For anyone who has taken the time to read my blogs during the past few years it is obvious that I prefer group tastings over my own drinking alone of one sample of whisky at a time. Besides the fact that I lead a number of tastings during the year, over time I have come to learn more about whisky nuances in group settings where four (sometimes more) whiskies are sampled and compared.
So, you say, what are the benefits here? Well, my palate has dulled with age, sad to admit. My whisky vocabulary does not flourish like a bouquet of wild flowers – a skill that many of the bloggers and whisky tasters that I follow excel at. I know what I like when I taste it and what flavor profiles tend to bore me. The benefits of group tastings, broaden my world, and are many:
- Discussion about whisky with a group of tasters is stimulating, social, and informative
- Comments on the nose, palate, and finish expands and gets each taster thinking and evaluating his/her impressions
- No two tasters have exact descriptions
- Individual preferences are fascinating to learn about
- Comparing a few whiskies side-by-side highlights strengths and weaknesses of each whisky
- When a group does not know the price of a whisky and simply compares several, I find, the impressions more honest.
- As someone who enjoys writing about whisky, the information culled at group tastings gives me more to write about. Some of the best fun is hearing the stories a few glasses of whisky brings out in tasters.
During the months of December and January I led six tastings – three formal and three more casual with family and friends. Here is an example of one that falls in between the formal and the casual. The setting was a holiday dinner get together. There were five of us and we all planned to stay over at the host’s home to alleviate driving late at night. No driving takes the pressure off the tasting. Really.
The whiskies chosen were all open bottles that I had in the scotch cabinet and were slated to be on the heel slayer list. Obviously, because I owned them, they were whiskies that I enjoyed at one point or another during the year. Several may have popped up at other tastings, but what would tasting them side-by-side reveal!
The order of the four whiskies: McCarthy’s Whiskey (USA), Single Cask Nation Westland 2 YO, 1st fill Oloroso Barrel (USA), Benromach 15 YO (Speyside), Aberlour A’bunadh Batch 28 (Highland). No one knew the price of the whiskies and except for me, hadn’t tasted any of them before.
The two West Coast American whiskies were up first. My thinking was that they would be lighter than the two Scotch single malts. The notes are a combination of each taster’s comments.
- McCarthy’s Nose: roasted, earthy, butterscotch
- Palate: earthy, leather, charcoal, not too much peat
- Finish: lingers but with alcohol, dryness, works well with the lemon pound cake dessert
- Westland’s Nose: floral, buttery, vanilla, shouts out butterscotch, cinnamon, maple syrupy
- Palate: spice and burn, black pepper, more cinnamon, more complex, softer with a drop of water – less harsh and brings out some vanilla
- Finish: buttery, better with the water
- Benromach’s Nose: sweet, cinnamon
- Palate: alcohol up front, dirt in the butterscotch, kiss it up to God, hint of soap, nutmeg, smooth, give it the three second rule
- Finish: all agreed “doesn’t linger”
- A’bunadh’s Nose: cherries, black licorice, fruity,, rich and smooth, decadent
- Palate: cinnamon with sherry, a bite to it!, rum raisin and figs
- Finish: spice cake, sweet sherry, lasts and lasts
The results – preferences from favorite to least favorite:
- Taster#1 Taster #2 Taster #3 Taster #4 Taster #5
- McCarthy Westland A’bunadh Benromach A’bunadh
- Westland A’bunadh Benromach A’bunadh Westland
- A’bunadh McCarthy McCarthy McCarthy McCarthy
- Benromach Benromach Westland Westland Benromach
Reviews the results of tasting scores always intrigues me. If I was to go shopping based strictly on the results, I would purchase the A’bunadh and not the Benromach. Perhaps tasting this combination together diminished some of the individual high notes, maybe not. Maybe I don’t enjoy such and such as much now. How can indivudal preferences be all over the place? Makes me wonder….and that is the tickle to group tasting for me!
By the way can you guess which taster I am?
I raise a glass to tasting new whiskies as well as tasting open bottles and comparing each with a group of friends!
Did someone say March is less than two months away? How did that happen?