Whisky Lady – January 2016

Everyday Asia

Yeah! This is officially the beginning of “Year 2” since I started sharing a monthly round-up of Whisky Lady sampling adventures!

January started off slow… then picked up pace to cover 25 whiskies – including back-to-back whisky tastings last night and the night before!

Light, bright, delight and woah! Light, bright, delight and woah!

Our original group had a light sprightly feel to the evening with:

  • Tyrconnell 10 year 40% – Light Irish offering
  • Clynelish 14 year 46% – Delicate sweet spice
  • Speyburn 10 year 43% – Pleasant drinkable dram (3rd time in less than a year!)
  • Then purely for contrast a Wasmund’s 12 month 48% – because we all need a little ‘bad boy’ to spice things up once n awhile!

Whiskies Ladies go American!! Whiskies Ladies go American!!

And The Whisky Ladies of Mumbai?

We went full-on all-out American! We were joined by a special guest – Shatbhi Basu – bartender, cocktail creator and Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) whiskey Ambassador…

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Bruichladdich Octomore 5_169 59.5%

Next up in the Bruichladdich explorations after the Organic and PC Scottish Barley, was an Octomore! Again, compliments of the Canadian sampling stash from my aunt and uncle.

In a slick black bottle, Bruichladdich Octomore is high octane heavy peat… as in hold on to your hats folks, we’ve got peat, peat and peat!!

Pronounced Ochdamh-mor, it is unabashed but also surprising. The 169 on the label refers to is being a whopping 169 ppm. From 2012, bottled at cask strength, this five-year old packs a punch.

Octmore

Here goes for the Octomore 5 year 169 ppm 59.5%

  • Nose – Good morning! Afternoon! Evening and Night Peat! Iodine, peat, sea salt, nougat, sunshine flowers, then a nutty fruity sweetness pushes through
  • Taste – Well hello peat, again that sweetness, then a spicy burn… some cinnamon and citrus fruits
  • Finish – A burst of citrusy spice, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and more! And yes… peat…
  • Water – Twice I sampled this and both times… my glass was empty before I even managed to add a drop or two!

It is surprisingly well balanced for something so heavily peated. It isn’t an everyday dram however I found myself simply sipping and enjoying more than analysing and distilling its character – a sure sign that on an unconscious level this whisky works!

Here’s what the producers have to say about this Octomore:

  • Colour: Cadmium yellow/ jasmine
  • Nose: Blazing peat fires send sparks of joy onto the unsuspecting olfactory system captivating and ravishing the senses which have never had such natural pleasure. Now they are aroused, thrilled, stimulated and in awe of the strength and youth of the spirit. The barley is shimmering, the oak mellowing, the fruits bursting, the Atlantic squalls detonating. The peat smoke smouldering, the sea mists swirling, the heathland hedonistic; welcome to the aromatic world of the hand made, heavy peated, slow distilled, maritime matured single malt.
  • Palate: The texture of the spirit is endless, super smooth. On entry it is absolutely sensational; it’s like “Wow”! Don’t worry you’re going to be ok, I promise – the initial palate presence is one of juniper oil, peat smoked barley, salted biscuits, light iodine, crushed cinnamon, then on the second phase the citrus flavours of grapefruit, tangerine, honeyed lemon together with the sweetness of pear & pineapple add a whole new dimension to the complexity of the spirit. The fruits balance the marine notes; the oaky nutty ginger flavours combat the peat and the citrus helps cool the heat of the fire. Perfect balance.
  • Finish: The heat from the peat embers will warm the soul into the wee small hours and as you awaken next morning your senses will ask: “Did that really happen?”, hoping with all your heart that it will happen again.
  • Mood: Close your eyes as you inhale, you will be spiritually transported to the island of great distillers, with a terroir unique and natural where the never-ending call of the sea is the anthem of the Ileach.
Well… that’s quite the description! Leave aside the overly enthusiastic elements, it is indeed on track for what I found.
Here’s what others have to say:

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Bruichladdich Port-Charlotte Scottish Barley 50%

The folks over at Bruichladdich broadly categorise their whisky experiments into three groups:

Not so long ago we sampled the Bruichladdich The Organic Scottish Barley 50% – an interesting whisky but not one that jumps out for me.

However it was sufficiently different to prompt interest in exploring their PC and Octomore expressions… thanks to the “Canadian stash” from my aunt and uncle, I had an opportunity to try representations from both!

So what’s up with the Bruichladdich Port-Charlotte? The name Port Charlotte comes from a village near Bruichladdich, which once boasted the Lochindaal Distillery, that ran for 100 years between 1829 and 1929. The approach is to peat to 40 PPM and play around with different barley.

In this case, I sampled the Scottish Barley

Photo courtesy Whisky Lady's uncle

Photo courtesy Whisky Lady’s uncle

And what did I find?

  • Colour – Light straw
  • Nose – Minty, sea salt, invites you to taste! A bit of citrus thrown in… as it opens becomes sweeter, with a faint curd
  • Taste – Malty yumminess, leather, strong herbs, licorice, smokey, a bit of zing, chewy, dry, sweet.. the longer you sip, the more peaty rich earthiness emerges… with fruits added in for sweetness
  • Finish – The gift that keeps on giving, the herbs come back, lots of peat
  • Water – I’ll admit, I was disinclined to add… but glad I did! Brightened the nose, rounded out the flavours on the palate though dampened the finish initially… then sweeeeet! Quite nice with a dash of water

There is lots going on with this one – strong, very direct and impossible to ignore. The herbal quality makes it distinctive… certainly this more to my preference than the Organic. I certainly appreciate what the folks over at Bruichladdich are trying to achieve.

Here’s what the distillery says… warning it is quite a wordy read!

  • Character – The texture is extraordinarily rich with a huge depth of character. The smouldering heat of peat fires pulls you into a whirlpool of islay flavours and aromas but with such finesse that you welcome the storm.
  • Nose – Opening with assertive waves of peat smoke and Atlantic squall, the olfactory system is on high alert in anticipation of some major sensory excitement. A swell of aromatics flood the senses with notes of iodine, salty canvas, crushed sea shells, charred oak staves, black pepper, paprika and leather tobacco pouches. The second wave brings vanilla, figs and soft plump dates, marinated pear, freshly milled malt, dark sweet toffee and cracked walnuts. It’s smoky. It’s smouldering. It’s sensuous. Just close your eyes and inhale long and deep. This is aromatic awesomeness.
  • Palate – Wow! Waves of the sweetest, smoothest, warmest smokiest spirit that you have ever experienced flood onto the palate like the atlantic surf on Saligo Bay. It is potent, focused and the flavours explode brilliantly onto the palate. Full of depth and complexity, the smokey sweetness of the barley contrasts beautifully with the marine freshness of the spirit and the richness of toffee and vanilla. The complexity is enhanced further with a citrus twist and then mellow oak tempers the fire. Once the taste buds adjust to what is happening, they rejoice in the company and pleasure of this young Celt.
  • Finish – It’s long and heart-warming, arousing feelings of pride and passion. It brings courage and strength, honesty and faith to your very soul.
  • Mood – It cries “freedom”. You are in a good place and you envy no man. You feel alive and ready for whatever lies ahead, knowing that the true spirit of Islay is with you.

Here’s what others say:

Canadian stash

Canadian stash

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BenRiach 17 year Septendecim 46%

Ah.. time to return to the Canadian Stash… Next up? BenRiach Septendecim or 17 year to us ordinary folks! This sample came compliments of my aunt and uncle.

Now, this is not my first introduction to BenRiach. Nope. A few years ago our our merry malt gang sampled the 16 year and then on a trip to Singapore in 2015, I went straight for the remarkable BenRiach 21 year (1988) 54.8%.

Both of these BenRiach avatars followed more of a ‘classic’ Speyside style and eschewed heavy peat. Not so the latin series – these are full on peat – and Septendecim is reputed to be an excellent example. I simply had to dive in!

BenRiach 17 year (Whisky Lady's uncle)

BenRiach 17 year (Whisky Lady’s uncle)

BenRiach Septendecim 46%:

  • Colour – Light straw
  • Nose – Oh yum! If you want peaty, robust deliciousness, this hits the spot. Some sweet vanilla custard, cinnamon and nutmeg spice, cedar, a hint of citrus or apples yet overall light on the fruit element and heavier on the pipe tobacco quality followed by a drizzle of honey
  • Taste – Sweet pipe tobacco, lotsa chewy leathery peat peat peat, some vanilla….
  • Finish – Smokey, cinnamon and cloves, black pepper
  • Water – Even sweeter, tames the flame but brings the smoke out even more

Definitely delivers a heavily peated, richer and more robust character.

The nose is quite superb – peaty perfection that is neither in your face nor holds back from giving you a chance to revel in it. However with such fabulous aromas, the palate is somewhat wanting… falling slightly short of what the nose promises. As it evolves into its finish, it goes up again several notches.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a solid dram and well worth sipping… it simply had the potential for ‘Wow!’ complexity and depth yet instead landed just shy of that. Might be worth a revisit though.

Here’s what the distiller has to say:

The new 17 year-old has been matured only in ex-bourbon casks and continues BenRiach’s quirky trend of using Latin names – such as Authenticus, Curiositas and Heredotus Fumosus – for its richly-peated expressions.

  • Colour – The colour is rich summer gold with a freshly harvested barley impression.
  • Nose – It’s full of energy and vibrancy – a complex mix of fresh peaty aromas constructed around a central core of apples and toasted nuts dowsed in wild mountain honey.
  • Palate  – It gives sweet concentrated peat flavours which dominate from the start. Bold and intense, the peaty heart is united with honey-infused raisins, roasted nuts and a luxurious leather impression.

Here’s what others say:

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BenRiach 16 year 40%

In recent years, BenRiach has been playing around with peated expressions, however to get a real sense of the distillery, nothing beats sampling one of their classic Speyside drams.

BenRiach 16 year (Whisky Lady)

BenRiach 16 year (Whisky Lady)

I sampled this 16 year in March 2015 after our Paul John Indian whisky evening. It was just a quick sip or two but as I was in the ‘note taking’ mode, jotted down a few impressions…

BenRiach 16 year 40%

  • Nose – Honey, vanilla, floral sweet, all those lovely Speyside fruity floral fun
  • Taste – Cream, buttery toffee, apples, hint of something more… is that a whisp of smoke? Followed by a hint of herbs
  • Finish – Light and enjoyable with a dash of caramel

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

This smooth single malt has an elegant full taste and aroma that captures fruity floral notes, with fascinating overtones of honey, vanilla, spices, toffee and apples.

  • Nose – Honey, vanilla, floral, fruity with well balanced wood overtones.
  • Taste – Rounded medium to full bodied, rich honey, vanilla with hints of cream, spices, toffee and apples.

What others say:

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Irish Eyes – Green Spot, Yellow Spot + Redbreast

Tonight I was all set for our Mumbai Whisky Club’s monthly tasting … and as our host’s wife now regularly travels to Ireland, I had visions of sociable whiskies dancing in my head with a palate primed for pot still drams!

Alas our sampling was unavoidably postponed to next week… but I just couldn’t shake that Irish mood… So decided it was high time to revisit the joys of Irish pot stills!

A lot is said about the distinctive character of pot still whiskies – that they have a spicier character that comes from their way of blending malted and unmalted barley. Experts say it is this mash rather than the pot itself that qualifies a whisky as being a pot still whisk(e)y.

Here are a few Irish post still whiskeys we’ve sampled over the years…

Green Spot NAS 40%

  • Nose – Creamy caramel, tarka, fresh green apples – tart and sweet combine
  • Taste – Black peppercorn and rose sherbet, bringing together both sweet and spice
  • Finish – Chewy, warm with a little spice, yet not as complex as Yellow Spot
  • Add water? With water becomes lighter with a delightful toasted nut finish – delightful.
  • Our verdict? While Green Spot more than holds its own, it brought back memories of the superb Yellow Spot. Value for money and an excellent example of what a single pot still can produced.

First sampled November 2013…

Yellow Spot 12 year 46%

From Ireland, a single pot still Irish whisky produced for Mitchell & Son of Dublin, matured in bourbon, sherry and Malaga casks.

  • Nose – Fresh and sweet with hints of a complexity to come, sweet spices and fresh hay
  • Palate – Initially a blend of sea salt and honey, it rounded out with creamy chocolate to fruit, supported by a woody toasted robustness
  • Finish – Particularly superb!
  • Our verdict? – Complex, with a gorgeous flavour that lingered… It has garnered some very well deserved praise from Jim Murray (and us)! An exceptional whisky that hit all our favourite counts for a wonderful malt.

First sampled June 2013 and again Dec 2015…  Redbreast 12 year cask strength 57.7%

  • Nose – Burnt rubber, bold, fruit cake chock full of raisins, dates, nuts, apples
  • Taste – Follows through with its promise, adding cinnamon to the dried fruit and a roasted woodiness
  • Finish – Stays keeping you cosy warm, like Christmas time, curled up by the fireside sipping spiced mulled whiskey, creamy, fruity, toasty warm yumminess!
  • Add water? Even sweeter with spicy delight
  • Our verdict? Ooooohhhhh the Redbreast definitely caught our attention and appreciation! This is certainly one worth revisiting.

First sampled November 2013… I later tried the standard 40% and must say, this cask strength one is by far my preference!

Other Irish Isles Evenings:

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Glenturret 10 year 40%

Prompted by a recent revisit of Kichoman’s Machir Bay in Singapore, I decided to unearth from our archives a tasting session which occurred in September 2013 with Glenturret 10 year, Auchentoshan 14 year Cooper’s Reserve and Kilchoman Machir Bay.

It was an evening mad with the cacophony of Ganapati processions, requiring all of us to brave nasty traffic snarls to exclaim by the end of the evening – “It was worth the effort to come!”

Glenturret, Auchentoshan Cooper's Reserve, Kilchoman Machir Bay

Glenturret, Auchentoshan, Kilchoman

Glenturret 10 year 40%

  • Nose – Light sweet nose perhaps with a hint of lemon
  • Taste – Not so sweet on the palate, a bit spicy but still smooth with a tinge of bitter kerela (bitter gourd)
  • Finish – While the finish didn’t linger too long, it was quite pleasant
  • Water – With a couple drops of water, it became even more mellow and an enjoyable light treat

None could guess the distillery though it was clearly not a Speyside or Islay. With the unveiling it was shared this particularly Highland whisky was bought at the distillery and, back in 2013, not readily available beyond the distillery doors…

Glenturret is found on the Turret River in Perthshire. Touted to have been established in 1775 with some earlier elicit efforts from 1715, it claims to be the ‘oldest distillery in Scotland.’ Today it is better known for the “Famous Grouse Experience.”

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Kilchoman Machir Bay 46%

Kilchoman is one of those distilleries to watch… years ago they effectively pushed the boundaries of complexity for a YOUNG Islay whisky. And just keep getting better and better. The travel retail exclusive Coull Point is a current ‘everyday dram’ favourite. I’m eagerly awaiting an opportunity to try their 10 year anniversary whisky.

At the 2015 IWSC Awards, Machir Bay won gold, it also won best Islay under 12 year at the 2015 Scotch Whisky masters and boasts of many other recognitions.

My sampling journey with Machir Bay is:

  • First sampled blind as part of our regular monthly tastings in Sept 2013
  • Part of a delightful food – whisky pairing with Kilchoman Distillery owner and master distiller – Anthony Willis and his wife in 2014
  • During a convivial evening in Singapore in Dec 2015

The Singapore evening prompted me to pull out from our archives the 2013 tasting notes… which was sampled together with the Glenturret 10 year and Auchentoshan 14 year Cooper’s Reserve.

Glenturret, Auchentoshan Cooper's Reserve, Kilchoman Machir Bay

Here is what we found then…

Kilchoman Machir Bay 46%

  • Colour – Light gold in colour
  • Nose – Such a contrast from the earlier whiskies (Glenturret & Auchentoshan), bold, rubber, smoky, burnt wood and ash on nose
  • Taste – Carried through on palate with a woodsy strength tempered by a sweeter undertone, a difficult to identify element like soft over-ripe dried fruit
  • Finish – A lingering rich charcoal finish which prompted some debate on its age – some qualities of a younger whisky yet refreshingly complex as one would more typically find in an older whisky
  • Water – Add a little water and it bloomed further – bringing out both the sweet and spice with the warmth of burnt wood remaining

There was a challenge in pinpointing this offering – the peat was too subtle for a Laphroaig and didn’t quite fit the qualities of other Islay mainstays – however the region was guessed spot on!

Also aged in ex-bourbon casks and finished in sherry butts like the Cooper’s Reserve, it is far more robust. Machir Bay captures the senses and was the clear favourite – even paired post dinner with chocolate. To learn it is available in India and not ridiculously expensive – my oh my we lucky folks!

Each sample was a contrast and unique. Interestingly, all improved with a few drops of water whether lowland (Auchentoshan), highland (Glenturret) or islay (Kilchoman)! Slainthe!

For those curious, here’s what the folks over at The Vault Fine Spirits (based in Mumbai) have to say about Kilchoman Machir Bay:

Machir Bay, a heavily peated (50 PPM) whisky, is a vatting of 4 and 5 year old ex-bourbon casks, with the 4 year being finished in oloroso sherry butts for 4 weeks prior to bottling. Machir Bay was named ‘Whisky of the Year 2013’ at the International Whisky Competition.

Tasting Notes: The Machir Bay starts with a nose of soft cooked fruits with strong peaty aromas which in turn leads to a palate of mixed fruits and vanilla with an intense sweetness before a long lingering finish.

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Ballantine’s 17 year Glentauchers 40%

Last in our Ballantine’s Signature Distillery Collection was Glentauchers.

While there is apparently an official bottling kicking around, it certainly isn’t one our merry malters have stumbled across… not even readily listed online at either Master of Malt or The Whisky Exchange.

More typically, Glentauchers is found in Ballantine’s and Teacher’s – both widely consumed blends. As in 99% of it goes to blends! So you can appreciate my interest in exploring a sense of its character through Ballantine’s eyes (or taste buds / nose as the case may be!).

Ballantine's Glentauchers

Ballantine’s Glentauchers

Ballantine’s Glentauchers 17 year 40%

  • Nose – Strong nose, piney notes, earthy like a forest, toasted hazelnuts, a nougaty sweetness… as it continued to air after 15-20 minutes it was like reaching out to dip your hand straight into a honey-comb with the bees still buzzing!
  • Taste – Slightly bitter, hint of spice, much lighter body than the nose, smooth
  • Finish – Bitter almonds, like the Glenburgie, an unremarkable finish yet a far easier dram
  • Overall – The nose showed promise which alas didn’t carry through on the palate… however at least the nutty quality continued throughout in a rather pleasant way. Overall, quite a drinkable dram.

The preferred setting for this whisky? Could drink by the fire, in a more social manner with the caveat that it goes down so smoothly that you may not even realise that you’d finished it and reached out for more!

Overall, I must say, it was interesting to have a blend pay homage to the characters of its single malt components. We each did our ‘preference’ line-up… for my friend it was:

  • Miltonduff by a mile, then Glentauchers, Scapa and Glenburgie

For me, it was along the same lines, except I would swap the ‘last’ two with Glenburgie just a smudge ahead of the Scapa.

But the very fact that the Miltonduff even made both of us pay attention was saying something.

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Ballantine’s 17 year Glenburgie 40%

Third in our sampling quartet of Ballantine’s Signature Distillery Collection was Glenburgie…

I will admit to having certain expectations of this expression… Late 2015, we sampled the Glenburgie 15 year and two years ago, I also briefly sampled a Glenburgie 18 year old independent bottling… Between past brushes with this distillery and particularly after the surprisingly good Miltonduff, I was primed to enjoy!

So, did this Ballantine’s blend meet or exceed my anticipation?

Ballantine's Glenburgie

Ballantine’s Glenburgie

Here is what we found:

Ballantine’s Glenburgie 17 year 40%

  • Nose – When first opened sour notes – cereals, maltiness, sweet but with a musty undertone, then dried orange, vanilla, some dried rose petals, slightly earthy though on the lighter side
  • Taste – Just managed to avoid (barely!) being cloyingly sweet, then moved into woody notes, and finally a little spice with pine
  • Finish – Starts a bit smokey but relatively unremarkable, then shifts into a bitter after taste

Overall – The most complex of the bunch yet also vaguely schizophrenic. For my companion, it simply was not worth the effort and time to unwrap the full flavour package. The nose at least initially took us on a journey however was belied by the overwhelming sweetness on the palate… There was at least some different elements however they simply didn’t come together harmoniously.

I couldn’t help but recall the delightful Glenburgie 15 year Gordon & MacPhail bottling we sampled in November. It was pronounced the “Downton Abbey” of whiskies as there was an elegant refinement to it, yet still had sufficient happening to make it worth paying attention to…

It’s Ballantine’s blend cousin? Just couldn’t match up. Not even close. Pity.

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