Whisky Lady’s 2015

What a year!

While Whisky Lady started purely for my own indulgence, a few amazing things happened in 2015:

1980s whiskies

Malt Maniac’s 20th in Mumbai

2015 also brought some rather special events:

Sample setting

Amrut’s Jim Murray evening in Mumbai

Most popular whisky posts for the year were:

  1. Party Whisky – Amrut’s MaQintosh – I guess no one else has reviewed this??
  2. The Quandary of the KininVie 17 year – A quandary no more thanks to a sample!
  3. Glen Deveron 20 year – Infamous to us for being outclassed by a 3 year old Japanese whisky Chichibu ‘The Floor Malted’
  4. Mumbai Amrut and Jim Murray experience – Memorable but not for the reason they would want!
  5. Mystery Malt – Ichiro’s Malt Hou-oui – An exceptional blend of discontinued Japanese whiskies from Hanyu Distillery (12 & 20 year) and Kawasaki (30, 32 and 35 year)

20150604_Scotland Quartet

For me what stood out was:

WhiskyLady2015CountryViews

And who is tuning into Whisky Lady? The top 10 countries by views are:

  • No surprise that my adopted country India tops views by a wide margin!
  • US come up next followed by UKCanada & Singapore
  • I wonder who my German friends are?
  • For Australia, I suspect most views come from just two fabulous Tasmanian guys!
  • Finishing up is France, Hong Kong / China and Japan

I would also like to share a special ‘nod’ of thanks to fellow whisky bloggers for their comments and encouragement – particularly Malt Activist, Whisky DenWhisky Waffle, Whiskyriffic (with extra thanks for the KininVie sample!), Whiskey and Whisky.

Any whiskies stand out for you? Anything you would like to see more of here on Whisky Lady? Ideas? Recommendations? I still consider myself a novice in the world of whisky and welcome words of wisdom from fellow whisky explorers!

Most important – wishing you a very Happy New Year – may you drink a quality dram over quantity!

Airport offerings (Whisky Lady)

Airport offerings (Whisky Lady)

For more 2015 highlights, check out WordPress 2015 Annual Report or delve into the details shared in Everyday Asia’s monthly Whisky Lady summaries: December delightsNovember noveltiesOctober offeringsSulty SeptemberAwesome AugustJuly journeysJune joyMay merrimentApril adventuresMarch madnessFebruary funJanuary journal.

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Whisky Lady – December Delights

Everyday Asia

Well… my Whisky Lady adventures continue!

With December being full of merriment and mischief as the year came to a close, our original tasting group cancelled our monthly tasting session with many members traveling.

However my new group – The Whisky Ladies of Mumbai – were not deterred from swirling, sniffing, sipping and mmmmm…. swallowing!

In honour of one member’s last days in India before returning to the US, we decided to enjoy a Goan theme featuring a quintet of whiskies kindly provided by Paul John’s master distiller Michael John for our ladies sampling pleasure.

Paul John Christmas Quintet Paul John Christmas Quintet

Here’s what our ladies quaffed in our Paul John evening with some rather cheeky tasting notes!

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Christmas Sherry Bomb – Aberlour A’bunadh Batch No 35 60.3%

One of the first cask strength whiskies I remember picking up was Abelour A’bunadh. I was in Singapore airport, they had lots of different whiskies to sample however this one caught my eye. I will admit, I knew next to nothing about it at the time…but it was very affordable, I hadn’t tried it before so it joined my journey back to Bombay.

It was opened with a mad group of friends and became a hit. For many, it was also their first introduction to an unabashed sherry bomb. And yes it packs a punch with alcohol ranging from high 50s to low 60s.

Over the years, more than one A’bunadh has made its way in and out of my collection. While it is No Age Statement (NAS) blended from barrels between 5 to 25 years, you can tell immediately by the batch number what year the whisky was bottled. And there are slight variations between batches though the overall rich robust berry sherry element remains the core profile you can count on.

Most A’bunadh’s I’ve had were from the 20s… however a few from the 30s too.  Then we started our whisky tasting group and a whole new world of whiskies opened up! And Abelour’s A’bunadh was no longer a priority when passing through Singapore. However as it remains an affordable dram, I did pick up a bottle or two a few years ago. Which meant that I had both a Batch No 35 (bottled 2011) and Batch 40 (bottled 2012) kicking around in my cupboard.

For Diwali, Batch No 35 joined the Whisky Ladies Cask Strength evening – which was greeted by enthusiastic delight from one friend who remembered well our earlier A’bunadh evenings. Her infectious appreciation lead in no small part to the bottle being well dipped into that night!

20151229_A'bunadh

So when I was in the mood for something ‘Christmasy’ while we still had our tree up, revisiting the A’bunadh seemed about right. Overall, my findings were in complete agreement with our Whisky Ladies with only a few additional elements here and there.

Abelour A’bunadh Batch No 35 (NAS / 2011) 60.3%

  • Colour – A deep dark burgundy with ruby highlights
  • Nose – Figs, rum soaked plum cake, lots of cinnamon and cloves, gingerbread,  pronounced prunes, black cherries, Christmas cake, classic sherry-bomb
  • Taste – Oh baby! That rummy yummy rich plummy Christmas cake, a drizzle of caramel, warm and smooth, apply cider, raisins, prunes, robust and bursting with character, a little ginger, creamy and very berry Christmassy
  • Finish – Think curling up by a cosy warm fireplace… replete with roasting chestnuts, cinnamon
  • Water – This one works straight yet also does a happy dance with drops or a dollop!

Absolutely perfect for a chilly evening (ok that means 22’c in these parts!), with a kitten curled up purring beside me, watching the Christmas lights dance in our tree.

And just in case you were curious, here’s what the folks over at Abelour had to say about A’bunadh:

  • Nose: Terrific aromas of allspice, praline and spiced orange, in harmony with deep notes of Oloroso Sherry.
  • Palate: Orange, black cherries, dried fruit and ginger, spiked with dark bitter chocolate and enriched with lingering Sherry and oak. Superlatively full bodied and creamy.
  • Finish: Robust and long lasting, with bittersweet notes of exotic spices, dark chocolate and oak.

In short absolutely hits the spot for a Christmas sherry bomb dram!

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The Surprising Speyburn 10 year 43%

Stuart Harvey calls Speyburn a “surprising” whisky that is “hugely under-rated.”

We sampled the Speyburn 10 year together with Stuart Harvey, master distiller with Inver House responsible for Balblair, Old Pulteney, AnCnoc and Speyburn whiskies – both at a sociable ‘home appreciation’ evening and then the next night at a masterclass.

Speaking about the Speyburn distillery, Stuart shared it is one of the 1st mechanical malting in the world, with an onion shaped still that produces heavy oils from its squat shape. The whisky is then matured in American oak bourbon casks, with some time in sherry butts for finishing.

Speyburn 10 (Courtesy International Beverage)

Speyburn 10 (Courtesy International Beverage)

And what did we find with the 10 year?

  • Colour – Bright yellow
  • Nose – Lots of sour honey, overripe bananas, fruity on the citrus side, light sherry notes
  • Taste – Bit chewy, buttery, toffee, coffee and caramel, bitter, slightly raw, yet full-bodied, a hint of salt. Spicy yet surprisingly light with a citrus twist
  • Finish – Quite peaty, a bit dry
  • Water – Smooths it out
  • Ice – Cranks up the sweetness on the nose, adds a freshness

Interestingly, it was the least expensive of the whiskies sampled with the Inver House folks, however it was also one which appealed to many at the ‘home appreciation’ evening… Partly as it works well with the desi style to drinking whisky… chill with ice and drown with water!

The next evening in the Masterclass it also held its own… It will be interesting to see whether Speyburn tickles the desi whisky palate and gains popularity. It certainly does well in the US, so why not India?

Here’s what the Speyburn folks have to say about the 10 year:

  • Nose – Fresh, clean with a hint of lemon
  • Taste – Medium bodied with hints of toffee & butterscotch and a long, sweet finish. A global favourite, Speyburn 10 year old is ever the crowd-pleaser.

We sampled the Speyburn 10 year together with:

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Whisky Ladies Go Goan! Paul John Quintet

After our Whisky Ladies conquered a cask strength Diwali and then went on a mini ‘world tour’ in November, you might think we would go slow for December. After all – our collective livers need to survive the holiday season!!

What we decided instead is to go Goan.. in honour of a merry malt member abandoning Mumbai for SanFran. She, quite understandably, wanted to squeeze in every desi moment remaining. Naturally this was a perfect excuse to pull out the Paul John expressions, courtesy of master distiller Michael John.

Paul John is India’s “other” single malt whisky distillery found in South Goa. Since launching their first whisky to the world in 2013, they have been making their mark.

We were first introduced to Edited in a blind tasting early 2015. Then, Michael reached out with a generous offer to send our tasting group more expressions leading to a most enjoyable evening! After those bottles were gleefully polished off, came a new set with the brand new Bold expression added to tempt our Whisky Ladies…

Whisky Ladies Paul John Evening

Whisky Ladies Paul John Evening

Here is what the lasses thought!
  • Nose – Caramel, mango, papaya, jackfruit a whiff of ahem.. Formaldehyde, then a chocolatey flavour when ‘aggressively’ inhaled
  • Taste – Sweet with lots of caramel, buttery caramel popcorn, marzipan, a little malty too
  • Finish – Soft and easy… warming… a bit of black pepper, slightly bitter finish a la dark chocolate
  • Water – Better… much better
  • Comments“A step up from Blue Ribbon and Old Monk! Multiple steps…. Possibly full flights” “A good ‘intro’ whisky for new whisky ladies”
  • Nose – Bursting with fruit especially pineapple, more citrusy than Brilliance. Soft butter, a curl of peaty smoke playing peek-a-boo… a little cocoa, most of all… it is “Like breathing in pina colada!”
  • Taste – Hugely sweet rush, smoked pineapple with a hint of banana, has a bit more of a ‘manly’ kick, meatier and richer, some woodsy spices
  • Finish – Some found it unremarkable, others found a sweetish note with a hint of bitter, perhaps a dash of oak. One remarked “Better than most recent dates!”
  • Water – Much preferred with a few drops of water
  • Observations – Pairs well with food – especially cheese!
  • Nose – Back to being almost overly fruity! This time with a hint of floral elements, some lemon citrus sweetness, a bit of caramel, white pepper, with a good inhale – heavy vanilla, lots of white pepper and some sage
  • Taste – Sweet and a bit spicy if you take a serious swig, hold and let it linger. Nice warm burn.
  • Finish – A bit of a bitter aftertaste, yet still sweet – almost like cough syrup
  • Comment“It is making us nice and warm… but alas not hot.” 
  • Nose – Yum! Now we are talking! Delicious bacon jam, some pastrami, think procsutto and cantaloupe, with a caramel glaze
  • Taste – Hickory, smokey, warm and sweet, rich, a little rough with character – in a way that we like! Fabulous balance of peat and sweet, fruit and earthy elements. Again – yum!
  • Finish – Leaves its mark like a scratchy stubble burn…
  • Water – A little citrus orange high note peeps out then settles back into bacon goodness
  • Comment “It is like a really GOOD Canadian man – Bacon, maple syrup, lumberjack fantasies and ice hockey!”
  • Nose – Bergamont, light, restrained, not quite sweet, a sense of being a bit more sophisticated, with a little vanilla
  • Taste – Dare we say… after a name like BOLD  we expected the whisky to jump out at us, swaggering into our senses… instead it was… um… almost tame? Light, honey sweet, some citrus, a puff of smoke, lovely but a step back from the luscious Peated
  • Finish – Here was where we found peat – a lightly peaty finish with walnut. Some found it slightly bitter, others found it wasn’t bitter at all – particularly when compared with the bitterness of  the Edited finish.
  • Overall – Character of the whisky contrasts with the name. We realised afterwards, we should have tried it together with Brilliance after Edited, as part of the ‘Trio’ of entry level Single Malts vs the ‘Pair’ of cask strength whiskies. Particularly after the fabulous Peated, the Bold was a bit overshadowed. Me thinks this one needs to be re-sampled just on its own…

As you can see… the Peated was ‘dipped’ into again after our initial tasting. I do believe that is a rather obvious sign that we liked it rather a lot!

20151224_Paul John Quintet

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80s flashback – Lagavulin 16 year ‘White Horse’ 43%

Often when people of a peaty persuasion are looking for a reliable single malt to enjoy or gift, I will direct them to Lagavulin 16 year. This islay whisky is known for its ‘house style’ of well balanced peat, rich, dry and entirely dependable.

Lagavulin will officially turn 200 next year… unofficially it actually is a wee bit illegally older harkening back to 1795. So what a treat to sample an earlier incarnation of the iconic Lagavulin 16 year!

20151121_Lagavulin 16 'White Horse'

The third from our remarkable evening featuring rare malts… we tasted blind discovering:

  • Colour – Burnished copper (clearly sherry cask!)
  • Nose – Honey, vanilla, a very ‘classic’ feel, spice, sweet basil, light plum, saunf (fennel), a bit of nougat peeping beneath, mild pinch of peat
  • Palate – Oily, rancid, rust, copper, iron.. in short quite metallic, dry, chilly pepper, then starts to sweeten, cinnamon, a bit of chocolate, smooth and increasingly sweet with each sip
  • Finish – Sits there, doesn’t do anything in particular except for a bit of pepper

Comments included “has the smell of an old library” and the “taste of rust.” Which may not sound terribly pleasant however when you experience it, has a compelling quality.

With the reveal, it was considered the “dark horse” of the evening as it displays the classic roots of our familiar friend – the modern avatar of Lagavulin 16 year – with some distinctly different notes.

This particular bottle is a collectors item – part of the initial 16 year old releases in the 1980s under the ‘White Horse’ label.

Interestingly, Lagavulin was indirectly responsible for our evening… it was the ‘amazing discovery’ of Lagavulin whisky that sparked the whisky explorations that became Malt Madness – read the story here.

It also, in turn, transformed a regular working man on a trip postponing his flight back to India, getting a car and driving straight to the distillery to morph into India’s Malt Maniac.

It even brought together members of our Mumbai private whisky tasting group who 1st met at the Lagavulin distillery… A fitting note indeed to close our rare malt transport back in time to the flavours and feel of whisky from the 1980s.

This remarkable malt came courtesy of India’s Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula at an evening organised by The Secret Supper Project and The Vault Fine Spirits in celebration of 20 years of Malt Madness.

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80s flashback – Port Ellen 26 year 1982/2009 50%

Oh the elusive allure of sampling from a discontinued distillery!

Once upon a time, Port Ellen was home to innovation, industry and experimentation. Established in 1825, a shrewd early owner Ramsay pushed Port Ellen to become the 1st distillery to secure the right to export large casks to North America, set up a bonded warehouse system that remains in use today, part of creating continuous stills, established an Islay steamboat, imported Sherry and Mediera to Glasgow and even tried his hand at politics!

Though his family sold their interest in the 1920, Port Ellen continued to operate maltings and the bonded warehouses, re-opening with two more stills in 1966-67.

However by 1983, a choice had to be made… to close Caol Ila or to close Port Ellen? Caol Ila fans remain ever so grateful their distillery was given new focus and life… whereas many industry pundits bemoan the absence of new Port Ellen offerings with its versatile style.

As the folks over at The Whisky Exchange share:

Some sherry-casked Port Ellen can be beautifully rich, spicy, sweet and leathery; bourbon and refill casks often show a more austere, peppery medium-weighted style. Common characteristics, though, are a high level of peatiness and, in the best examples, a phenomenal complexity which Islay fans adore. For these reasons Port Ellen has become one of the most sought-after of the lost distilleries by collectors, investors and aficionados.

This particular Port Ellen was aged 26 years… part of the last batches laid in September 1982 and bottled in July 2009. There are only 712 bottles in existence released by independent bottler Douglas Laing & Co as part of their Old Malt Cask series.

Courtesy Krishna Nakula

Here is what we found:

  • Nose – Gorgeous smoky bacon, peat, dry fruits, blue cheese, mustard, lots of those umame notes, sweet, iodine, over-ripe fruit, spoiled apple
  • Taste – Smokey cigar, baked pie, cinnamon spice candies, chewy black pepper, a little nutty, wet cardboard, burnt oak, creamy
  • Finish – Smokey spicy bacon, ashes, salt
  • Water – Kicks up the spice level initially – especially the black pepper then settles into a harmonious marriage of warm peat and cinnamon spice

The presence of peat is unmistakable yet it is restrained in the most enjoyable way. In short, an absolutely beautiful dram!

A discussion ensued about all the elements we discover in a whisky. As Krishna Nakula put it:

“Whisky tasting is a metaphor… How does bacon, vanilla, fruit come to us? From the esters during the fermentation process.”

Yet it is how our senses interpret that makes appreciating a complex, interesting whisky so special!

The folks over at Douglas Laing & Co shared on the bottle their tasting notes:

  • Nose – Opens creamy with a sweet baked style + peat fire in a kiln
  • Palate – Phenolic with burnt oak, sweet tar + creoste + ashes
  • Finish – Long + salty rock pools, burnt toast + more damp ash

This remarkable rare malt came courtesy of India’s Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula at an evening organised by The Secret Supper Project and The Vault Fine Spirits in celebration of 20 years of Malt Madness.

Other discontinued whiskies sampled:

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80s flashback – Auchentoshan ‘Pure Malt’ 40%

Let me confess upfront… I’ve not been massively impressed with most mass market Auchentoshan...

Yes I get that as they are triple distilled, my palate should calibrate to something light, refreshing and more nuanced. Yes I also get that not all Auchentoshan’s are created equal. I remember being delighted with some special Auchentoshan’s sampled at the now defunct “Vault” in Singapore… followed by being universally uninspired ever since… until now!

We sampled this beauty blind at an evening which featured a trio of rare whiskies from the 1980s… providing a unique ‘flashback’ to single malts before the current craze that has whiskies flying off shelves around the world with the award winning pronouncements of one man!

Courtesy Krishna Nakula

Knowing absolutely nothing about the whisky before the unveiling, we discovered:

  • Nose – It kept evolving starting with apricot, dried peach, bannanas, lots of tropical fruits, fresh, bright, then some creamy vanilla, a little fresh curry pata (green curry leaves), fresh grass which morphed into dry hay, a dab of almond oil, ladies perfume, green bananas, light ash and finally a faint curd sourness creeping in…
  • Palate – Light, dry, bitter like watered down juice of kerela (bitter guord), the shadow of smoke without any direct peat, sense of being a “breakfast dram”
  • Finish – Some debate… some hardly found any finish, another described it as ‘present’ yet  ‘nondescript’… in short the finish was the only disappointing element of the whisky
  • Water – Absolutely does not need a drop

Leading up to the unveiling there was talk of it being an ‘old style’ whisky… clearly before the 1990s.

Sure enough – more than one sampler was surprised with it being an Auchentoshan. Krishna shared that the era of Eadie Cairns who rebuilt the Auchentoshan distillery completely after purchasing it in 1969.

This remarkable rare malt came courtesy of India’s Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula at an evening organised by The Secret Supper Project and The Vault Fine Spirits in celebration of 20 years of Malt Madness.

The night before, we were ‘wowed’ with a quartet of 1970s Glendronach grand dames from 39 – 42 years.

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80s vs today whisky styles

The 1980s was a time of pac-man, tetris, Apple computers, big chunky jewellery, hair that defied gravity, caked on make-up, and some very bad pop hits.

For some of us, the 1980s was also a time where we shouted “ban the bomb” and “anhilitate apartheid!”, where we stood firm with our brethren in Tiananmen Square, the Palestinian intifada, watched the wall come down and yes… had funky spiked hair, grunge clothes and hung out at punk rock gigs.

If you haven’t figured out which camp I belonged to… pop over to Everyday Asia and check out the photographic evidence in “How I got ‘hooked’ on going away.”

However, the 1980s didn’t happen to be a time that I could afford whisky! I was far too deeply buried into heavy academic tomes to surface to sniff, swirl, swish and swallow a single malt.

Rumour has it that the 1980s happened to produce many rather good drams. More than a few whisky experts around the globe speak of how whisky styles have changed between ‘then’ and ‘now’, noting that with the increased demand for single malt growing globally, production methods, quality controls and shifts in palates have created differences in whiskies produced 30+ years ago with those matured today.

After sampling the remarkable Glendronach grand dames and then the rare Karuizawa 39 year from 1973 with whisky stock laid in the early 1970s, we had another exceptional evening that sampled whiskies from the 1980s… There is indeed something ‘different’ about these drams!

1980s whiskies

1980s whiskies

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Old Pulteney 12 year 40%

Sometimes you feel like channeling your inner fisherman… a little swarthy, gruff but still seaworthy despite being a bit rough around the edges.

If you like your whisky a little like that, the Old Pulteney might just be one for you!

Old Pulteney 12 year (Inver House)

Old Pulteney 12 year (Inver House)

Some months ago, we sampled the Old Pulteney at a master class held in Mumbai with Inver House master distiller Stuart Harvey.

Stuart shared that the Old Pulteney new make spirit is quite ‘meaty’ with vegetal and noted that much of the sea salt comes from the casks absorbing the ambient air during the maturation process. It does indeed have a distinctly briney character very much in keeping with its maritime spirit!

Here’s what I found during the tasting…

Old Pulteney 12 year 40%

  • Nose – Green apples, fruit, sea air with a bit of brine, warm, sweet vanilla
  • Taste – A bit more of that brine upfront then in bursts some citrus, chewy tobacco, leather, woody, salty, honey and again that curl of vanilla, perhaps a hint of cinnamon bark?
  • Finish – A little spicy tingle yet sweet too, bit oily
  • Water – Really… if you must!

For the Old Pulteney, Stuart encouraged a drop or two of water. However suggested to never have more than 50% whisky and 50% water as the Old Pulteney is already 40%.

I must admit my inner single malt snob sniffed! How could one drown a dram?! However looking around the room, realised a few were still being weaned off shocking fabulous whisky aromas with copious chunks of ice! So perhaps a little drowning with water is the lesser of two evils…

Before bringing out a special treat of an older Old Pulteney, Stuart shared that originally the distillery only produced the 12 year… it was one of the first projects he had as Master Distiller to go beyond the 12 year alone to introduce the 17 year and 21 year.

I quite enjoyed the slightly rougher edge and maritime feel of the Old Pulteney 12 year – it has an unmistakable ‘stamp’ that distinguishes it as a distinctly ‘sea-worthy’ Highland whisky.

Here are the official tasting notes just to compare:

  • Nose – Medium to high intensity with a briny hint of sea air
  • Taste – Dry, medium bodied and smooth, redolent of honey and cream, faintly salty with a slight spicy note and a sweet long-lasting finish
  • Profile – Vanilla, citrus, briny, sweet
We sampled the Old Pulteney 12 year at a masterclass together with:
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