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!
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.
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
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.
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!