Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Very Civilized Evening

Nothing beats spending an evening in your favourite pub, sampling various varieties of single-malt scotch whisky. Except for maybe sharing the experience with twenty or so other like-minded individuals.

The owner of my local pub, The Feathers, holds a Whisky Challenge event every month or so between October and April. The Feathers boasts the largest selection of single-malt scotch whiskies in the province of Ontario at over 450, and I've been doing my best to try them all.

The Challenge works like this: Each event has a theme to which all the malts adhere. Last night's theme was "Malts found at the LCBO", indicating that the malts being served are available at the local liquor store. Ian Innes, the owner, privately imports most of his stock, so a lot of the time the only place you will be able to find a certain whisky that you sampled at The Feathers, will be - at The Feathers. Upon arriving at the event, each participant is presented with a list of ten malts, including the name of each malt, the region the malt is from, (Highland, Lowland or Island) and a brief description about the nose, body, colour, etc. Everyone is then served eight of the malts from the list, in random order, and your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to guess what it is you're tasting, based on the descriptions on the page, and your own experience. Three points are awarded for a correct guess, one point is awarded for an incorrect guess but from the correct region, and zero points for a completely incorrect guess.

The person with the most points at the end of the evening is declared the winner, and wins themself a bottle from Ian's Private Stock. However, no-one really loses, as everyone gets to sample eight very fine whiskies.

I normally go to these events with a group of friends, but due to a combination of short notice and scheduling conflicts, I was flying solo last night.

Here is what we tasted, the description provided, and my impressions. I am not by any means an expert on the subject, but I am an enthusiast.

*NOTE* C.S. indicates 'Cask Strength'. This means that it was bottled straight from the maturing cask without chill filtering or the addition of water - generally, a fuller tasting and stronger dram.

1) Glenkinchie 10yr. - "A charming wee distillery just east of Edinburgh. Aromatic nose of cut grass, sweet lemon and melon, a somewhat light body with gentle spices, cinnamon and a short, bry fragrant finish."

Muscular and very tasty. I didn't get any cut grass or lemon, but I definitely tasted licorice and toffee. I was very impressed, and I will definitely be picking up a bottle of this. I give it an 8.

2) Auchentoshan 3 Wood - "A triple distilled whisky in the classic Lowland style. Deep chestnut in colour with a rish orange zest nose, oil and marshmallow, with some perfume and cashews. A creamy finish of raisins and fresh oak."

Full flavoured, yet a gentle finish. Quite sweet. I liked this one a lot. I guessed it wrong, but I liked it a lot. A solid 8.

3) Glengoyne C.S. - "Only a few miles from Glasgow but regarded as a Highland malt. Soft and sweet on the nose, some vanilla and cream, very smooth and a total absence of peat. This malt offends no-one and may be a pleasant surprise."

Bright, flowery nose. Intense body with a lingering finish. An OK malt. I give it a 6.

4) Glenfarclas 105 - "This distillery has the biggest stills on Speyside. Pleasant note of butterscotch and raisins, a robust body with rich nectar, some sweetness and honey dryness. A muscular, long, rounded finish."

This was my favourite of the evening. Big, fruity full taste. Perhaps not as muscular as I was expecting from the 105, but quite acceptable for all that. Warms on the way down. 9

5) Aberlour C.S. - "A wonderful dram, also from Speyside. Rich and pungent in character with dried fruits, citrus rind, Oloroso casks, camp fires and molasses, all in a magical Highland wedding!"

And the hits just keep on coming! Though technically a Highland malt, I guessed this as the Bowmore, below, which is an Island malt. Lots of yummy smoke and peat. This malt possesses definite kaboomatism. 8 1/2

6) Bruichladdich 20yr. (pronounced BROO-ICK-LAD-ICK) - "An Islay distillery brought back from the dead. (You should have seen it before!). Nose of melons and honey, exceptionally smooth with sweet oak, apricots and just a hint of Islay's fresh sea air."

For sure an Island malt, but also for sure not a cask strength. A little spicy, but otherwise a nice, gentle rock on the ocean. Also, the first one I guessed correctly. rrrr. 7

7) Bowmore C.S. - "This Islay distillery is absolutely brilliant, a must visit for a whisky lover. A nose of chocolate, mild medicine cabinet, seaweed and brine, progressing to layers of dry grain, tobacco, smoke and mild iodine. A somewhat fiery, oaky, sweet finish."

Basically like the description says. It's so smoky, it's like you're drinking it from a sweaty leather shoe, while sitting in the middle of a campfire and being beaten about the head and neck with seaweed. So you know it has to be good. 8

8) Talisker 20yr. C.S. - "From Skye's only distillery but what a distillery! Gold in colour with a distinct coastal nose, very peppery and slightly sour with a heat that slowly gains in intensity - goes down with all the horns blowing!"

What can I say about this peaty monster? It slapped me around from the inside on it's way down. This malt is a cure for the common cold. 9

And now... here are the descriptions of the two malts from the list that were not served.

Dalwhinnie 1980 Dbl. Wood. - "This distillery is perched up in the Cairngorm Mountains, just the place to get high! A very complex malt with licorice and sherry on the nose, sweet with toffee, honey, and cut grass. A lovely, balanced finish with just a hint of peat and smoke.

I guessed this one for the first two selections, which turned out to be the Glenkinchie and the Auchentoshan. I swear I tasted licorice.

Highland Park 18yr. - "From the Orkneys and Scotland's most northerly distillery. Fragrant smoke and oak on the nose, remarkably smooth with a body of heather, honey and garden bonfires and a beautiful dry, spicy finish. I feel this is a dram with everything!"

I thought that the Bowmore was this one. They're really very similar, and it's a shame that this wasn't served, as it is truly a top-notch malt.

This was a bit of an off-night for me, as I scored 9 out of a possible 24 points. The winning score for the evening was a scintillating 22 out of 24. I don't know what the prize was, as I was concentrating on getting a pound of spicy wings into me at that point.

Just as a bit of an indication of the Single Malt inventory at The Feathers, here's a picture of a part of one wall of the pub. Happy happy. If you find yourself in the area, I highly recommend that you check this place out.

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