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.

 

 

ONLY 17 Tastes at Whiskey Obsession

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Whiskey Obsession Festival in Sarasota was on my “must do” list this spring. The brainchild of Turner C. Moore and hosted at Michael’s on East, it satiates my want of whisky exploration while away from my New England turf.  I have attended three of the four years it has been operating.  This year marked a distinct change from the previous festivals – specifically the grand tasting.  The crowds were larger, younger, there were more women in attendance, and most obvious was the increase in the number of American products.  Whiskey production on a smaller less corporate scale is back in full swing and I believe bringing in the younger drinkers. My goal at the festival, as always, is to first try single malts that have alluded me in the past and/or new to the U.S. market. Then, if time and the capacity to actually handle any more alcohol, I would move to American products. I never made it to the Americans – perhaps next year I should change my focus and start local.

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Turner C. Moore with me in my swanky Swally Shirt

 

This year I pre-read the list of 200 whiskies to be presented and narrowed the field down to 30 potentials, including whiskies from Scotland, Ireland, France, Japan, Canada and the U.S.  Being realistic, I knew that by the end of the evening at most 20 would be tasted. I had to be sure to make a concerted effort to sip and spit. Sometimes, that is terribly difficult! At every festival we have all seen what happens then enthusiasm for sipping results in complete drunkenness. What a waste of good whiskies. For me, the final count was 17. Too many to write about this week!

My Top 3 are very different from each other, both in taste, region, age. I surprised myself when I went back to review my notes at how these three stood out in the crowd.

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Joshua Hatton, President and Co-Founder of SCN

 

My number 3 choice: Single Cask Nation (SCN) Glen Elgin 18 YO 2nd fill Bourbon Hogshead

After meeting Joshua Hatton at the 2015 Obsession Festival, I became intrigued with his Jewish Whisky Company’s membership business plan. His offerings last year completely amazed me, his excitement for his products was contagious. I visited his web site and was completely drawn in.  I now have at least a half dozen of his bottles in my scotch cabinet. Hell, I even bought the SCN work shirt!

This festival I sampled three of this bottles, all of which received strong scores, but the Glen Elgin, a Speyside whisky, stood out. The nose was light and the first impression on the palate was light as well. Quickly the palate had a burst of floral and a hint of spice. SCN web site states, “This cask bottling, distilled in November of 1995, spent 18 years maturing in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead.  It was bottled at a natural cask strength of 54.9% ABV in March of 2014.  Cask #1661 yielded 277 bottles.” I give this a 3- out of a score of 4.  I will be purchasing a bottle. Note: Joshua will make an appearance on my 10-4-10 interview series sometime in the next few months.

My number 2 choice: Aberlour A’bunadh, Batch 52

What can I say?  The A’bunadh series continues to grab my attention with its big alcohol content – this one at 60.5% cask strength. It wallops with a massive sherry bomb and hints of chocolate. I give this a solid 3 score.  A bottle will grace my scotch cabinet.

My number 1 choice of the evening: Kilchoman 2008 special release.

Back in September of 2009 I was visiting Islay not long after the inaugural release of Kilchoman’s first whisky.  None were to be found on the island except behind the bar of the local establishment.  I asked if I could buy the bottle? Bartender laughed. So crafty me, bought some shots and asked him to pour the shots in a water bottle that I was carrying (minus the water, naturally.) I brought that bottle of Kilchoman home with me – a perfect souvenir, long since emptied. As you can imagine, I now have a soft spot for all that is Kilchoman.

Ryan Kohl, District Manager of the Southeast Region of ImpEX Beverages, energetically manned the pours this year. As a side note: Ryan said to watch for Kilchoman’s Sanaig. this new expression has just launched.

The Kilchoman 2008, a 7 YO, bottled at 46%, doesn’t overwhelm, the taste is smooth with some tropical fruit that blends nicely with the peat that lingers and whispers Islay. This is a perfect dram to enjoy on a quiet evening. I score it a 4-.  Must hunt down a bottle!

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The remaining 14 whiskies that I sampled at the festival will make an appearance in the near future.  The scoring for these bottles range from a 2+ to a 3-.  Most are middle of the road, which is not a bad thing, but doesn’t hold enough of my attention to warrant purchasing a bottle. Drink, probably, but only if someone else is pouring.

I raise a glass to the opportunity to attend whisky festivals. Thanks Turner for Whiskey Obsession Sarasota – see you next year.