2016: One new taste per week!

2016 is winding down and there is a momentary lull in the holiday activities. Perfect time to look at my world of whisky.  I’ve been telling folks that this has been a quiet year for whisky and me, but now that I have crunched the numbers…..quiet…..not so much.

I don’t receive any samples from anyone anywhere and unfortunately did not travel out of the United States during 2016, all of which limits access to many whiskies on my wish list.

Yet, with more than 200 bottles of whisky of various types spending time in my home, one would think that there is always enough whisky at hand to quench any thirst. Wait! There is more to discover, swirl, compare and share. You are reading this blog because you drink whisky, subsequently, you easily relate to the “more” factor.

More for me this year resulted in my leading or attending sixteen whisky tastings during eight of the twelve months. Not too shabby, right? During the four quiet months, my own whisky along with a few new purchases filled in the tasting gaps quite nicely whenever the dramming mood struck.

Breaking down the numbers even further reveals…

  • 78 different whiskies were tippled at the sixteen tastings
  • 50 of the whiskies I tasted for the first time
  • 17 of the remaining 28 previously tasted are in my scotch cabinet

There is a small number of the 50 whiskies that have found their way home with me. My favorites – and the order of which is my favorite of the moment changes with my mood – as of this writing  are:

  1. Islay, Scotland: Bruichladdich Octomore 7.4
  2. Texas, USA: Balcones Brimstone
  3. Cooley stock by Teeling, Ireland: Vom Fass, Crystal Malt 23 YO
  4. Highland Region, Scotland: Aberlour A’bunadh Batch 52
  5. Nantucket, USA: Triple Eight Distillery Notch 12 YO (Bottled as Scott’s Notch)

What are the 78 you might be thinking….

*Tasted for the first time = 50 new-to-me whiskies, +Favorite of the new-to-me whiskies

  1. Single Cask Nation (SCN) Westland 2 YO
  2. The Enduring Spirit (The Shackleton Expedition Reproduction)
  3. Jura Superstition
  4. Lagavulin 16 YO
  5. Octomore 1.1 Inaugural Edition
  6. McCarthy’s Whiskey
  7. *Benromach 15 YO
  8. A’bunadh Batch 28
  9. *Kilchoman 100% Islay 6th Edition
  10. Lagavulin 8 YO
  11. *+Octomore 7.4
  12. Bowmore 18 YO
  13. Laphroaig 18 YO
  14. Kilchoman Machir Bay
  15. *Kilchoman Sanaig 5 YO
  16. Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2015
  17. *Kilchoman Cask Evolution
  18. *Kilchoman 2016 Tour Bottling – Machir Bay Cask Strength
  19. *Kilchoman 2008 Vintage 7 YO
  20. *Deveron 12 YO
  21. Springbank 15 YO
  22. Highland Park Dark Origins
  23. Ardbeg Corryvreckan
  24. *+Triple 8 Distillery Notch 12 YO (Private Bottle as Scott’s Notch)
  25. *Silo Aisling Wheat
  26. Vermont Spirits No.14 Bourbon
  27. *Provisional Light Grain Whisky
  28. *Appalachian Gap Ridgeline
  29. *Kilbeggan 2Gingers
  30. *+Mad River Distillery Rye
  31. Copper Fox Rye
  32. Ryan and Wood Rye
  33. Westland Peated Whiskey
  34. Laphroaig Cairdeas Port wood
  35. *+Balcones Brimstone
  36. *Gordon and MacPhail (G&P) Glencaden 21 YO
  37. *G&P 2016 Highland Park 24 YO
  38. Highland Park 18 YO
  39. *+Irish Yellow Spot 12 YO
  40. Ryan and White Single Malt
  41. *Rebecca Creek Whiskey
  42. Aberfeldy 21 YO
  43. Bulleit Bourbon
  44. *Benriach 16 YO
  45. *Benriach 16 YO Single Cask 1998 PX Finish
  46. *Glendronach Revival 15 YO
  47. *Glenglassaugh Torfa Peated
  48. *Glenrothes 1998 Vintage 30 YO
  49. Blue Hanger 7th Edition
  50. *Kavalan King Car
  51. Nikka Pure Malt
  52. *Old Potrero Rye
  53. *+A’bunadh Batch 52
  54. *Glen Grant 16 YO
  55. *SCN Arran 13 YO Oloroso Cask
  56. *SCN Glen Elgin 18 YO
  57. *SCN Tobermory 10YO
  58. *Tullibardine 500 PX Sherry Cask
  59. *Forty Creek Barrel Select
  60. *Forty Creek Confederation Oak
  61. *Forty Creek Double Reserve
  62. *Forty Creek Copper Pot
  63. *Kinahan’s Irish 10 YO
  64. *Hibicki Harmony
  65. *Haig Club Single Grain
  66. *Crown Royal Northern Harvest
  67. *Teeling Small Batch
  68. Bushmills 16 YO
  69. Laphroaig Triple Wood
  70. Ardbeg 10 YO
  71. *Yahara Bay Distillery – American Bourdon
  72. *MacSpey, Stewart Laing Blend, Vom Fass
  73. *The Gentlemen, Hunter Laing Blend 35 YO, Vom Fass
  74. Jack’s Choice – Cooley Barrels 11 YO, Vom Fass
  75. *+Crystal Malt – Cooley Barrels 23 YO, Vom Fass
  76. *Redbreast 21 YO
  77. *Irish Green Spot Bordeaux
  78. *Talisker Storm

That’s it. Time to get back to cookie baking.

I raise a glass to all my whisky friends for a healthy, happy, whisky filled 2017!

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Even Steven: Sherry Bomb vs Peat?

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On occasion the whisky tastings that I lead are purely for my own very not-so-scientific analysis. My palate swings wildly through the whisky spectrum, though I tend to experience a bit of ho-hum with a number of the Highland Region whiskies. Anyway, discovering where guest whisky tasters’ preference lands fascinates me. This past week I served thirteen guests as part of a fundraising event. The group was eclectic… male, female, some new to whisky, some experienced, and some who were willing to drink anything regardless. Chef Peter Davis, of Henrietta’s Table in Cambridge MA, donated delicious appetizers and served through out the evening, keeping us all smiling from ear to ear!

 

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Delectable nibbles leading up to pulled pork sliders! Yum!

The line up included four distinct whiskies, all of which I enjoy and keep in my scotch cabinet: Jack’s Choice, Single Cask Nation Westland 20 YO, The Enduring Spirit, and Lagavulin 16 YO.

The opener and closer for the evening was a rare Irish gem: Jack’s Choice. My intent was to learn if tasters felt the same about the Irish after tasting four other whiskies.

 

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Simple bottle: complex whiskey

Jack’s Choice is an 11 YO, 40% alcohol, finished in Sauterne casks. Aptly named “Jack’s Choice” by Jack Teeling, son of original Cooley owner, John Teeling. The expression was bottled by Vom Fass using Cooley stock that remained in the Teeling Family portfolio after Cooley was sold to Beam Suntory. Yes, a rare whiskey.

Description: Big burst of flavor, sophisticated and spicy. Light as with most Irish, wonderful on its own. the sauterne shows in the finish. For more on this whiskey, see an earlier blog that highlighted the Cooley products.

The formal part of the tasting began with the Westland 2 YO. This expression was bottled by Single Cask Nation (Jewish Whisky Co.). As many are aware Westland was recently purchased by Remy Cointreau. To me, the purchase is an obvious signal that Westland, an American Distillery from Seattle Washington, is a solid whisky with room to grow.

Description: At 60% alcohol, and aged in 1st fill Oloroso barrels this whisky is a sherry bomb that blasts at the palate.

Tasters defined the taste: from dirty caramel, rubber, smoke to honey, wood, dark heat

 

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Tasters ready for their drams

The second pour, The Enduring Spirit, comes with a knock out storyline. It is the re-creation blend of bottles found below the ice that belonged to Shackleton’s failed expedition to the South Pole over one hundred years ago.

Description: Grassy, spicy, with thoughts of a Lowland whisky

Tasters defined the taste: clove, spice cake, smooth, pecan butter, fruit

The third pour was a marked shift from the first two. Jura Superstition, found most everywhere, is a constant.

Description: Distilled on the Isle of Jura, just a stones throw from Islay. This is a no age statement 43% alcohol, aged in ex-bourbon barrels. The peat is evident immediately but doesn’t overpower. The spice controls the peat.

Tasters defined the taste: cinnamon, butterscotch, burnt sugar, cinnamon then peat

The fourth pour is my personal longtime favorite to introduce those new to whisky – the Islay classic Lagavulin 16 YO.

Description: 16 YO 43% alcohol, aged in oak casks. Rich and deep with lingering and intense peat that is both smooth and warm.

Tasters defined the taste: from paint, chemical to marshmallow dropped in ash, peat and orange blossom.

Now my not-so-scientific analysis. Tasters used a whisky flavor wheel to help them determine the profiles they experienced. The score sheets were handed out, with some more completed than others. Whisky drinking does bring out the les serious side of note taking!

The Jack’s Choice, the outlier, showed its purity both before and after the formal part of the tasting.  As a side note:  A point to keep in mind, is that I highlighted the fact that this is a hard to find independently bottled whiskey. “Specialness” and “uniqueness” and “high cost”, in my experience, influences tasters thoughts and oft their tasting preferences.

By the numbers: Nine tasters completed their score sheets. Four tasters either gave all the whiskies a four or a one – so these score sheets were not included in the results.

Scoring:  1 = never buy this  2 = Honey, buy this for me, maybe  3 = Yes, buy this for me  4 = Yes, honey buy me two

Westland = 18 points   Lagavulin = 21 points   Enduring Spirit = 22 points   Jura = 24 points

Interesting analysis beyond total points:

  • Westland and Lagavulin either thrilled or insulted tasters.  Both received four “1” scores
  • If a taster gave Westland a “4”, then they gave Lagavulin a “1”. Same for the Lagavulin vs the Westland. Either they loved or hated the peat or sherry. Therein lies the Even Steven!
  • The Enduring Spirit did not receive any “1” score, or any “4”. Steady!
  • My score, not included in the numbers and in relation to each other: Lagavulin = 4 (no surprise), Westland = 3, The Enduring Spirit = 3-, Jura = 2+.

As an added bonus – with the intent to raise more money for the Nahant Council on Aging, I offered tasters a dram of Octomore 1.1 – Yes, the inaugural bottle. Now opened! This beautiful expression wowed the group with its over the top 131 ppm. Jim McEwan during his tenure at Bruichladdich was so far ahead of the curve.

 

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Crack that Octomore 1.1

 

What a delightful evening with enthusiastic tasters and wide range of whiskies. Donations exceeded our expectations, and that my friends fills me with heartfelt thanks.

Tis the season for giving. I raise a glass to those who donate in support of non-profit causes. For me, The Nahant Council on Aging is irreplaceable on our tiny island. Gotta take care of our seniors!

 

 

 

Islay Only Islay

 

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Stars of the evening!

 

My go to whisky is always a dram from Islay…the peat, the smoke, the frothy sea brine. Something about that first true love stays with you, doesn’t it!

I have the good fortune to lead an annual whisky tasting sponsored by an up and coming financial firm at the Union Club in downtown Boston. Under the golden dome of the state house, the Union Club dates itself to the Civil War. Born out of Union patriotism, the club has survived these one hundred fifty years plus by embracing its rich history as well as by staying current with the times. An exquisitely appropriate venue for a whisky tasting.

 

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All smiles with Robert Edmunds and  Peter Nee of Wellesley Private Advisors

I wonder what whisky was served in the 1860s? Perhaps some research is due, but for now lets focus on the whisky tasting at hand! Yes, the theme this year was Islay only Islay, which included four bottles that would showcase the range of styles, taste, and the heavenly peat.

 

Twenty-five guests/clients, give or take a few, started the evening with a full compliment of hor d’oeurves and beverages. Once the festivities began, two bottles of each of the four Islay beauties were opened and ready to go. There would be generous pours and drams to come back to at the end of the evening, no bottle would be left for the heel slayers.

 

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Prelude noshing

 

First up was the Kilchoman 100% Islay 6th Edition, bottled this year.  At 50% alcohol, it is lightly peated and fruity at the same time.  Guests were enthused and comments ranged from “I found hints of Armagnac” to “sneaks up on you” and finishing with “made my insides tingle.” Hell, who doesn’t like tingling!

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More warm hor d’oeuvres were passed to cleanse the palates and the room was anxious to keep the tasting going.

Number two shifted gears a tad with the 200th year anniversary Lagavulin 8 YO, 48%. While for us Lagavulin 16 YO lovers, there is no parallel, many have not had the pleasure of the Lagavulin experience. One guest nailed it on the head when he said of the 8 YO, “a different bite.” It was found to be “enjoyable but not distinctive.”

 

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Is that wine in his hand? Who let him in? No matter, more whisky for the rest of us.

 

It was time to bring on the big boy of the night…The Octomore 7.4 bottled 61.2% by Bruichladdich at 167ppm, a peat level not for the weak at heart. By now the guests were relaxed and snippets of buzzing floated through the air. After the first taste,  the change in room was immediate. The big boy was making a statement. As is my style when in a large gathering, I walked the room and talked with the small clusters of guests. The  comments ranged from “too big for me” to “couldn’t feel the roof of my mouth but in a good way” to “the real deal.” Surprisingly or maybe not so surprisingly was one outlier comment – “drank like a bourbon and honey.” What? Hey, everyone has their own sense of taste. Love it.

 

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This must be the outlier!

 

To renew the palates, we finished the evening with the consistent Bowmore 18 YO, 43%.  The Bowmore takes the peat down quite a few notches and soothed the rush from the Octomore. A gentle but effective massage.  A classic Bowmore.

Hmmm. My ranking of these Islay: Top – the Octomore, the guests’ clear winner as well, followed by the Kilchoman and Bowmore – different but both very drinkable, lastly the Lagavulin – somewhat disappointing, not that I would refuse a dram.

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Another night at the Union Club complete…the first of three starkly different tastings to be held within a week. Suffer as I must, and on to tasting number two coming soon to a dramgoodwhiskylady blog.

I raise a glass to Islay…always in my heart and most often in my glass!

Psst….my book Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations is still for sale through amazon.com.  Christmas is coming and this is indeed a blatant sales pitch.