Group Tastings…Insightful?

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:

  1. Discussion about whisky with a group of tasters is stimulating, social, and informative
  2. Comments on the nose, palate, and finish expands and gets each taster thinking and evaluating his/her impressions
  3. No two tasters have exact descriptions
  4. Individual preferences are fascinating to learn about
  5. Comparing a few whiskies side-by-side highlights strengths and weaknesses of each whisky
  6. When a group does not know the price of a whisky and simply compares several, I find, the impressions more honest.
  7. 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!

dottysxmas2016

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?

 

 

 

 

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15 on the Ready: Buy, Drink, Share

15

I read an interesting blog by angelsportion.wordpress.com this past week which focused on his Top 15 whiskies for under $75 that should be in one’s whisky shelf. A blog worth reading – I found it stimulated my curiosity. Do I have a similar list lurking in the house? My first stop was grabbing a copy of my new romp of a book Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations. The book covers more than 100 whiskies that I offered at whisky tastings for charities, friends, and private events. They are all on my like list. At the end of the book I proclaim my Top 10 favorite single malts but don’t offer a list of “should haves” under $75. Ok, I needed a plan to work this list out. I checked to see how many of angelsportion’s bottles were mentioned in my book – eight of the fifteen are discussed. Yet, the only whisky from his list that I have not tried is the Glengoyne 17 Y.O. Hmm, what bottles to pick, such a dilemma.

Book in hand, I opened my scotch cabinet and super-secret hiding places and began the quest for the Top 15 under $75. The under $75 wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, though a few of my list sneaked towards the $100 mark. And, being a little left of center on most everything, I veered off the single malt course and proudly added a blend and an Irish, a Japanese, and an American whiskey.

 Laphroaig

Once the whisk(e)y list met my own criteria – an opened bottle that I drink regularly and that I proudly offer to guests – I went back to see how many were in the book. As with angelsportion – eight of the fifteen are discussed in the book. Yet, angelsportion and I only have one duplicate whisky on our lists – the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Just goes to show that personal preferences are key, availability is crucial, many, many price points are still under $75, and most of all there are still ever so many whiskies from Scotland and around the world to discover, taste and share.

 Lagavulin label

For the record, here is my Top 15 whiskies to have around the house and not hidden in the super-secret places. One more deviation – I have ranked my Top 3, the remaining twelve are by country and region, if applicable. My preference for any of the whiskies is dependent on mood, weather, fellow imbibers, time of day, what/who I am reading, tweeting. All these ingredients keep every dram fresh and exciting!

Scotland – my Top 3

  1. Lagavulin 16 YO – Islay
  2. Ardbeg Corryvreckan – Islay
  3. Springbank Madeira 11 YO – Campbeltown

Scotland

  • Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten, Islay
  • Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Islay
  • Highland Park Dark Origins, Orkney
  • Aberfeldy 12 YO, Highland
  • Aberlour a’bunadh, Speyside
  • Glenfarclas 17 YO, Speyside
  • Glenlivet 18 YO, Speyside
  • Oban, Western Highland

Blend

  • Grand MacNish 15 YO, Sherry Cask (makes a great Rusty Nail)

Ireland

  • Bushmills, 16 YO

Japan

  • Suntory Yamazaki 12 YO

United States

  • Westland Single Malt 2 YO 1st Fill Oloroso Barrel, Seattle, Washington (totally buzzed by this one)

Westland

Early on I realized that I needed to have a ranking system for the whiskies I tasted. My system is simple: I number each whisky from 1 – never buy, to 4 – must have. Detailed reviews are not my thing. I am not an expert on using all the monikers that describe the sweet, spicy, savory, subtle, smoky, sherried, candy, etc. flavors of whisky. I leave that to others. Obviously, my list above does not include any “1s”, my Top 3 are definitely “4s” the rest are in between somewhere.

Not to make it sound like a blatant sales pitch, but my book reveals all my wows and hmmms and recommendations for enough whiskies to give readers a sense of who I am and what I prefer. Just saying.

Thank you angelsportion for an inspiring article. I raise a glass!