Islay Trio – Bunnahabhain Eirigh na Greine Batch 5, 46.3%

Exactly two years ago, the 1st batch of Bunnahabhain Eirigh na Greine 46.3%   was part of an interesting Islay trio together with the rather original Bruichladdich The Organic Scottish Barley 50% and quite memorable Caol Ila 1997 (bottled 2009) 43% by Gordon & MacPhail.

Then, same as now, we sampled completely blind before the whisky was revealed. None of us could have guessed our host would repeat…

Bunnahabhain Eirigh na Greine “Morning Sky” Batch 5, 46.5%

  • Nose – Initially came across as quite yoghurty and sour, then shifted into lemon curd, began to open up into berries, fruits – including jackfruit – shifting to green chillies, concentrated rose water, a bit of acetone or resin, back to yoghurt, musty cardboard, the sweetness faded, as it further opened took on bitter kerela, green veggies, against the backdrop of an old musty bookshelf
  • Palate – First impression was bitter, citrus, light spice with an undertone of pepper, black coffee, chewy, with a rather prominent tobacco flavour, then copper, metallic tang, wood
  • Finish – A bit short, that tobacco flavour remained with a hint of dark chocolate
  • Water? – No need

For two of us, the initial sense was akin to Irish pot still but then the tobacco quality tipped the scales towards something else entirely. We struggled with this one – it clearly wasn’t a standard Speyside, just as it wasn’t an ordinary Islay… speculation ran rife but none could guess. At best, we could comfortably peg it as NAS, young yet delicate.

The reveal was a complete surprise.

It has natural colour and is unchill filtered, matured in ex-red wine casks.

Just to compare, what did we find years ago with Batch 1:

  • Nose – 1st impression is very sweet, but seems like it is hiding, a medicinal element with one exclaiming “I would love to have a headache with  this!” Seems a bit oily, smells like fermented rice or dosa paste, after more airing the nose settles on being sweet, sweet and sweet as in candy sweet
  • Taste – Quite a light whisky, a bit shallow then surprises with something coming from behind – like winey grape peel or chewing on a jasmine or rose petal, sweet like gulkand (rose petal jam), a bit of sea salt
  • Finish – There but…
  • Water – The oiliness goes away, simply flattened the whisky and wouldn’t recommend adding
  • Overall impression – Not so complex, no peat, an easy drinking whisky that remains at a ‘surface’ level with the flirtatious wine / rose petal an interesting element

We compared it with the official tasting notes and were somewhat puzzled….

Our Master Distiller has perfected the recipe to ensure that Bunnahabhain’s signature taste, which includes roasted nuts and fruits with hints of sea salt and smoke, is further enhanced by sweet, rich and spicy aromas imparted by the Italian and French red wine influence.

Official tasting notes:
  • Nose – Rich dried fruits, toasted hazelnuts with hints of mouth-watering candy sweets, butterscotch, marzipan and rose syrup
  • Palate – Lively and satisfyingly smooth. A tantalising fusion of ripe cherries, prunes, apricots, orange marmalade with subtle hints of rich cocoa and spicy oakiness
  • Finish – Temptingly warm, nutty and spicy

The nose we could see where it came from but missed the very yoghurty quality we found weaving in and out, rather prominently at times – with it being more sour fermented dosa paste in the 1st case and clear yoghurt in the 2nd. I suppose I could even accept a bit of cherries, cocoa and spicy oakiness… but orange marmalade? Apricots? And none of the other qualities we found…?

The 1st batch more clearly had a wine-like dimension whereas the 5th batch had that hint of peat with the tobacco dimension. Clearly batches make a difference. And why not?

This whisky was purchased by our club member from Singapore duty free. It sells for approx USD 75 through Master of Malt.

What did we sample with our Islay trio?

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Islay revisit – Bunnahabhain, Bowmore + Ardbeg

Our original Mumbai based whisky tasting club has an unwritten rule – no repeats. We also taste blind so as not to be influenced by brand or pre-conceived notions about a particular whisky or distillery.

Yet after so many years, our obsession with exploring new territories presents a challenge to find something ‘new.’

So why not have an evening that deliberately sets us up to sample whiskies we’ve had (or similar to ones we’ve tried), but each with a twist… being expressions that aren’t necessarily representative of a distillery ‘house style’ – if such a thing even exists anymore!

We also observed that our impressions bore little relationship to official distillery tasting notes… Past experiments have helped provide insight into possible reasons with a range of factors including the whisky temperature, ambient aromas and environment, tasting order which can influence perceptions of the whisky to follow,  conversation and company, and frankly just the mood of the taster!!

What did our host “trick” us with?

Click on the links above to read our tasting notes, comparing with previous experiences and distillery official tasting notes…

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Raising a toast to India – with whisky!

Today is India’s Independence Day… This remarkable sometimes maddening country I’m fortunate to call home.

And what better way to celebrate its birth than raising a virtual ‘toast’ with a dram from India’s single malt distillery – Paul John.

Here’s to you India!

Wall of whiskies!

Paul John whiskies :

Paul John Experiences:

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Westland Trio – Sherry Wood 46%

Our Bombay Malt & Cigar club’s 2nd July session featured a Westland trio – with a rather interesting order…. starting 1st with the Peated, then their flagship American Oak followed by this – the Sherry Wood.

We sampled blind, with nothing revealed until after all three whiskies were given due consideration.

What did we find?

Westland Sherry Wood 46%

  • Nose – When freshly opened, we were greeted with varnish, musty old furniture, old wood and polish which then began to shift into waxy fruits, on the edge of becoming over-ripe, mixed tropical fruits, some kiwis, honey nuts, Quality Street MacIntosh milk, mocha toffee
  • Palate – Soft then the spice grows, lots of toffee, complex layers with depth, banoffee pie, spice, oily mouth feel
  • Finish – A proper finish! Toffee or burnt caramel, stays
  • Water – Brings out a super sweetness, a bit of spice, chocolate

Our conclusion was this was quite a tasty dram, with a good balance. It also paired well with the cigar… which is naturally rather important to the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents!

Here’s what the folks over at Westland have to say:

Westland’s Sherry Wood is a new world approach to an old world idea. For decades, the use of ex-sherry casks for whiskey maturation has been a favored technique in Scotland and beyond. In marrying the decadence of sherry with our unique grain-forward house style we create something altogether new.

 

Like the grain we source, we hold our sherry casks to high standards of quality. These casks held some of the world’s finest Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry for nearly a century and in the skilled hands of Rafael Cabello and his team at Tonelería del Sur in Montilla, Spain they have been given new life and purpose. Our long-standing partnership with his family-owned cooperage now provides us with one of the largest supplies of sherry casks in America.

And their tasting notes:

  • The nose offers an immediate richness, with honey-dipped oatmeal raisin cookies. Maple syrup follows close behind, drizzled over banana pancakes.
  • The palate initially offers some kiwi with more maple and raisin syrup notes. Extended tastings offer a dazzling array of sweet cookies and pastries, getting darker and richer with time before eventually ceding the palate to stewed yellow fruits on the finish.

The other Westland’s whiskies sampled in our trio included:

Not enough Westland?  Check out other tasting experiences:

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Westland Trio – American Oak 46%

Our Bombay Malt & Cigar club’s 2nd July session featured a Westland trio – currently my favourite American distillery, with this my favourite of the three standard official bottlings.

We began with the Westland Peated – an interesting choice as one typically would start with a lighter ex-bourbon. But no – our friend chose to reverse the order beginning 1st with peat then moved on to the flagship single malt – American Oak – neatly covered making it impossible to know what we were sampling.

What did we find?

Westland American Oak 46%

  • Nose – A lovely almost sherry sweet character, spice, pepper, cloves, resin, beeswax, wood sap, fresh pine tree, sweet brioche, pineapple upside down cake, cream… one even suggested Malibu coconut rum! After some time, a sweet creamy banana split, an inviting mix of sweet citrus like blood oranges
  • Palate – Soft, quite light on the palate, smooth, coconut, little spice almost like paprika or cayenne, then after time softens into pink peppercorn, a lovely creamy quality like milk chocolate, far too dangerously drinkable,
  • Finish – A nice medium finish, candy, red liquorice, light spice chaser
  • Water – Pushes spice from the finish to the palate

The nose was initially bursting with character then settled down into a most agreeable and frankly delicious aroma, easy drinking character on the palate with a light but delightful barely there finish.

While not necessarily a cigar whisky, it is exactly the kind of every day dram you want in your whisky cabinet. It is eminently companionable… lovely to sniff, sip and enjoy.

When our Whisky Ladies sampled this back in January 2017, they enjoyed it immensely! With one remarking it simply spoke to her: “Relax my love, just drink me now.”

Here’s what the folks over at Westland have to say:

A flagship malt is the core expression of a distillery’s house style. Westland’s American Oak is a reflection of where it is made and the collective intent of those who made it. When we founded Westland Distillery, we had a vision for an entirely new category of whiskey. Distilled from the rich, flavorful barley of Washington State and matured predominantly in new American oak casks in the steady, cool humidity of our seaside home, this whiskey is a testament to that vision. All of these choices and ingredients conspire to create an approachable, mature and uniquely American single malt that can stand with the best whiskies in the world.

And their tasting notes:

  • The initial nose provides lemon and orange custard backed by freshly produced waffle cone. Shortly after, a rich creaminess emerges with creme brûlée and chocolate custard while a hint of jasmine hides just beneath the surface.
  • The first sip confirms the creamy and rich fruit custard notes of the nose, adding an element of rainier cherries. After five minutes, melting swiss chocolate is revealed with a hint of almond.
  • Extended tastings brings out bananas and cream with Turkish coffee.

The other Westland’s whiskies sampled in our July 2017 trio included:

Not enough Westland?  Check out other tasting experiences:

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Westland Trio – Peated 46%

Our Bombay Malt & Cigar club’s 2nd July session featured a Westland trio – currently my favourite American distillery.

Our whisky and cigar curator for the evening obscured each bottles  so we could have a fully blind tasting experience.

What did we find?

Westland Peated 46%

  • Nose – Immediate sense that this must be 1st fill oak, a nice tingle, ginger, vanilla, honey, bananas, toffee, such sweetness… as it opened further, was joined by old paper, bacon…
  • Palate – A nice spice, sweet wood, rough, with a great subtle peat
  • Finish – Bitter finish, more spice and smoke, a long smell
  • Water – Smoothed out the various elements

Our conclusion was this is a “Drinking not tasting whisky.” One even thought it may be a blend, with its agreeable character.

After sampling all three Westland’s, we returned to the Peated and found the smoke, leather and meats clearly came to the fore… in a way they simply were not present when freshly opened. There was also a sense of old perfume, one even remarked “I’m in an Egyptian Tea House.”

The gents found it paired reasonably well with their cigar, with all well in the world.

Here’s what the folks over at Westland have to say:

This Peated Malt whiskey is a variation on our house style made from a mash of peated malt that is among the smokiest in the world. We combine that with a variety of malt-focused spirits that together create a single malt whiskey that encompasses a wide spectrum of peaty and smoky flavors without dominating the palate. The peat character is sturdy enough to satisfy the cravings of those looking for a solid dose of smoke, while malt-focused mash bills contribute grainy and fruity notes that round out the whiskey. Westland’s Peated Malt is filled primarily into new American oak and 1st-fill used American oak, resulting in a multi-dimensional and balanced peated single malt whiskey.

And their tasting notes:

  • The nose starts off with a background of nuttiness accompanied by smoldering moss and flamed orange peel. The peat leaps from the palate, expressing campfire notes, iodine, and roasted pistachios. With time, the smoldering moss on the nose evolves into burning embers and roasted plantains.
  • The palate also transitions over time, moving towards significant earth notes, green herbs and increasing iodine towards the finish.

The other Westland’s whiskies sampled in our trio included:

Not enough Westland?  Check out other tasting experiences:

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Speed Tasting – Midleton Dair Ghaelach 58.2%

And now the last of our “Speed Tasting” drams, in an evening where we sampled blind five different drams with just 2-3 minutes each…

What were my hasty impressions of Dram “E”?

Midleton Dair Ghaelach Batch 1, Tree 9, Bottle 2439 58.2% 

  • Nose – Again such a shift in character from the previous whisky. This one was milky chocolate, creamy, perfume powder, banana with even a dash of coffee
  • Palate – Brash to the point of being almost harsh, spicy with a swagger, then settled into pesto… then sweet spices, even a touch of vanilla
  • Finish – Burn… spicy
  • Character & Complexity – Most variation between the different elements, like a ‘3 in 1’ whisky

This one was quite “hot” and young. It was a bit like a “3 in 1” whisky with its different dimensions.

Midleton distillery produces Jameson, with only a few official bottlings under the Midleton name.  Dair Ghaelach is a single pot still whiskey that was aged initially in refill American oak for between 15 and 22 years and then finished for a year in virgin Irish oak from a single tree.

There are different editions, so what we sampled was different than Jim Murray’s 3rd best whisky in the world for 2016 which was 58.1%, tree not specified. Whereas ours was a different batch from Tree 9 at 58.2%.

However just for kicks, let’s see what Mr Murray had to say about it:

  • Nose (23.5) – A plethora of bourbon-style liquorice and honey – though here, closer to heather honey. Polished oak floors, melt-on-the-nose grain… and so it goes on… and on… and on… An odd hybrid of Kentucky and Irish… but a thoroughbred of course…
  • Taste (25) – That is probably one of the greatest deliveries of the year. Absolutely abounds in pot-still character, both being hard as nails and soft as a virgin’s kiss. But the way it interacts with the ulmo honey/red liquorice/heather-honey-vanilla/embracing grain is something of a once in a lifetime experience. And what’s more, barely a hint of spice throughout…
  • Finish (24) – Just long, gorgeously silky and soft and a delicious furtherance of a spellbinding flavour compounds of before…
  • Balance & overall complexity (24.5) – For heaven’s sake. This is just too ridiculously beautiful… and so unmistakably Irish for all the virgin oak. Truly world class.

What were the other whiskies “Speed Tasted“?

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Speed Tasting – Mystery Malt Blend…

Last month, we had a remarkable experience “Speed Tasting” and rating five different drams in the space of just a few minutes, quickly assessing and determining a score based on nose, palate, finish, character and complexity.

With three down and just two to go… the clock was ticking!

What were my hasty impressions of Dram “D”?

Mystery malt aka “House blend”

  • Nose – Tight berries, clear sherry stamp, then resin, mocha, and waves of peat, campfires
  • Palate – Very accessible… perhaps a low alcohol strength? Yet high in flavours. Peat, sweet grass and more… again those rich berries, more chocolate
  • Finish – Lovely, not over powering with a sweet peat that holds
  • Character & Complexity – Delicious, great interplay between sherry and peat

For quite a few – including me – this was the highest rated dram of the evening.

What exactly was it?

It was Keshav Prakash’s own home blend… with leftover Glendronach 15 year and 4-5 Islay malts. A bold blend that somehow worked!

Photo: Keshav Prakash

What were the other whiskies “Speed Tasted“?

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Speed Tasting – Pikesville 110 Proof Straight Rye 55%

My “Speed Tasting” continued with the clock ticking far too quickly! Two drams down… on to the 3rd with approximately 2-3 minutes to quickly rate according to nose, taste, finish, character & complexity.

What were my hasty impressions?

Pikesville 6 year 110 Proof Straight Rye 55%

  • Nose – Took a few moments to calibrate from the earlier whisky as initial impression was varnish! Then over-ripe fruit. VANILLA – with a reason for ‘shouting’ as this was such a dominant note. Then eased into flowers. After more airing (during the revisit post speed tasting), the vanilla had faded and the nose shifted into something deeper
  • Palate – Smooth, finally we found real body, other elements too, fruity, a bit nutty, clearly rye with a spicy chaser
  • Finish – Quite a decent length, savoury and sweet spice
  • Character & Complexity – The first to have some complexity, interesting

Quite a contrast from the earlier whisky, which was all sweetness in the end.

Most were confident this wasn’t Scottish and identified it as a rye. For a few, this was the 2nd highest rated dram of the bunch.

But was it outstanding? 2nd best in the world? Hmm…

And that was exactly the point of our “Speed Tasting” organizer, who mixed into our five mystery malts, Jim Murray’s top 3 whiskies for 2016.

Image Pikesvillerye.com

And what did Jim Murray have to say in his 2016 Whisky Bible about this dram?

  • Nose 24.5/25 – Textbook. The fruitiness of the rye shimmers on the nose; a light spice tingles in Demerara rum fashion. Carry on nosing and you will, if patient and able enough, find unusual depths to which few whiskies reach. The tantalizing chocolate-liquorice at about three quarters depths is one of the aromas of the year;
  • Taste 24.5/25 – After that nose, the delivery just had to be majestic. And it is. The rye grain fair rattles against the teeth, the sugars – crystalline, dark and tinged with both molasses and muscovado – help bring its salivating qualities to a maximum. Then those spices… those wonderful, bustling, fizzing spices…
  • Finish 24/25 – A lovely mix between ulmo and Zambian forest honey keeps the sweetness lingering to the end. The rye, of course, continues to sparkle and spice its way to the last embers of the fade… which is a long way away… 
  • Balance & Complexity 24.5/25 – The most stunning of ryes and the best from Heaven Hill for some time.

And the official Pikesville tasting notes?

  • Colour – Pale copper
  • Nose – Dusty cocoa notes with oaky smoke underneath
  • Palate – Dry and spicy, with honeyed rye and cloves
  • Finish – Soft vanilla and baking spices

While Heaven Hill’s Pikesville was originally from Maryland, it is now produced in  Kentucky, aged for at least 6 years.

Photo: Keshav Prakash

What were the other whiskies “Speed Tasted“?

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Speed Tasting – Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye 45%

During monsoon, we had a remarkable experience “Speed Tasting” where we rated five different drams in the space of 15 minutes with approximately 2-3 minutes per dram.

We had no idea what we were sampling… This was my 2nd dram and merely known as whisky “B”…

Our first part was tasting in silence and rating

What were my hasty impressions?

  • Nose – Sweet, fruity, yoghurt, young and fresh, light spice, quite piquant, a bit of grass and a quality almost like agave, then shifted to sweet – like candy floss or bazooka gum or juicy fruit or banana candies or… (you get the picture!) –  returning later it was pure honey sweet
  • Palate – Much spicier than the nose indicated, almost harsh on 1st sip, peppery, then settled down and became sweeter and smooth
  • Finish – Holds for a bit but quite linear
  • Character & Complexity – Bright, young, and dropped its spice to become insanely sweet

Our 2nd part was brief discussion with a wee bit of guessing…

Impressions – most thought this may be rye. We also thought it wasn’t your ordinary rye and may be matured in something quite different – perhaps cognac cask.

None of us gave this top rating however it certainly wasn’t last.

And the reveal?

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye 45%

I’ll admit that I’m not so familiar with rye whiskies… and I certainly didn’t pinpoint this as Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye, even after we were given a short-list of options. Admittedly, I’d had it only in passing with no proper tasting so far. What I remembered most was an almost ‘ginger ale’ quality which I didn’t connect with this experience.

And what did Jim Murray have to say in his 2016 Whisky Bible when awarding this dram?

  • Nose 25/25 – The rye is not just profound and three dimensional, but has that extraordinary trick of allowing new elements to to take their place: rarely does ulema honey and manuka honey link arms when rye is around, but they do here, yet never for a second diminish the sharpness and presence of the grain;
  • Taste 24/25 – Salivating and sensual on delivery, hardly for a second are we not reminded that rye is at work here. And it makes itself heard loudly through the stiff backbone from which all the softer, sugary notes emanate. Crunchy and at times bitter, though in a pleasant controlled way from the grain, rather than from a questionable cask.
  • Finish 23.5/25 – Quietens rapidly, though only for a moment or two before the spices begin to pulse again and vanillas take up their comfortable positions;
  • Balance & Complexity 24.5/25 – This is the kind of whisky you dream of dropping into your tasting room. Rye, that most eloquent of grains, not just turning up to charm and enthral but to also take us through a routine which reaches new heights of beauty and complexity. To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice.

And the official Crown Royal tasting notes?

  • Nose – Baking spices, cereal, light wood spices
  • Palate – Gentle oak note, rich butterscotch, spiced vanilla, develops into soft peppery notes
  • Finish – Smooth and creamy

A few folks may know that Crown Royal is from my home province of Manitoba. Or that in 2016, I had the pleasure of touring their plant in the very picturesque Gimli with my parents.

Gimli (Photo: Clarina Taylor)

What were the other whiskies “Speed Tasted“?

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