing from a blog to a book? Any self-imposed timeline?
I do plan to write a book in some shape or form. I am working on something right now as co-author. It is in regards to my similar path of Alfred Barnard from the late 1800’s. Although I did not visit every active distillery in Scotland/UK, I am documenting in the same style but on a more global level.
Who is your whisky author of choice? Why?
Philip Morrice and Michael Jackson are my two favorites. Philip wrote the Schweppes Guide to Scotch in 1983 which is an incredible window into the past and how the market ownership was divided. Extremely different than how things are divided today. Michael Jackson’s “WHISKEY” was the first book I ever purchased when starting this journey.
What advice would you give to a first time whisky taster?
It’s okay if the first few whiskies you try are not for you, keep trying! There are so many different styles of whisky out there that don’t feel like it’s “one and done”. Your preference will change and evolve. Go into every dram with an open mind and know that if it’s not for you, you don’t have to finish it and likely someone else will! The drams you don’t care for could be someone’s favorite and vice versa. The important part is the exploration of this world with your fellow whisky friends.
Where are you off to next on your whisky travels?
I will probably focus more local over the next few months since I am working quite a bit developing Gordon’s Whisky Program. I hope to visit Bully Boy, Boston Harbour, Mad River Distillers and Taconic Distillery over the next few months.
When whisky fans get together to talk for the first time, books, bottles and tasting soon follows…even at 9 AM. Yes, Mom, coffee and breakfast cake was also had.
Holly and I met at my home for what was originally meant to be a bottle drop off. An hour and half later we formed a whisky bond and tasted a few wee drams. Thanks to Holly for a lively conversation followed by this insightful interview. I certainly learned something new and that’s the beauty of extending a hand to other whisky fans.
Raise a glass to the North Shore Whisky Club and guest presenter Joshua Hatton of ImpEx Beverages and CEO of Single Cask Nation (SCN). Together they created an evening of tasting of diverse whiskies for a crowd of fifty enthusiastic tasters.
This event drew me in as I had not tasted any of the eight featured whiskies. I went in with no preconceived notion of which whisky would be the cream of the crop. In my mind this objectivity enhances tastings. Darren and George of NSWC had the line-up poured and identified on a numbered info sheet. Snacks and water were abundant and for those who wanted a beer chaser, the bar was in the next room. Add to the fact that Joshua is a skilled, informative and playful presenter, the night was bound to be the perfect beginning to a long weekend.
The first half of the evening’s line-up began with SCN Glenrothes 8 YO. This sherry cask with a 56.7% ABV reminded folks at the table of New England Hermit cookies – molasses, cloves and raisins. I found a burn on the palate and dark syrup molasses on the finish. Someone called out ribbon candy on the nose. I wonder.
Joshua moved us on to a Speyside, Tamdhu 10 YO at 43%. Most often used for blends, and with time spent in Oloroso casks, it was described as soft and sweet. I found it on the edge of soapy with sherry on the finish. The pepper jack cheese I munched on managed to pull it back from the edge.
Keeping with the Tamdhu family, the next tasting was the Tamdhu Batch Strength 001 13 YO at 58.8%. The sherry and spice said hello but I didn’t warm to it at all.
The last taste of the first half of the evening was one I did not have anywhere on my radar screen. The Swiss Independent Bottler, Chapter 7, bottled a 19 YO Highland Single Malt at 56.2%. Joshua stated it was from Ben Nevis. To my amazement I nosed and tasted pineapple, which Joshua said would have come from the Brewer’s Yeast used in days gone by at the distillery. That yeast tends to bring out the tropical notes. I had no idea. I do know that I went back for a second dram of this treasure.
After a short break for a few additional munchies – salmon, cheeses, crackers, the group, now happily buzzing, sat down eager to taste the final four.
SCN Girvan Single Grain Bourbon Cask 10 YO at 56.7%, while light as expected, rolled around the mouth like a nice slice of grainy bread, someone said orange gum drops. I found the hint of orange. The high alcohol content kept the bite alive and my interest in the dram.
SCN Ben Nevis 20 YO Olorosso Cask at 55.6% jumped out of the glass next as a true sherry bomb should. Yeah, there was some oak but the sherry shined brightly. All around jammy!
SCN Ardmore 8 YO at 56.9% announced that the peat had arrived via finishing in a Laphroaig Cask. The sparks flew from the campfire and a spicy salami tamed the peat. Thank you for waking up the peat senses.
Joshua finished the tasting with a Kilchoman Original Cask Strength 5 YO at 59.3%. This big boy was over the top smoke and wood. It is a second edition finished in a quarter cask and went smoothly with a chocolate covered cookie offered to participants. The chocolate rounded out the rough edges of the Kilchoman, which definitely needed rounding out.
Eight whiskies can be too many in a given evening, but the pace was moderate and interspersed with anecdotes and worthwhile information. The break in the middle gave folks a chance to discuss amongst ourselves, as well as time with the hosts and presenter. The bottles were available for folks to saunter up to for an additional tasting. A discount offered from a local liquor store – Gordon’s Fine Wines and Liquors – was a fine touch.
The flyer for the event was entitled ‘Straight Up’ – A Spirited Whisky Tasking Event. Indeed it met all my expectations and I left with the intent to purchase a few bottles ASAP.
My final ranking for the eight, from favorite to least:
Chapter 7 19 YO
SCN Ben Nevis 20 YO
SCN Ardmore 8 YO
SCN Girvan 10 YO
Tamdhu Batch 001
SCN Glenrothes 8 YO
Tamdhu 10 YO
Yes, I have been shopping. The top four have made it home.
I raise a glass to NSWC and Joshua Hatton for the ‘Straight Up’ adventure. Keep a seat open for me!
Creativity is to be applauded. Whisky and culinary exploration oft times stretches the imagination and adds zest to life. Building on this premise, Beam Suntory, Formaggio Kitchen, and drinking establishment Alden and Harlow presented a Suntory Whisky and Cheese Pairing class this past week.
I am a wild fan of pairing whiskies and cheeses and experimenting with the many potential combinations. Yet, for all my whisky tasting I have never paired any Suntory whisky with cheese. How did I miss that? So the class called my name.
The class was organized as a learning experience. Perfect. To add in a twist, Dan Pontius of Alden and Harlow would prepare two distinct cocktails using a Suntory whisky and pairing them with a cheese. There would be six pairings in total, and Uber to take us home safely.
Jack Kavanagh of Beam Suntory, gave a quick overview of the whisky lineup:
Hakushu 12 YO
Yamazaki 12 YO
Julia Hallman of Formaggio Kitchen led the cheese conversation with the comment “cheese and whisky is a classic but only two of the six cheeses will be cheddar.” Awesome. The class began!
First up was the Shelburne Clothbound Cheddar, a cow’s mill from Vermont. Only 100 wheels are produced a year and are aged in caves at Jasper Hill. This version was a 2 YO cheddar with Julia’s notes of “soft, rich and sweet.” Jack poured the Toki, which was first launched in Boston spring of 2016. It is a blend that still has the Japanese core notes of bright,, fresh and clean. I found it very light on the palate. Jack deemed it “abundant, approachable and affordable.” Both Jack and Dan said they use it in cocktails. I would drink it neat because its lightness would be lost for me in a cocktail.
The pairing was fairly bland while individually the whisky and the cheese were both pleasant enough to warrant tasting.
Next up was the OMG “Norigami” cocktail created special for the class by Dan. Using Japan as his theme this cocktail base was Nori-infused Toki, with Suze, Elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon juice and Demerara sugar. The drink was green, thick and reminiscent of a “this must be healthy” juice that no real person wants to drink. Ever. Yes, Nori is actually seaweed generally used as the wrap to make sushi!
The Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, again a cow’s milk out of Vermont, dried diligently to save the cocktail, but failed. The cheese on its own was stunning, what one might consider a true cheddar bursting with flavor and calling for a crisp apple.
With enthusiasm we moved away from the seaweed and on to the Hibiki Harmony. Funny that “Hibiki” actually means Harmony. Now that the 12 and 17 YO Hibiki are discontinued, Harmony is meant to pick up the slack. The Harmony is also a blend and made up of more than 10 types of Suntory whisky. The beautiful bottle has twenty-four sides, each representing the 24 Japanese season. Who knew? As approachable as the Toki, the Harmony adds a subtle creaminess with a hint of oak.
Julia paired it with a triple crème by Winnimere, a Vermont cow’s milk. Must have been a holy cow (Haha) because it hit the palate with rich, smooth pungency. Then she told us that it is made of 70% butter fat. Of course. The Harmony and the Winnimere kept bouncing off each other in, do I dear say it….perfect harmony. A winner all around.
A fellow participant asked if Beam Suntory works with other distilleries to bring together the many different blends that make up the final product. Jack emphatically let us know that there is no sharing in the Japanese whisky trade. Each distillery holds its own products close to the vest from start to finish.
Number four was back to the cocktail….with some hesitation I nosed the red colored drink – medicinal, and brought it to my lips. Yes, this Campari like concoction I would order. Dan combined the Harmony, tamarind-golden raisin syrup, Gran Classico, Batavia Arrack, and Yellow Chartreuse. As with the first cocktail it was hit or miss with fellow participants. Aptly named “One with Everything”, the cocktail was paired with another triple crème cow’s milk, the Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery, California. The Red Hawk is a personal favorite but then Julia really did pronounce that it has the same bacteria “that grows on your socks.” Fortunately, this was with drink number four so the senses were a tad blurred and the awfulness of socks in my cheese was more funny than off-putting. Still is a favorite. Either way, the cheese did not work with the cocktail for me. There was too much competition between the bold flavors of the cheese and the medicinal tones of the cocktail. But I finished both!
The fifth pairing moved us to a higher shelf whisky, the Hakushu 12 YO. Here a hint of peat not found in the blends made a quick appearance with a bit of spice across the palate. The cheese was a sheep’s milk out of Corsica called Corsu Vecchiu. this cheese is rarely exported, which made it a treat for all of us to savor. While sheep cheese has the highest fat content, I found this cheese on the powdery and light side. I didn’t really care too much for it. The whisky did pair with the cheese by lifting it up to the level of the whisky. Although when I tried the cheese with the Harmony and found that it worked better. The Hakushu 12 YO is a member of my scotch cabinet.
The final pairing of the evening was the much talked about Yamazaki 12 YO, I always have several bottles of this fine dram at home. It is a perennial favorite for its smooth, sweet, caramel, perfect example of fine Japanese whisky. It was paired with a Capriole Fresh Goat Cheese out of Indiana that was on a toast point and drizzled with honey. The whisky actually became sweeter after the cheese to my swooning pleasure.
At the end of the evening I chose the Hibiki Harmony/Winnimere pairing and the Yamazaki 12 YO/Capriole Goat Cheese pairing as the best examples of winning combinations.
I highly recommend experimenting with whisky and cheese. Start with your favorites then branch out from there.
BONUS: One of the participants had a bottle that his father brought back from Japan 25 years ago. Still in its box, but with only about a third left, he let me pour a taste. It fell somewhere between the Toki and the Harmony. Light, easy and clean. He didn’t know the exact age so I did some quick research on it. There is one store that advertises it as a collector whisky and is selling it for $279. The owner said he gave an unopened bottle away, not having any idea what he had. Lesson learned.
I raise a glass to thank Julia, Dan and Jack for an interesting and lively class; and to damn good whisky and mouth watering quality cheese!