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.

 

 

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When Friends and Enthusiasts Gather

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.

There is nothing so tempting as a line of great whiskies!
There is nothing so tempting as a line of great whiskies!

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-.”
A rare sighting. I must taste both - soon!
A rare sighting. I must taste both – soon before they vanish forever!

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.

Sleek, classic, and hard to find.  Pontiac antique auto. Reminds me of fine whisky.
Sleek, classic, and hard to find. Pontiac antique auto. Reminds me of fine whisky. I swoon.

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.

 

 

Unexpected Pleasures from a Quiet Islay Whisky

I don’t know if any Islay whisky can be referred to as quiet. True, many may hit you over the head with their peat and smoke – and deliver a good spanking of leather. Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Ardbeg all quickly come to mind. Quiet, that takes a moment or two of reflection. Bowmore never the first distillery that whisky drinkers speak of when talking Islay – yet is a superstar with several of its expressions.  I have five different expressions in my scotch cabinet; not too many distilleries from any region of Scotland hold that distinction. In my book, Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations, there are two that receive high praise, one is on my Top 10 List, the other should be!!  In 2008 friends from the UK brought the Bowmore 16 Y.O. Limted Edition as a gift. I didn’t realize that it was going to be on the “hard-to-find” list and shared it at several tastings.  Not too bright comes to mind as I look at myself in the hindsight mirror. The 16 Y.O., was distilled in 1989 and bottled at cask strength – a not too aggressive 51.8%. There is a recognition of smokiness but it doesn’t overpower. Quiet and elegant. Find it. buy it. The other is the 13 Y.O. Craftsmen’s Collection: Maltmen’s Selection. Another limited release and bottled at 56.4%. At a 2014 autumn small gathering of serious single malt enthusiasts it was not thought of as one to reach for early and often. Actually, no one had even tried it before. I purchased the bottle at the Bowmore distillery shop in 2009 so it was little known. The bottle was saved for last because the sherry notes were perhaps going to offer a counter point to the other heavy-hitters of the evening.  When the group finally raised a glass. A supersized WOW circled the room. Oh ya. If you can find it….

Bowmore a quiet, masterful, Islay.  I raise a glass.