Wild Ride: 8 Whisky Tasting Event

bottles

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 eight whiskies were a combination of Independent Bottler – Single Cask Nation, Independent Bottler – Chapter 7, and Tamdhu and Kilchoman – full range of products and price ranges; something for everyone.

thepours

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.

Tamdhu

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.

Chapter7

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.

The pours

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!

SCN2

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:

  1. Chapter 7 19 YO
  2. SCN Ben Nevis 20 YO
  3. SCN Ardmore 8 YO
  4. SCN Girvan 10 YO
  5. Kilchoman
  6. Tamdhu Batch 001
  7. SCN Glenrothes 8 YO
  8. 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!

 

 

Advertisements

Seaweed In My Whisky?!

Suntory bottles

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.

Presenters
Julia, Dan and Jack

Jack Kavanagh of Beam Suntory, gave a quick overview of the whisky lineup:

  • Suntory Toki
  • Hibiki Harmony
  • 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!

 

Cheeses
Generous portions of delectable cheeses

 

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.

 

green drink
Whisky should not be green. Just saying

 

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.

 

Red drink
Perfect color whisky cocktail

 

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!

Hakushu wheel

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.

 

SuntoryRoyal
Suntory Royal Blend

 

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!

 

Five Whiskies Re-visited

What happens when a whisky is re-tasted side-by-side with a few others about a month after the first taste? How consistent is my take on the nose, palate, and finish? Does ambience or adrenalin impact anything?

My last blog reviewed twelve whiskies tasted at the annual Whiskey Obsession Festival in Sarasota. I am about to return to Boston and thought it prudent to finish the five sample bottles that were lingering in my makeshift scotch cabinet.

 

Samples2
Glencadam, Bastille, Kozuba, Glenmorangie, Lagavulin

 

This time I would conduct a blind tasting so that I would be as impartial as possible. There was only one sample bottle that I knew the contents. I set up the tasting with each bottle receiving its own glass; a bottle of water to cleanse in between tastes.

The final results were almost exactly the same as the original tasting. Needless to say, I was surprised at my own consistency regardless of the two very different tasting scenarios. All five whiskies are good-to-excellent and offer distinct (unusual to expected) flavor notes. I would enjoy having a bottle of each in my scotch cabinet.

This is what I have from this blind tasting round:

Fifth choice: Bastille French Whiskey Single Malt.

  • Nose: distinct, oily honey and butterscotch
  • Palate: middle of the road, oil comes to the front
  • Finish: lightly lingering

Fourth choice: Glencadam 25YO.

  • Nose: citrus, soft straw, marshmallow
  • Palate: initial burn with a cinnamon burst
  • Finish: What? Where did it go?

Third Choice: Glenmorangie Bacalta

  • Nose: sweet hints
  • Palate: easy fudge, roasted caramel
  • Finish: a tip toe through thin mints

Second Choice: Kozuba Prologue

  • Nose: fresh bark
  • Palate: no malt, woody candy
  • Finish: The wood stays and stays

First Choice: Lagavulin 2016 12 YO

  • Nose: peat, medicinal
  • Palate: peat and fire
  • Finish: lingering peat and some sea surf

The only difference between this tasting and the original tasting is the switch of first and second choice. My guess is that the Kozuba was so off the chart that it superseded the Lagavulin. Yes, I am all about the peat but not exclusively!

Next week I am attending a Suntory Whisky and cheese pairing at the Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA. While I have put together an Infograph on whisky and cheese pairings, I have never paired Japanese whiskies with cheese. Ought to be a fabulous evening. Stay tuned for my blog on it.

I raise a glass to whisky adventures!