Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Another Very Civilized Evening

Last night I spent some quality time at my local pub, The Feathers, tasting some very nice single malt whiskies. This was the final of their Whisky Challenge series until the fall.

At the last Whisky Challenge, which was back in February (see post here), I didn't fare so well, so I was determined to put forth a better showing this time.

The theme for last night's event was "Mostly Peatless", which meant that very few of the selections would be from the Island (or Islay) region, which is largely responsible for the production of 'smoky' or 'peaty' whiskies. I didn't particularly mind this, for while I certainly enjoy a nice smoky malt from time to time, I really prefer a nice full-bodied Highland malt.

Ian (the Publican, not me) certainly uncorked the good stuff last night, as six of the eight malts served were Cask Strength, and all of the malts were at least 18 years old.

Here are explainations for some of the abbreviations used in this post.

C.S. (Cask Strength) - Meaning bottled straight from the maturing cask without chill filtering or the addition of water. Generally a fuller tasting, stronger dram.
D.B. (Distillery Bottling) - Single malt whisky bottled by the distillery is known as a distillery bottling or an official bottling and is usually bottled with an age statement (The Macallan 12 Years Old) or a vintage year (Glen Rothes 1989).
R.M. (Rare Malt Series) - Pretty much self-explanatory.
Sig. (Signatory Vintage) - Check out the link here

Here are the malts that we tasted in the order they were served. The first comment for each malt is the description provided by the distillery. The second comment is my own impressions.

1) Auchentoshan 25yr. C.S. (D.B.) - A triple distilled single-cask bottling from the Bowmore Group. Light mahogany in colour with soft lemon and vanilla undertones. A palate of toffee and butter, some fruit and a delicate, sweet finish.

I liked this one a lot. Full-flavoured, with a hint of banana. Seriously. 7

2) Macallan 1985 18yr. (D.B.) – This Speysider is just a lovely dram and should dispensed with a heavy hand. Deep chestnut in colour with a glorious honey and sherry nose, a big bouquet with nuts and floral notes and a superb dry, warming finish.

I just love Macallan of any vintage, but this one was truly excellent. I actually guessed this one correctly. 8.5

3) Benrinnes 1974 21yr. C.S. (R.M.) – This big beauty has only been bottled as a single malt by the distillery since 1991. Bright gold in colour with almond – vanilla flavours, some nuts and oil, quite creamy and a spicy, sweet lingering finish.

This one completely bamboozled me. This is a nice, light-tasting dram with a bit of spice on the end of the tongue. Really quite pleasant. I guessed this as the Bladnoch, below. rrrr. 8

4) Bladnoch 1977 23yr. C.S. (R.M.) – The southern distillery is close enough to England to affect its quality. Gold in colour with a sweetly perfumed nose. Light and smooth with honey and citrus, somewhat gentle yet crisp – a good aperitif.

Another spicy one. I've never tasted a malt quite like this one. Very complex full palate with hints of lemon. Nice nice nice. 9

5) Glenmorangie Sauterne 1981 (D.B.) - From Tain in the Northern Highlands. Chestnut in colour with a rich toffee and ripe fruit nose and a body suggesting hazelnuts, honeycomb, even vanilla ice cream. The finish is exquisite, gentle and sweet.

An OK malt. Very subtle, with a taste of vanilla, and just slightly nutty. 7

6) Royal Brackla 1975 C.S. (Sig.) – Founded in 1812, the year as Napoleon invaded Russia. Fresh grains on the nose, then fruit and spiciness becoming hot and peppery. Quite robust with a restrained, malty finish.

That's a SPICY meatball. I am really starting to like the peppery malts. A lovely dram - too bad a bottle costs several hundred dollars. 8.5

7) Royal Lochnagar 1973 23yr C.S. (R.M.) – From the Eastern Highlands and a favourite of Queen Victoria. Quiet on the nose, soft-textured and appetizing, some dry nuttiness and just a hint of marzipan. An elegant, subdued finish.

A hint of peaty goodness, with a slight taste of toffee. A little smoky, yet still a Highland malt. Yummy. 8

8) Talisker 1982 20yr. C.S. (D.B.) – From Skye’s only distillery and rated highly by Robert Louis Stevenson. Gold in colour with a distinct coastal nose, peppery and slightly sour with a heat that slowly gains in intensity. A more refined finish than younger versions.

What can I say about Talisker? I love this malt. Heavy-duty smoke and peat, so good it was almost crunchy. Booya. 9

The list that was provided to each of the participants actually contained 10 malts, of which we were served eight. Here are the other two from the list that were not served.

Auchroisk 1974 28yr. (R.M.) – Gentle liquorice and toffee aromas introduce a smooth, soft-bodied dram with sweet malty shortbread and cinnamon flavours. A warming, long finish.

Bruichladdich 20yr. (D.B.) – An abandoned ruin of a distillery miraculously brought back to life. Complex nose of melon balls in honey, lemon meringue and kiwi and sweet oak and barley sugar. A finish both graceful and smooth.

Normally, there is at least one malt served that I just don't care for. It's not that it's a bad whisky necessarily, it's just not to my taste. This wasn't the case last night. Everything that was served was absolutely top-notch.

OK, the scoring system is simple. If you guess the malt exactly correct, you get 3 points. If guess the malt incorrectly, but get the region (Highland, Lowland, Island) correct, you get 1 point. If you're completely wrong, you get bupkus.

The rating system for scores, as provided by The Feathers, is as follows:
18-24 Points - Nae chance!
13-17 Points - Splendid!
9-12 Points - Very respectable.
5-8 Points - Not too bad.
1-4 Points - Tonight's Pudding!

Out of a possible 24 points, I scored a 12. I guessed malts 2, 5, 6 and 8 correctly, and got the rest completely wrong. It's not great, but it's an improvement on the 9 points I scored at the last one. I don't mind getting a bad score, but I always strive to avoid being the Pudding. So far, it hasn't happened. Yet.

The other two in my party fared slightly better than I did. Pat scored a 15, and Mike (our resident expert) scored a 16. The evening's winner scored 21 points - 7 out of 8 guessed correctly. For his efforts, he won a bottle of Dalmore 12yr. Nice.

Boy, with six of the malts being cask strength (meaning higher alcohol content - probably in the 50-60% ABV range), I was feeling very OK by the end of the night. In addition, we had someone guarding the chandeliers, because it was looking like our friend Pat might be doing some dancing on the tables. Woo-hoo!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An excellent summary, Ian! Lots of fun by all. Here are my thoughts, for what they're worth. Remember, my scoring system is 1-10. I have given a 2 in the past!


A small crowd of 20 or so gathered for the final instalment at our haunt, Feathers Pub, where Publican Ian trumpeted this challenge as "Mostly Peatless". Cute. The usual---10 whiskies listed, 8 poured, 3 points for correct whisky, 1 point for correct region (2 lowlands, 6 highlands/speysides and 2 island malts listed). I was pleased to score 16/24 on such a difficult list, the winner getting a score of 21.

1. Lightish aroma---perfume and caramel, biting attack and finish, with spice and warmth, but I don't warm up to this. Nothing extra-special call it a 5-6. I incorrectly guessed Bladnoch (see below), when it was, in fact, Auchentoshan 25 year Cask Strength (Distillery Bottling). Yet another Auchentoshan that doesn't bowl me over...I shoulda known. 1 point for correct region

2. mmmm. The sherry, the fruit, the richness. What else could it be? Its usual 9, no mistaking the Macallan 1985 18 year (Distillery Bottling). How I love the older Macallans. So consistently good. I didn't need to even taste this to identify correctly.

3. Almost a chlorine nose. Curious. WOW. Marvelous honey & vanilla and plenty strong. What a contrast to the nose. I'll give it an 8---it's a little too up-front, but good drinking. Happily, I correctly guessed Benrinnes 1974 21 Year Cask Strength (Rare Malt Series). I am anxious to snag my 1973 regular bottling in a couple weeks to compare....I think I prefer the regular bottlings for their throttled-back approach, but this was still good.

4. LOVELY nose of old wood and toffee. Very soft beginning but builds like a volcano. Sweet and spicy throughout, an enjoyable 8. No points this time as Ian the Evil went back up the list. While I guessed the Auchroisk 28 year 1974 Cask Strength, this, in fact, was the Bladnoch 1977 23 year Cask Strength (Rare Malt Series). Tasted very different the last time I had it, but I had it at the end of a challenge evening instead of in the middle.

5. cozy-up-in-a-blanket nose. Yes, this is the echo of Sauternes. In this particular company, it's just lovely. Definitely a 9 tonight, it really shows its stars. No problem guessing correctly the Glenmorangie 1981 Sauternes Casking (Distillery Bottling). I liked it tonight a good deal more than my last sampling. Shows you what the context can do to a whisky.

6. Really all of itself--quiet nose of some flowers and banana/vanilla. Chewy and warm with fruit and pepper. Make it an 8-9. I was really quite thrilled to guess correctly the Royal Brackla 1975 Cask Strength (Signatory). A very integrated and complete dram.

7. Bit of peat, but it's very deep down. Fine and smooth. I really do like this a ton. The smoke and peat is more integrated than any other I've had. And with good reason! The biggest shock of the night for me, I was dead-sure this was the Talisker (see below), but picked up zero points as it turns out instead to be Royal Lochnagar 1973 23 year Cask Strength (Rare Malt Series). I'll swear there was some peat. Regardless, a solid 10, I would happily stock this given the opportunity.

8. Sweet-sour character. Tons of peppery spice. It is very strong, almost too much, will burn out the throat...and I'm not keen on the aftertaste. I have to downgrade the Talisker 1982 20 year Cask Strength (Distillery Bottling) (guessed correctly, the other choice was the Bruichladdich 20 year and it wasn't that) to an 8 tonight from its former lofty 9+/10 perch. Still has bags of character, but not the complete picture that entranced me in the past. Could my tastes be changing? Could it, again, be the context...the only really smoky malt in all of the tasting? Who knows.

A well-spent $80 when one 6 and the rest 8 or more are the personal scores. Now, time off until Ian starts again in September.