We Tweet, we Instagram, we Facebook, we blog but nothing compares to sitting around a table or two with fellow enthusiasts over a few drams of as-yet-to-be-tasted whiskies. The enthusiasts may be whisky curious, collectors, experts or everywhere in between, but with a glass in hand robust conversations bloom into an evening of exhilaration and camaraderie. Such was a recent evening with current and new friends.
The quasi-bar was lined with 20 different bottles comprised of American, Canadian, Indian, Japanese and Scotch whiskies. The whiskies were primarily from the top shelf, back of the cabinet, hidden under the stairs, or saved for a special rainy day editions.
More than the usual suspects were tippling so I sat with a mix of longtime enthusiasts, bourbon fans, and the curious. There were no braggarts which allowed for very free flowing takes on all the whiskies and spirits tasted. All the pours were purposely kept small so that everyone would have a chance to try something new or preferred; and it helped alleviate the getting-too-buzzed-too-quickly scenario. Well, it helped me anyway; others generally are able to “hold their liquor” much better than I. I did have to drive home.
After studying and re-studying the scotches, I begrudgingly narrowed my tasting to three, keeping in mind that I wanted stark differences between each.
- I started with a Glen Grant 1992, 22 YO, 57.8%, bottled by Single Malts of Scotland. After the alcohol burst, I found the palate a bit underwhelming and safe, the finish did bring out some hay and the empty glass offered hint of almond. Knowing that I prefer big flavors, this dram only received a score of “2” out of a possible “4” from me.
- Longing for the peat that Laphroaig is known for, I tasted the Laphroaig, 11 YO, bottled for Friends of Laphroaig in 2004 at 40%. The nose promised the peat, yet, surprisingly, the palate touched upon some sea brine and built quite slowly to a soft ash finish. Going back to nose the empty glass, I found some ripe bananas. I called this dram quite low key for a Laphroaig. I scored it a “2+”.
- On a friend’s knowledgeable suggestion I tried the Bowmore 17 YO, 1993, 53.7% bottled by Thosop. To my amazement, notes of tropical fruit pushed back the high alcohol and surrounded the entire taste. Thrilling to be stopped short by a new-to-me bottle. This was my winner for the night with a score of “3-.”
The two I didn’t try, but will if they show up the next time the group gathers, are at the highest end of the rare spectrum so I want a clear head and clean palate before I go all in. The first is a Karuizawa, Cask #869, bottled for K&L, 13 YO, 1999, 57.7%, from Karuizawa, Island of Honshu, Japan. The notes offered stated: Now sadly dismantled, this remote Japanese distillery, nestled onto the side of an active volcano, quietly made the greatest heavily sherried single-malt in the world. And no one knew it until they were gone. Bacon-wrapped dates, balsamico, scallops seared in butter, black cherry soda, shiitake, tamari.
The second, also a Karuizawa, Cask #1985, 40 YO, 1970, 59.1%. The notes: Typically matured exclusively in sherry casks, this rare, bourbon-cask-matured Karuizawa provides valuable insight into the legendary distillate. Smoked maple, heathery peat, mulch, sage, gooseberry, rose jam, lychee, guava, cherry blossom.
As many of us whisk(e)y enthusiasts lament, “so much whisky, so little time.” Having the opportunity to taste the rare, the unusual, as well the expensive-but-when-its-gone-its-gone whiskies is like a gift from heaven.
I raise a glass to friends and fellow enthusiasts and their willingness to share their whisky and their knowledge.