An American single malt whisky taking top honors at the International Spirit Challenge! You probably read about it months ago. For us self-appointed whisky geeks, we perhaps scoffed at the idea that an American whisky would be so bold as to win single malt awards. And, to add injury to insult this winner is hard to find. The gold medal winner, the 12 YO Notch from Triple Eight Distillery hails from Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. Do I have a story to tell about this whisky….
It all started in September 2001 during the Nantucket wedding weekend of Eileen and Scott (E&S.) The Triple Eight Distillery was fairly new and offering barrels of “whisky” for sale as an investment, with the first tasting available five years down the road. Being single malt enthusiasts, the bride and groom thought this would be an adventurous way to celebrate their marriage and connect them long term to the island. Who new that the craft whisky industry would explode and that their purchase would become an award winning enterprise.
Five years down the road a number of us joined E&S for the celebration and for a peak at the aging whisky. Rumor has it I appropriated one of the five bottles – but that’s another story, which can be found documented in my book. I’m innocent! Anyway, we tasted the five year old at the distillery and tasted again at the evening party. I expected harsh but was pleased to find light and buttery. Not half bad was my opinion. Time would tell how it aged at the next tasting planned for year 10.
Year ten brought us back to the island for more hoopla and notch tasting. In the meantime, the distillery released their first expression of Notch as an 8 YO. It was released on 8/8/08 and sold for a hefty $888. Very tongue in cheek and as a specialty item, it sold. The bottle we tasted, officially named Scott’s Notch, was still very lightly colored, easy drinking with a hint of cinnamon and a touch of salt. The finish reminded me of a slice of toasted bread and nuts. Oh, by the way, I do have a bottle.
At this point in time conversations between the distillery and Scott began about the final bottling, how many bottled might the angels have left, how many bottles the distillery would want to purchase back, and delivery. Hmmm, conversations can sometimes take a long time. Final delivery would end up being the 15th anniversary weekend.
All this brings us to this September and the 15th anniversary of Scott’s Notch and the bride and groom. To kick off the weekend with a full-on whisky theme I lead a single malt scotch tasting for the group of 13. The tasting of Scott’s Notch, officially a 12 YO, would be the grand finale.
I displayed three bottles, handed out a description of each whisky, scoring sheets and a whisky flavor chart downloaded from the Internet for everyone to use. (Now, while, I can sling the bull with the best of them, describing whisky with pithy words is not my strong suit.) Each pour had its own glass and water for hydrating and for adding a drop to the whiskies if necessary was set up.
The caterer would provide four different warm appetizers during the tasting. A burrata and pear bruschetta, truffled mushrooms, coconut shrimp, mini beef tacos. A lobster and beef tenderloin buffet would complete the evening. Oh yeah, it was going to be a prime evening to remember!
The group as asked to score each whisky from 1 to 4.
1 = Please don’t ever buy me this, ever. 2 = I’ll drink it and if I must, perhaps, maybe, buy a bottle, maybe. 3 = Honey, please buy me this bottle. It is fabulous. 4 = Honey, please buy me two bottles, I most likely won’t share it with anyone, I want it all for myself.
In keeping with the 15 YO theme the first pour was a Campbeltown Region, Springbank 15 YO at 46% alc. When preparing descriptors for handouts I usually look at the distillery notes and a few other reviews that best agree with my thoughts. “Springbank has an almost bewildering array of flavors: dark chocolate, figs, brazil nuts and vanilla. some find components of Islay…smoke, leather.”
Next up was the Orkney, Highland Park Dark Origins NAS at 46.8% alc. “Dark Origins is known for its double first fill sherry casks, which bring a richer “sherry bomb” flavor. Notes of heathered smoke,, peat, caramel, and cocoa beams dominate the palate.”
I enjoy finishing tastings with a bold Islay. This night it was Ardbeg’s Corryvreckan, a personal favorite. At 57.1% it is a big boy! “The packaging states ‘not for the faint hearted’ and it is true.” The palate is deep with cream spices. Masters of Malt call this expression astonishing.”
After a few additional appetizers, a cleansing of the palates. Eileen and Scott presented the 12 YO Scott’s Notch. The comments included: apricots, caramel, malt, vanilla, smooth, and most surprising several folks agreed that it hinted of a warm rum. For me, the sweetness on the palate leaned it towards a bourbon. As with the whiskies leading up to the Notch, folks went back to compare, and to have a second whirl.
Comments from my not-too-scientific scoring sheet:
- The Springbank was more enjoyable after trying the Ardbeg and going back to it – the sweetness was more prominent
- Highland Park – felt a little sting in the back of my mouth, delicious
- Highland Park – masculine
- A little water helped the Ardbeg
- I put a bit of the Highland Park with the Ardbeg and it became a “4”. (Egads!)
Scott’s Notch 41 (Though I do think the group was biased. Though I am biased towards the Ardbeg.) Springbank 30, Highland Park, 29, Ardbeg 28. Really a neck-in-neck race.
What is interesting is that most of the group didn’t drink whisky, or if they had, it was the $30 a bottle type, and then mixed, or with lots of water. So they did very well working their way through the four bottles. I was thrilled when several of the non-whisky drinking women scored the Ardbeg quite high. No shrinking violets here.
The following day was to continue with the tasting theme at the Triple Eight Distillery for lunch and the Nantucket Culinary Center for an evening with Chef Greg and a five course dinner. Stay tuned for all the yummy details in my next blog.
I raise a glass to good friends, family and sharing whisky together!