As mentioned in a previous blog, Vom Fass Sarasota set it up so that I would lead a Ladies Only Whisky Tasting Night last weekend in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. There were several benefits for all involved: Vom Fass would receive wider exposure for their exclusive independently bottled whiskies, I would get to talk about my book and drink Vom’s whiskies, and the guests would drink the whiskies, indulge in some appetizers and superior cheeses from the Artisan Cheese Company, and low and behold receive a copy of my book. A win win night!
For those of you who periodically read my blog, you are aware of my fondness for the Vom Fass whiskies. It is a franchise that is world wide with its headquarters in Germany. The stores sell unbelievable whiskies, rums, liquors, as well as olive oils, vinegars, wines and a host of other products. I can’t confirm about the other stores, but the Sarasota store will allow a tasting of any of its products before one purchases a bottle. I also like that the whiskies (as well as many of the other products) are available for purchase in 100, 200, 375, and 750 ml bottles.
After introductions, I read a few short humorous quips from my book Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations and some of the goals of the book such as how to lead a tastings, pairing cheeses and chocolates with whiskies and sample groupings of four whiskies to use for tastings. The whiskies were waiting and it was time to tipple!
On to the Ladies Only tasting. Five flights were set up. My role was to take everyone through each whisk(e)y, including the nose, palate, and finish. Along the way, tidbits from my book would be interjected, and questions answered. a week before the tasting I received sample bottles of each of the five whiskies so that I could develop my own tastings notes and compare them to the official notes from Vom Fass. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have found that my notes sometimes stray away from the official notes.
My list of words used to describe whisky is not as complex, detailed or flowery as many bloggers, experts and enthusiasts. So to add to the language of tasting, I provided the group with a Whisky Flavor Wheel that I adapted from the Internet. There are many wheels available on the Internet, all generally similar. I found this one easy to transfer to table form for use as a handout.
Once everyone was settled I began with the American Whiskey. The remainder of the whiskies were Scotch and Irish whiskies, so this first dram was to be thought of as a simple aperitif. The American hails from the Yahara Bay Distillery in Madison, Wisconsin and has no age statement. The bourbon is a blend of three Kentucky bourbons and Yahara Bay whiskey. Good to note that Yahara Bay won two gold medals in 2012 – The Micro Liquor Spirits Award for its V Bourbon and the Spirits International Prestige Award for its Charred Oak Whiskey. This expression is a popular seller at Vom Fass Sarasota.
My point of view – Nose: Vanilla on wood, nuts and honey. Palate: Alcohol then sweet on the tongue, more wood and grasses. Finish: fast, no burn but a tingle. Rating: 2+ (out of 4)
During my at home tasting, I compared the American Whiskey with Elmer T. Lee bourbon. I find that by comparing two whiskies side by side, the flavors from both become more distinct for me. For the record I find the Elmer T. to have a perfumy, minty nose; a thinner feel, no wood and more mint on the palate; and a simple finish with a hint of a burn. the two bourbons are completely different. I am more apt to use Elmer T. in a cocktail than straight and/or over ice.
Next up was the MacSpey, a Speyside blended malt produced by Stewart Laing of Hunter Laing & Co. Stewart acknowledges that this blend combines Glen Rothes, Macallan, Balvenie, Glenfiddich and a few other undisclosed single malts. The official notes call this one well balanced with classic Speyside aromas of hay, salt and fruit.
My point of view – Nose: a barn full of hay and grasses. Palate: It takes a moment then there is fruit. Finish: surprisingly, a little earthy, and lingers with some salt. Rating: 2+
The group was asked to sample the Vermont Clothbound Cheese from the Artisan Cheese Company and to taste a piece with the MacSpey. The cheese brought out the flavors of the whisky, thus enhancing both flavors of both. We all went back for seconds!
Next up was a giant leap in quality and price ($600 a bottle vs $120 for the MacSpey). My point was to compare a blended malt with a blend. This whisky is called The Gentlemen. again a Stewart Laing product, aged 35 years, and produced “as an homage to the big blended scotch whiskies that put Scotch whisky on the world map.” The official tasting notes end with ” excellent from beginning to end.”
My point of view – Nose: light, no alcohol, roasted fruit. Palate: balanced, stays quiet. Finish: It explodes yet gently. Lingering spices. Rating: 4-
After a short break for some lite bites, we were ready to call out the Irish and salute Saint Patrick’s Day. First up was a personal favorite, Jack’s Choice. I first tasted this fine dram at a tasting hosted by Vom Fass with Jack Teeling as the guest speaker. Jack of Teeling Distillery and formerly of Cooley Distillery wowed me with this unique expression. It is an 11 YO from Cooley stocks and finished for three months in French Sauterne casks.
Jack’s Choice was the perfect Irish to present during this Ladies Night. While The Gentlemen and Jack’s both found their way to the Fruity and Spicy place on the whisky flavor wheel, the differences were stark. The Gentlemen was refined while Jack’s was a big burst of sophistication.
My point of view – Nose: Malt, quick flash of alcohol. Palate: spicy oak, depth and complex, the big burst. Finish: an elevated sweet finish of the sauterne. Rating: 3
The Midnight Moon cheese from the Artisan Cheese Company, softened the big burst and together mellowed out any rough edges. Delicious.
The final taste was a new whiskey from Teeling Distillery once again using the Cooley stocks. The Crystal Malt is a 23 YO, that was distilled using a special process to bring out the sugars. The resulting whiskey is unique.
My point of view – Nose: very sugary, pineapple overtones. Palate: Stays sweet but not overpowering. Finish: crisp subtle lingering with the pineapple hiding in the background. I have a 375 ml bottle of this sweetness. Rating: 3+
I asked the group to go back to the American Bourbon that they all professed to enjoy ever so much. After the other whiskies, the American Bourbon paled and surprised them at how much different it now tasted.
Everyone, of course, had a favorite, and no one knew the retail price of any of the whiskies. The Gentlemen held a slight edge over Jack’s Choice. Me, well, I have a bottle of both!
The evening was a success. The ladies lingered for book signing, discussions with Robert Kay, owner of the Sarasota Vom Fass, the purchasing of bottles to bring home and picture taking.
I want to give a huge shout out and mega thank you to both Robert and Debbie Kay for providing the venue for me to talk about my book and the opportunity to lead the tasting of these especially fine whiskies. These are whiskies that are carefully selected, cannot be found anywhere else, and when they are gone they are gone. Vom Fass, I’m hooked (in case you didn’t notice.)
To all of you who support your local distillery or whisky shop or independent bottler, I raise a glass!