Origins and palate preferences?

While most of my posts are filled with tasting notes of various whiskies explored, I must disclose the observations are typically an amalgam of several palates as the drams are shared and discussed as part of whisky clubs.

I value the different reactions to what we try and recognize our perceptions of a whisky’s aroma and taste is inextricably linked to associated memories of distinctive yet familiar smells and flavours.

Hence you will often find my tasting notes peppered with references that are both common to say North America and equally India. This is simply a part of the duality of my life – hailing originally from Canada but living long term in India. Our cultural and culinary context influences our interpretation of a whisky.

For the most part, palate preferences are specific to an individual. Some love deep dark rich sherry drams, others long for the curl of peat, some prefer fruity and others saltier fare… for many, like me, preferences are context and mood dependent. My preferences have also shifted significantly over the years as I’ve gained exposure into different styles and the extraordinary range the world of whisky has to offer.

So why then was I so surprised at our last Whisky Ladies session… Where there was a very clear distinction between the reaction of those whose origins are outside of India vs those whose origins are within?

It was our first and only time where there was such a divide – sure we have different reactions and different opinions. That’s half the fun! But not so diametrically opposed along lines of origins.

And what was the controversial whisky that provoked such a reaction? The Aultmore 5 year 66.8% Master of Malt which was first sampled as part of an exception evening of “Dream Drams” with India’s Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula.

The notes I took did not reflect the full story:

  • Nose – Sherry, chocolate, nutty, figs, dates, banana bread with nuts and sultanas
  • Palate – For some it was smooth, bursting with rich Christmas cake for others a complete brushfire of pure fire
  • Finish – Very dry, long, cinnamon and cloves spice… for others numbing
  • Water – Helped make it a bit more accessible

So what was the distinction? Well… those originally from India found it just too much alcohol and simply didn’t care for it at all… in short found it nearly undrinkable.

And those originally from outside India who have adopted India as home? Could go past the high alcohol strength to find interesting elements… in short found it drinkable. While perhaps not a 1st choice, certainly not a last one.

It was awkward to have such a peculiar palate divide and strange to have origins so firmly come into play.

However, our best discovery of the evening? The cask strength Aultmore goes brilliantly with our host’s home made banana bread! Just as we discovered those notes in the whisky, like magic – out came one of the best banana breads I’ve had in literally years!

Good baking and whisky – fabulous combination! And a great close to our sampling session.

What else did we taste in our Whisky Ladies “Worthy Whiskies” Sunday Sundowner?

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Worthy Whiskies – Arran Amarone Cask Finish 50%

As Whisky Ladies, we have started to explore cask finishes beyond the standard with a cognac cask Port Charlotte 2007 CC:01 8 years and Brenne Estate Cask 40%, pinot noire with AWA Pinot Noire 42%, rum with Mackmyra, port cask Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask.

Amarone is rich Italian dry red wine made from partially dried grapes of the Corvina (45–95%), Rondinella (5–30%) and other red grape varieties (up to 25%). In Italian, the name Amarone literally means “the Great Bitter” as this helped distinguish it from the Recioto produced in the same region, which is sweeter in taste.

And what does finishing Arran whisky in ex Amarone casks do? Read on…

Arran Amarone Cask Finish 50%

  • Nose – Light sweet cherry, lovely sweet not candy sweet, restrained and nuanced, nothing dominant yet overall delicious
  • Palate – Yum! Interesting fresh layer, almost like sweet paan, or a Turkish Delight, some mint, a spice tingle here too yet with a light touch, super smooth and very easy to just keep sipping
  • Finish – Subdued, cilantro, a light sweet finish

Normally we don’t remark much on colour however in this case we couldn’t help but remark how attractive this whisky is with its pink rose hue.

It was also absolutely perfect for a Sunday Sundowner – refreshing and delightful, sophisticated and utterly enjoyable. In short – it was absolutely dangerously drinkable. For many, this was the by far the preferred whisky of the evening… as it was simply a perfect pick for the setting watching the sunset dip beyond the horizon of the Arabian sea.

What else did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Worthy Whiskies” Sunday Sundowner?

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Worthy Whiskies – Mortlach 49%

Our Whisky Ladies September 2017 Sunday Sundowner began with a Mortlach. Mortlach is one of those distilleries where most sampled til date were independent bottles such as the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s 76.131 “Totally Tastylicious” or two Gordon & MacPhail offerings – 15 year  and 37 year.

So this was my very first official bottling – picked up by one of our Whisky Ladies from Duty  Free. What did we find?

Mortlach NAS 49%

  • Nose – Restrained, very sweet and fruity, with some floral elements like lavender and herbs, reminds of early summer, some honey, wildflower and yet you need to work at  it a bit to catch all the nuances
  • Palate – Surprising after such a nose, initially hits with alcohol, then continues the fruity vein with apricot, next sip reminds of the woody almost harsh quality
  • Finish – Smokey finish with spice and apricots again too
  • Water – helps mellow it down – bringing out honey raisins on the nose and, after it settles down, reduces the punch brashness of the palate revealing a spicy bitter dimension

This is one that absolutely smell sweeter and more nuanced than it tastes. It also falls into the category of NAS fare which has nothing wrong with it, but also limited distinguishing features to make you stand up and pay attention or settle down to simply enjoy.

Quite different than earlier Mortlach’s sampled which truly did live up to labels like “Totally Tastylicious” or the full-bodied, meaty and multi-layered Gordon & MacPhails.

So what do the Mortlach folks have to say on the box about this whisky?

A clear amber colour introduces complex aromas of ripe red apple and berry fruit underpinned by a supply savouriness. Which all evolves as a rich ice cream sweetness, with creamy vanilla on the intense palate fresh blueberries and black cherries soon meet sweet, smooth honey. Then savoury spices and late wood. The finish is long and richly rounded.

This Mortlach was opened in September 2017 fresh for the Ladies to sample!

What else did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Worthy Whiskies” Sunday Sundowner?

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Worthy Whiskies – Mortlach, Arran Amarone, Lochside, Aultmore

We’ve had several attempts to hold a Whisky Ladies evening in Versova so when I suddenly found out I would be traveling to North America and it happened to be the same night, I simply had to ensure it was a night flight after our session rather than reschedule yet again!

And it was completely worth it. Having a chance to overlook the Arabian sea as the sun dipped is indeed a lovely backdrop to sampling whiskies in wonderful company.

Particularly when this was a “Worthy Whiskies” session which brought together:

Tasting notes coming soon over the next few days with a bit of a twist – the Lochside an Aultmore were previously sampled with another set of fellow whisky aficionados. The Whisky Ladies reaction to the Lochside was very much in synch, so I combined the tasting notes. Whereas the response to the Aultmore was curiously divided… prompting a completely different post

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Vacu vin for Whisky?

I’d like to let you into a little secret, there is a reasonably reliable way to reduce oxidation….

It is a trick borrowed from the world of wine, intended for use over short periods of time.

The principle is simple – a vacuum pump extracts air from the open bottle to re-seal with a rubber stopper. A “click” sound tells you when you have reached the optimum vacuum level. The vacuum slows down the oxidation process which makes it possible to enjoy your wine again at a later date.

Case in point? That gorgeous Laphroaig 21 year commemorating the opening of Heathrow’s Terminal 5…

It may have been opened 1.5 years, yet when we re-cracked open the bottle after our Dream Drams with Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula, it gave us a most rewarding gift – a burst of delicious aromas of sweet ham, bacon glazed with maple syrup, black forest ham, tobacco on the palate and a lovely long finish.

After this “proof of concept” many of those attending the evening went out an ordered vacu vin‘s in hope of preserving the quality of their precious drams, reducing the effects of oxidation.

Including one more from our Dream Drams evening, the Aultmore 5 year whose cork cracked!

PS – I got my vacu vin through Amazon… and no this isn’t a paid plug!!!

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Dream Drams – Aultmore 5 year (2007) 66.8%

Master of Malt for years has been my ‘go to’ online source when searching for just a little bit more about a particular whisky – including an idea of price!

However until our rare malts session with Malt Maniac Krish Nakula, I had never had a Master of Malt bottling… to have it be a young 5 year old Aultmore… at a mind boggling strength of 66.8%? Very intrigued…

Aultmore 5 year (12 March 2007/May 2012) 66.8% 1st fill sherry oak puncheon, Bottle 021 of 628 (Master of Malt)

  • Nose – Nutmeg, egg nog or Dutch Advocaat liquer, spicy buttermilk like chaas, quite herbaceous, spicy, creamy, avocado, phenolic like walking into a chemist’s shop, then all spice, a Bengali panch phoran of cumin, fennel, fenugreek, black mustard seeds and kalonji (nigella), then shifts into delightful sherry notes of rum raisins, stewed plums
  • Palate – Spice, honey cinnamon, no doubt this was high alcohol but not dauntingly so, mince pie, thick honey, treacle, marmalade, chillies
  • Finish – Very dry, has a bit of a burn, extreme clove on the finish, then a debate between black liquorice and fennel, then again the nutmeg

I must admit, on the 1st sip, three tasters grabbed for water… when adding water to the whisky, we found:

  • Nose – Lots of sweet notes, pepper spice, almost like spiced rum
  • Palate – It needed the water! Breath through sweet spice… again it was almost rum like
  • Finish – Remains dry yet more accessible

Overall we found the complexity and range of elements remarkable for such a young dram – particularly given its high strength.

Krishna kindly gifted this bottle to me so that the Whisky Ladies could try it in an upcoming session. As I prepared to write this post, I was tempted to do a small pour to revisit… and gave in… All elements were consistent with what we found earlier, with the sherry quality even more pronounced.

What I hadn’t observed in the 1st round was how much this reminds me of the powerful and flavourful Hampden 2010 Jamaican single rum…. at 68.5%, there are few spirits out there quite so high in alcohol that are still eminently drinkable. Or so I thought… turns out some of the Whisky Ladies had a different opinion!

While the Aultmore 2007 is no longer available, the folks over at Master of Malt have a 2009 version for $71.

This isn’t the first time we’ve bottled a 5 year old Aultmore for our Single Cask Series, nor is it the first time that whisky from this distillery has shown so well at such a relatively young age. No coincidence there. Distilled in May 2009 and bottled in April 2015, this bottling says “age ain’t nothing but a number”. Other numbers include 65.4, the natural cask strength abv, and 122, the number of bottles produced.

PS – Alas this Aultmore was the victim of a cracked cork… which meant a perfect candidate for an anti-oxidation trick.

Other whiskies savoured in our “Dream Drams” evening:

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Dream Drams – Mosstowie 35 year (1979) 48.1%

Our Dream Drams evening in Mumbai with Malt Maniac’s Krishna Nakula, continued with this Mosstowie 35 year from Signatory Vintage‘s mature cask strength series.

Krishna shared the distinctive feature of this whisky is it was produced using Lomond stills.

Founded in 1964, it was “closed” in 1981 with the Lomond stills removed from the Miltonduff Distillery. These stills were built in the 1960s with the idea of using the 3 adjustable rectifier plates to play around with “the position and temperature of the plates the reflux of the ‘boiling’ whisky could be controlled. The angle of the ‘lyne arm’ at the top of the still could be modified as well to influence the character of the whisky further.” (Malt Madness) The thinking was this would produce exactly what blenders needed and hence would be in demand.

However this innovation fell into disfavour as the maintenance and cleaning was very labour intensive. And more importantly, the demand from blenders did not come close to expectations… Hence while the distillery Miltonduff remains, you won’t find much Mosstowie single malt these days.

What did we find?

Mosstowie 35 year (30 November 1979/15 May 2015), Bourbon Barrel Cask Mo 25756, 48.1% (Signatory Vintage Cask Strength) 171 Bottles

  • Nose – We were greeted initially with sweet varnish, then as that subsided, citrus creamy spice took over, some star anise, lots of oriental spices, sour cherry, cork, fermented sour dough starter, desiccated coconut, kopra, nuts… there was a ‘bourbonesque’ quality, with old wood furniture… one even suggested smelly socks!
  • Palate – Lovely coating, wonderful mouth feel, a dash of salt and almost too much honey, yet settled into something both enjoyable and sufficiently complex to be interesting
  • Finish – Dry, again a bit salty, very sweet, a bit of beeswax, muted but very much there
  • Water – We found it dampened the nose, sweetened it even more, made it less multi-dimensional, only advantage was it gave the finish a nice spicy pick-up

We concluded this whisky had a very interesting complexity. A wee sample bottle of this made it home and was revisited a few weeks later. If anything, it was even more exceptional.

Tasting notes by the chaps at Master of Malt:

  • Nose: Oily toffee, marmalade, vanilla, ginger and cocoa.
  • Palate: Smoky wood spices and honeycomb with touches of menthol and kumquat.
  • Finish: Malty and warming.

This bottle was purchased at The Whisky Exchange in London in 2016 and is no longer available through them. However it was last seen on WhiskyBase.com for € 429.50.

What else did we sample?

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Dream Drams – Lochside 1981 43% (Gordon + MacPhail)

Years ago I tried in Singapore at The Auld Alliance a Gordon + MacPhail bottling of Lochside 1981 at cask strength 51.2%.

To say it was superb was an understatement. Til date it remains in my mind as the singularly longest finish I’ve experienced.

When asked by folks to share one whisky I’m dying to try again… this came top of the list.

Unbelievably, during the last London jaunt, a slightly different avatar of this beauty was tracked down at The Whisky Exchange, now reduced in strength to 43%.

Trusting the gents over at Gordon + MacPhail that they know what they are doing and haven’t ruined this lovely dram watering it down, my whisky sampling companion took the plunge and made the huge sacrifice to his wallet to acquire the bottle.

It was saved for a very special evening – Dream Drams – held with Krishna Nakula with the balance carefully preserved to share with the Whisky Ladies.

Lochside 1981

Lochside 24 year 1981 (bottled 2005) 43% (Gordon + MacPhail Rare Old)

  • Nose – Lovely old furniture, stewed fruits, amarula fruity Bailey’s, fresh eucalyptus, bitter almond, fish oil, old leather, fresh brioche or french toast with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, maple syrup, light citrus spice, milk chocolate, beeswax, truffles, salted caramel, zesty citrus, and behind cinnamon spice… it all keeps evolving
  • Palate – An absolute show stopper! Spices dancing, unctuous, simply delicious, honey sweet, spice and bitter, causes mouth watering salivation
  • Finish – A fantastic long finish with incredible staying power. Herbal, bitter almond, puff of smoke that still lingers

In short, this whisky is completely stellar. It is very complex, pronounced by Krishna Nakula as an “old style whisky”, with a gift of aromas, flavours and finish that keeps on giving.

After sitting with it for some time, it continued to evolve… coming back, it was like sniffing a fruit salad of pear, apples, nestled in custard creme… such a beautiful whisky with a delightful sweet spice.

The Whisky Ladies concurred with the original assessment and added a few of their thoughts:

  • Nose – Lovely with so many elements. Soft, sweet to piquant and herbal, nutmeg, cotton candy, slight salt
  • Palate – Warm spice, light leather, so smooth, yet also tingles then back to just silky smooth. Truly beautiful with such complexity and nuance, a fully body experience of delight!
  • Finish – What a finish! It keeps changing, starts with a warm spice, then dark raisins, sweet spices of clove and cinnamon, then fruits, simply stays and stays and stays

In short. A complete stunner.

Here is what the folks over at Gordon + MacPhail have to say:

Without water:

  • Nose – Sweet, oily and herbal aromas. Some dry grass, with cereal notes.
  • Taste – Sweet, rich fruits flavours and a touch of green grass/leafy flavours. Spices and a hint of plain chocolate.

With water:

  • Nose – Some fruit, oiled wood, earthy and sweet toffee aromas all present. Hints of smoke on the edge.
  • Taste – Sherry wood with sweet, nutty flavours. A touch of smokiness.

If you are curious to know more about the Lochside Distillery, Gordon & MacPhail has this to say:

Lochside Distillery began life as a brewery in the 1890s. After closing in the 1950s the site was bought by Joseph Hobbs, who also ran the Ben Nevis Distillery and converted it into Lochside Distillery. The new distillery contained 4 pot stills and a 21 metre high Coffey Still. Lochside Distillery was one of a few distilleries which produced both malt and grain whisky. Following the death of Joseph Hobbs, his son, also Joe, ran the distillery until it was acquired by Destilerias y Crianza, of Madrid, in 1973. The main purpose for the distillery was to produce Scotch Malt to blend with their own Spanish spirit. After years of industrious production Lochside Distillery fell victim to the drinks industry over-production problems of the early 1990s.

PS This whisky was purchased in 2016 at the Whisky Exchange in London for an unmentionable price. A different bottling recently sold for £450.00. This one can no longer be found…

Other whiskies savoured in our “Dream Drams” evening:

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Dream Drams – Mortlach 1976 43% (Gordon + MacPhail)

Our Dream Drams evening started with this mighty Mortlach – a mere 37 year old from Gordon & MacPhail.

Mortlach 37 year (1976/2013) 43% G&MP

What did we think? Initially the following…

  • Nose – Beautifully restrained, old style with lovely cereals, wet leaf, sultanas, black pepper
  • Palate – Meaty – dare I say beefy? Full-bodied, bacon, soya, oily, fabulous feel on the tongue, hint of peppers and spice
  • Finish – Drops off quite quickly, then comes back… it is very much there but quite subdued with a hint of coriander

What made this whisky really worth paying attention to was the way each sip gave something different. As we kept chatting it revealed different dimensions… as it opened up, its character shifted…

  • Nose – Cloves, mint, basil… increasingly herbal
  • Palate – Lovely on the palate, still chewy with a dash of spice
  • Finish – Astounding! We almost wondered if this was the same whisky! Why? The finish was absolutely fabulous. A long gorgeous pleasing finish

The more time we spent, the more we enjoyed. It was well-balanced, with many layers… Returning after some time, brought a lovely powdered vanilla and sugar to the nose, simply delicious on the palate and that truly fabulous finish. Perhaps even with the slightest hint of coal fired smoke?

Overall its character was complex yet surprisingly light.

Talk turned to how for whiskies with such long maturation, being in a 2nd fill cask becomes an advantage as it slowly imparts character… however the balance in this case was achieved, the results were superb.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt have to say:

  • Nose: Sultanas, vanilla and cracked black pepper.
  • Palate: The sultanas become raisins and the black pepper becomes smokier finally there is a nutty quality that emerges with water.
  • Finish: The finish is fruity with notes of figs and dates with a little ground pepper to round it off.
  • Overall: A vibrant and fruity Mortlach.

Mortlach 1976 Bottling Note

Mortlach was where William Grant of Glenfiddich and Balvenie fame started his career in whisky. To this day it remains a firm favourite of many whisky fans so it is no wonder that Gordon and MacPhail had to bottle this one.

Our “Dream Drams” evening with Krishna Nakula included:

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Wine makers making whisky? Sula’s Eclipse 42.8%

I’ll start off with a caveat… I’m not terribly familiar with Indian blended whiskies. Sure I may know the standards names, but their flavour profile? Why people enjoy what they do? Completely utterly inadequately explored!

So when a bottle of Sula‘s experiment into artisan spirits and more specifically Indian blended whiskies just so happened to be available for sample, thought why not?

Eclipse Premium Whisky 42.8%

  • Nose – Decidedly ‘winey’, with a musty quality and quite nondescript nose
  • Palate – Very weak and watered down seeming, yet easy on the palate… one even went so far as to call it ’rounded’ whereas another called it a ‘weak Long Island iced tea’. For some there was a bit of a funky quality. Most were able to discern a bit of bitter Nescafe style instant coffee and walnut
  • Finish – Was there one? It honestly didn’t register

Overall none of our tasting group would voluntarily go out to buy it. But then again, none of this club would ordinarily buy an Indian blended whisky either.

What do we know about it? Apparently it is a blend of 62% grain spirit, 10% malt Scotch, 20% grape spirit and 8% peated malt spirit. Which would seem to tip it more into the category of a hybrid than whisky per se.

And what do the folks at Sula have to say?

Whisky with a twist. Smooth twist and a hint of sweetness aged in French Limousin oak cask, first double distilled grape spirit, “cognac cask aged” from the House of Sula.

I wonder if the twist refers to its absurd top. You kinda twist/pop it up to pour then somehow get it back to its original position. Supposedly this helps make it tamper proof as we also know spurious liquor is rampant in India.

And what would a bottle of Eclipse set you back? Well the Indian MRP is from INR 750 to INR 1,540 (approximately $12-25), depending on which state in India you buy it.

Interested in reading about more Indian whiskies? Go to the India section, with one other blend tasted – Amrut’s MaQintosh.

What else did we sample in our Single Grain Trio with Indian Whiskies Duo evening?

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