Whisky Lady – February 2016

What could be more fun than a February full of whisky tasting adventures?

Everyday Asia

After 25 whiskies in January, you can imagine this month I needed a little ‘catch-up’ time.  Whisky Lady featured posts on both whiskies sampled in February plus the balance notes from January.

Even better, February was filled with three (yes 1, 2… 3) whisky clubs tasting sessions. Anyone who thinks there are no folks passionate about single malts in Mumbai is clearly misinformed!

Glenlivet, Glengoyne, Balblair

1st up was a rather interesting ‘Adult’ whisky & cigar evening with:

  • Glengoyne 21 year 43% – Sigh… we suspect a spoilt cork as something was off
  • Glenlivet 21 year 43% – What you expect from a Glenlivet 21
  • Balblair 38 year 44% – OMG! I’ve gone to heaven!
  • Oh and that Laphroaig 21 peaking around the corner on the left… yeah we had that too!

It was memorable also as ALL corks disintegrated – check out Crumbling cork capers!

2016-02-19 Oak League1

Next with our original club was a special Signatory session. Each…

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Whisky Ladies – Anything better than whisky and chocolate?

Our Whisky Ladies in Mumbai’s February session had a bonus – chocolates specifically designed to pair with whiskies. One set of pralines were meant to pair best with a mild and soft, delicate whisky. The other set were meant to pair with smokey or sherry cask matured whiskies. Each lady also shared a little insight into the bottle she brought….

When Neuhaus meets Single Malt Whiskies

Delicate – Hibiki Harmony NAS 43%

A few of us initially sampled this delightful whisky as a soothing balm after a romp through seven Paul John whiskies – yes in addition to the quintet reviewed, there were two bonus samples direct from the master distiller! Our contributing whisky lady shared how she loves the delicate nuanced balance Harmony achieves with its three component whiskies – Yamasaki, Hakushu and Chita.

What did we discover with Harmony?

  • Whisky – The nose was indeed delicate, nuanced, flowery, honey sweet. The palate was soft, very well constructed. In short, an exceedingly civilised dram to kick-off our evening!
  • Chocolate – Paired with pralines having caramel ganache, caramelised hazelnuts or toasted almonds or a smooth, rich creamy single origin Javanese cocao milk chocolate

Peaty – Lagavulin 16 year 43%

Our contributor confessed this was her ‘go to’ dram during her London student days. For many this was a familiar friend. The kind of peaty ‘curl up by the fireside’ quality you turn to for comfort. For a few, it was a first introduction to this classic Islay dram.

What did we find with the Lagavulin?

  • Nose – Peat, split pea with ham soup, forrest, moss, then sweet honey, vanilla, warm toasted sugared almonds, finally a curl of cinnamon spice
  • Palate – Spicy, smokey, ‘tarka’, a buttery quality, keeps getting sweeter, rich, powerful
  • Finish – Long and dry, moss, smoke, vanilla
  • Quote“I feel like I just took a drag from a cigarette!”

For chocolate, we paired similar to the sherry bomb…

Sherry – Abelour A’bunadh batch 46 (2013) 60.4%

Our whisky lady picked up this particular gem in the US at a speciality whisky store. She shared she wanted something distinctive to bring back to India and was directed to this gorgeous cask strength sherry bomb. She opened it prior to our session, fell in love and with great difficulty was able to keep it reserved for our tasting pleasure.

So…. how was this A’bunadh with chocolate?

  • Whisky – Gorgeous sherry notes of plums, figs, raisins, burnt sugar. Cherry berry sherry bomb on the palate full of rich flavours, well rounded and robust. The finish closed with long drawn out rummy raisins.
  • Chocolate – Paired with pralines having more of a deeper, bitter or more intense single origin chocolate from Peru, or ones containing speculooos or puffed rice to add texture and balance the smokey peat or christmas sweet of sherry

Some may recall we sampled batch 35 at a Whisky Ladies ‘Cask Strength Diwali‘ and for comparison, it was pulled out revealing juicier fruits.

Without a doubt, pairing whiskies with chocolate was a smashing success!

2016-02-27 Whisky + Chocolate

Other Whisky Ladies of Mumbai evenings:

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Whisky cork crumbling capers!

A funny thing happened during a recent whisky and cigars evening, featuring only ‘adult’ whiskies.

All four bottles were older than 21 years. Most were stored for several years before our sampling.

All were closed. And yet as each was opened, the same challenge occurred…

The cork cracked and crumbled.

Every single one? Yup that’s all four whiskies!

Then last night, I pulled my trusty old open bottle of Ardbeg Uigeadail. Attempted to pull out the cork and…? Was rewarded with disintegrated cork bits!

Earlier during our Whisky ladies cask strength tasting, we went to open the Abelour A’bunadh. And the cork? You guessed it! Crumbled completely with the top cracking clean apart!

Until these experiences, in all my years of whisky tasting, it only happened with a Glenfarclas 105 that sat open in my whisky cabinet far too long!

Is this a new dirty secret of the whisky industry?

Or is Mumbai particularly harsh on cork?

Or are we storing whisky ‘wrong’… leading to such issues?

Crumbling Cork Capers

Proper, crumbled, cracked vs healthy cork

Lew Bryson in Whisky Advocate complains:

Even if the cork’s not tainted, I’ve encountered a disturbing number of crumbling corks lately, some in new bottles. Pull off the plastic wrap, twist the cork topper, and kluhbup…you’ve got the topper and about a centimeter of crumbling cork in your hand, and the rest of it is still in the neck (if you’re lucky and it’s not crumbled into the whiskey).

Do I have the definitive answer on why this seems to increasingly be an issue? No.

However it does indeed happen with whiskies stored upright for several years. And yes – upright is exactly how you should store your whisky 99% of the time!

Is there a solution? Hmm…

There are at least suggestions…

  1. Regularly ‘turn’ your whisky (as in weekly) to lightly wet the cork (Whisky Informative)
  2. If you are less rigorous and didn’t keep turning your whisky, for a week before you plan to open the bottle, store it on its side so that it moistens the cork, reducing the risk of it cracking or crumbling (anonymous expert!)

Any other suggestions or insights?

Surely I am not alone in encountering cork crumbling consequences from long storage of whiskies….

Oh and PS?

If your cork DOES crumble, it is time to immediately consume or decant after straining. Trust me, bits of cork in whisky is a recipe to ruin a good dram.

Others grumbling about cork issues:

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Whisky Ladies go American! JD, Hudson, Jim Beam, Knobs Creek

In January, the Whisky Ladies 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 to India. Guided by Shatbhi, our merry whisky ladies tried each sample ‘blind’ with the great reveal only after tasting all four whiskies.

Whiskies Ladies go American!!

Jack Daniels Old No 7 40%

  • Nose – Holy banana cream pie! Caramel, apple, cinnamon, toffee, Christmas, hint of licorious, as it airs souring a little
  • Taste – Flat, light, easy to drink, hint of vanilla, a little oily, benign
  • Finish – Slight char at the back
  • Overall – Pronounced rather ‘watery’, completely ‘entry level’

Best comment on the JD was “It is like the vodka of whiskies!” as it is the kind of whisky you would enjoy in a long cocktail.

Hudson Single Malt 46% 

  • Nose – Apple, like snapple ice tea, vanilla, paper and cardboard, grains, mud earth, hint of oranges?
  • Taste – Grain, yeast, varnish, pasty
  • Finish – Sweet spice and a bit bitter
  • Overall – Nose far nicer than palate

Um…. not quite sure what to make of this one! One comment “Well, at least it isn’t completely watery!”

Jim Beam 40%

  • Nose – Cotton candy, fruity, pineapple, toffee, butterscotch, dried fruit, creme caramel, vanilla
  • Taste – Bitter, banana pepper, goes down a little to easy, tiny hint of burnt caramel
  • Finish – Peppery
  • Overall – Easy drinking, nothing distinctive, for most ‘still too watery’

One comment that resonated with the group was that it is a “Happy feel good whiskey that is a little too easy to drink!”

Knob Creek 9 year 50%

  • Nose – Very sweet, perfumy, caramel, fresh, tropical fruits, crisp green apples, ripe bananas, citrus sweet lemon
  • Taste – Bitter, tart, orange peel, cheese, chocolate, toffee, honey on the tongue
  • Finish – Smooth, sweet with a hint of spice
  • Overall – Finally something that isn’t watery! Sense of being older, definitely the most enjoyable of the four sampled.

From the 1st whiff you could hear a collective “Finally!  Now we are talking whiskey!”

The most fun of the evening was making three fresh flavourful cocktails using the JD, Jim Beam and Knob Creek as whisky base. It was an enjoyable experience however it is interesting to see how many of our whisky ladies have clear palate preferences emerging and expectations of their whisky.

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Adult Whiskies Night – Glengoyne 21, Glenlivet 21, Balbair 38 year

Ssssshhhhhh! I secretly joined a 3rd whisky tasting group in Mumbai. It is all very hush hush! A decidedly male affair in rarified atmosphere and swirling cigar smoke.

And for our first evening together whiskies and cigars?

Adult whiskies all 21 year and above… if you please! And quality cigars only men (and women!) of means can afford…


So what did the gentlemen and I discover in our ‘adult’ explorations?

Glengoyne 21 year 43%

  • Nose – Sherry! Plums, caramel, very ripe figs, vanilla, sugar sweet, raisins, dried fruits
  • Palate – Woody, port… honestly a little too oaky. As in sat in the cask too long…
  • Finish – Long dry sherry spice with a wood hangover
  • Water – Opens it up a little and adds some zing!

Sigh… not a promising beginning… after a very berry sherry nose, it was on the edge of being off on the palate. And who wants a long finish if it isn’t utterly delicious?

I felt rather embarrassed to ask our host if he would be horribly offended if I dumped the rest of my sample to move on to the next whisky. Let’s just say I wasn’t alone in doing this.

Glenlivet 21 year 43%

  • Nose – Sugar, spice, orange peel, light raisins, paint thinner, resins
  • Palate – Spice, walnuts
  • Finish – There but…
  • Water – No one bothered…

Double sigh… I remembered the 21 year being  bit insipid from an earlier tasting. This experience did not change my impression. Note the lack of notes. Uninspired. Completely.

Again… just wasn’t the whisky for me. I was beginning to feel like Goldilocks and the three bears. This one is too woody, this one too wimpy… Would I find a whisky that is juuuust right?

Balblair 38 year (1966/2004) Bottle 212 44%

  • Nose – Elegant, aged wood, bursting with character and history, soft prunes, light drizzle of honey, not overly sweet – just enough, as it continued to open shifted to raisins, orange peel, then a little light mint, and then the dry sweet spices of cinnamon, cloves and cardamon emerged – heavenly!
  • Palate – Leather, worm wood, so smooth – absolutely no edges, lovely warmth, full bodied, with the sherry characteristics there but more  gentle dance than the heavy hand some sherry cask whiskies acquire
  • Finish – An absolutely gorgeous finish. Simply superb!
  • Water – Sacralige

Holy mother of @$!! They say good things come to those who wait. This was an absolutely brilliant example of just that! In short, it was a remarkable whisky in a completely different category. There was simply no comparison with the earlier two whiskies.

This limited edition bottle was distilled in 1966 in a second fill Spanish oak sherry cask, bottled in September 2004. Had an absolutely perfect balance of sherry elements softened by maturity into a deep, complex, exquisite dram.

Glenlivet, Glengoyne, Balblair

In fairness to the other offerings, I suspect the Glengoyne may have been spoilt by the cork which crumbled completely and had to be carefully poured to not get bits mixed with each sip. Glenlivet… perfectly pleasant mass offering. Just not my tipple. But the Balblair? One of those moments where I knew just how privileged we ALL were to experience such a whisky.

Believe it or not, after the Balblair 38 was polished off (Noooo!)… A Laphroaig 21 year was opened!! Suffice it to say, it was a perfect smokey peaty mature close to our malt evening.

I would be hopeless at doing justice to the cigars… the gentlemen puffed away with desultory enthusiasm and I quite enjoyed my ladylike cigar carefully selected by our host for a complete neophyte.

All in all an exceptional evening and I look forward to the next one in a couple of months!

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Signatory’s Edradour 10 year (2004) 46%

Last in our Signatory session was a complete change of pace. From older, more nuanced whiskies, we boldly stepped into younger sherry territory.

For those not familiar, Edradour is one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries, controlled by the independent bottler Signatory. Edraour has been busy with a lot of experimentation. For such a small distillery, it has a classic range, cask strength, then wine finishes and even wine matured whiskies plus their Ballechin peated line.
This particular bottle shows off what Edradour can do in only 1o years – part of its classic range – that clearly provides details on when it entered and left its specific cask.

2016-02-19 Edradour 10

As always, our original tasting group initially sampled this Edradour completely blind before revealing the whisky…
Edradour 10 year (2 Nov 2004/26 Mar 2015) Cask No 406, Bottle 440 46%
  • Colour – Deep ruby red
  • Nose – Holy moly! Rum soaked raisins, dried fruit, mincemeat Christmas tart, iodine, citrus lemon, port? Some toasted almonds, slightly sour, prunes
  • Palate – Smooth, sweet, very very rummy, caramel, a bit woody, thick and robust. One of those sherry bombs bursting with Christmassy character but a shade darker. Lots of rum soaked dried fruit particularly dates, nuts.
  • Finish – Rum finish, dry, slightly bitter and chewy
  • Water – Can add… but why bother. Most preferred it neat.
  • Speculation – Sense of being like an El Dorado rum. The colour was really quite unbelievable. Speculation it may even have gone through a force maturity with wood chips. Or possibly, could it be, a rum cask?
  • Overall – A complete desert whisky. The kind that would pair superlatively well with chocolate and oranges. And faaaar too easy to drink! As evidenced by it being the whisky most consumed that night.
And the unveiling? A complete surprise. Most of our tasting group previously had the pleasure of enjoying the robust Edradour 12 year Caledonia whisky. While it shared the rum-like quality, there was something quite distinctive about this 10 year and none made the connect.
It is such fun curating evenings like this – though we had all tried something from each distillery, sampling the selection of a single cask from Signatory made for a unique experience.
When I purchased the Glenburgie in 2014, I had no thought to hosting an evening that would focus only on Signatory whiskies. However when I bought the Bunnahabhain… the kernel of an idea began to germinate. The logical extension was to include Edradour.
Choosing the tasting order was also key.
In this case, I went by what I anticipated from the whisky profile rather than age. From the Glenburgie sampled til date, suspected it would be the most delicate, had high expectations that the Bunnahabhain would need more time and attention so perfect to follow and then closed with the boldest though youngest whisky.
It worked!
Our special Signatory session also featured:
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Signatory’s Bunnahabhain 26 year (1988) 48.6%

Next up in our Signatory set, is an unusual Islay… Bunnahabhain is known for going against the grain of smokey, peaty character. The friend who first introduced me years ago to Bunnahabhain joked it was known as a ‘ladies’ whisky for its fresh, aromatic seaside quality rather than bold peat monster.

This just so happens to be yet another bottle acquired during a trip to Singapore. When I have time, one of my favourite stops is La Maison du Whisky. You can count on having a good chat, sample some wares and always walk away with something a bit different.

They also have an arrangement with Signatory for a few special  ‘La Maison du Whisky’ bottles – including from their Cask Strength Collection. This particular Bunnahabhain just so happens to be a delightful example.

2016-02-19 Bunnahabhain 1988

As always, our original tasting group first samples completely blind, knowing nothing about the whisky… these are our impressions…
Bunnahabhain 26 years (6 June 1988 / 7 Aug 2014) Cask No 1874, 175 bottles 48.6%
  • Colour  – Pale gold
  • Nose – “Yowza!” (in a good way) Iodine, quite vegetal, moss, forrest, a medicinal phenolic quality, dried orange peel, cardboard (think amazon parcel with scotch tape), walnuts then more citrus then a light sourness
  • Palate – Thick, sweet, muggy, that vegetal quality followed through on the palate, bitter zucchini, lentils, an earthy element, extremely dry, yet lots of body, lots of layers… chewy, peaty
  • Finish – A stubborn, long spicy, bitter finish – quite superb!
  • Water – Opens to sweet coffee
  • Speculation – Definitely an independent bottler, single cask, cask strength, likely in the 48% range, reminiscent of a superior Oban
  • Overall – The palate has far more character and substance than the nose – a reverse of what we find with most whiskies. Again for some – an absolute favourite for the evening.

And the reveal? A complete surprise!

None even one considered the region could be Islay – understandable as it was neither a characteristically peaty Islay nor a typical Bunnahabhain.

And the age? Not even one guessed we were sipping something laid to mature in 1988!

However when the whisky context sunk in, ‘click!’ it all made sense.

Some older whiskies have an interesting but slightly subdued nose with a superior palate, possessing multiple layers even in a whisky that overall isn’t massively complex. There is just something about hanging around in the cask a bit longer that gives a certain ‘weight’ to the whisky profile.

Alas as this is a unique Bunnahabahain, I could find relatively little additional information, though I do recall Diago from La Maison du Whisky sharing it was an experiment with light peat, making it quite a distinctive dram from this distillery.

Pour mes amis qui comprennent le Française, here is what La Maison du Whisky has to say about this particular bottle:

Single cask #1874 – Sherry Butt Éditionlimitée à 175 bouteilles – Une ExclusivitéLMDW

  • Profil : délicat et poudré. Notes minérales (terre, racines), cacaotées et fumées. Fruits exotiques qui se transforment en fruits secs. Très fine note de tourbe.
  • Nose : fin, onctueux. Derrière la fine âcreté de la fumée de tourbe, on perçoit des fleurs des champs (pissenlit, coquelicot) et des fruits exotiques (ananas, banane). Au fur et à mesure, l’empreinte tourbée se fait plus marquée. De la réglisse verte flirte alors avec des notes de terre et de racines. Plus tard, des fruits secs (noix, amande) leurs emboîtent le pas.
  • Palate : ample, riche. Son attaque est soyeuse, presque crémeuse (lait de coco). Une très fine note de tourbe sèche est présente de bout en bout. Puis des agrumes confits (citron), des fruits exotiques (mangue, goyave) et des plantes aromatiques (tilleul, laurier) procurent beaucoup de profondeur au milieu de bouche. Parfaite symbiose entre le nez et la bouche.
  • Overall : longue, duveteuse. Elle délivre avec profusion des notes de réglisse verte, de Havane et de noix verte. Ses tannins poudrés (cacao) prennent possession du palais avant qu’ils ne laissent place à de nouveaux fruits secs (datte, figue sèche) et aux épices (cardamome, curry, badiane). La rétro-olfaction est herbacée (lichen) et fruitée (citron jaune). Le verre vide est d’une remarquable fraîcheur fruitée (cassis, cerise noire).

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Signatory’s Glenburgie 18 year (1995) 46%

As we have already tried many of the ‘known’ and readily accessible distilleries, it is always a treat to add a less readily accessible distillery to our list!

So back in 2014, I proudly picked up a bottle of Glenburgie from the prodigious Speyside region. At the time, we never tried anything from this distillery, primarily as it is used in blends like Ballentine’s with no “official” distiller editions. I looked forward to showing off something ‘different’ when it came around to my turn to host!

The irony is by the time we cracked open the bottle in February 2016, it was no longer the ‘1st’ Glenburgie to cross my palate:

So much for bringing a little novelty to our tastings!!

2016-02-19 Glenburgie 1995

As always, our blind whisky tasting approach reigns supreme… so how did this one fare?

Signatory Vintage – Glenburgie 1995 46%

  • Colour – Light straw
  • Nose – Bright, fresh, clean fruit, sweet, hint of coconut, toffee, oily, no peat or was there a whiff? Fresh grass, much more fruit than spice or flower, lovely yet quite linear, no major surprises
  • Palate – Initially much sharper, sour and very different than we expected from the nose, sweet, spice and bitter, a tingling on the tongue, mild citrus. The bitter gives it character – in a good way. Has a very good palate, sits on the tongue and is well rounded.
  • Finish – Bitter – some initially thought it short, others found its like a punch that you still feel after some time topped with a  dash of cherry cough syrup
  • Water – Opens it up, makes it even more approachable, however loses the light coconut nose, though the syrupy element stays
  • Speculation – Immediately thought likely an independent bottler – possibly Gordon & MacPhail. Single Cask? Could it be a Highland Speyside? Perhaps younger? Speculation ran riff!
  • Overall – Approachable, one of those books that is easy to read, quite pleasant. For some this was the favourite of the evening.
The reveal was a surprise – both as it was older than most thought and we relatively recently sampled the G&MP 15 year Glenburgie. For comparison, I pulled out a Ballantine’s 17 year set which featured blends that ‘celebrate’ the characters of the different component single malts such as Glenburgie.
This Speyside may mostly go into blends however it is worth enjoying in both its independent bottler Signatory and G&MP avatars!

Here are the only details available about this Signatory Vintage:

Aged 18 years, distilled on 13 June 1995 and bottled on 20 Feb 2014. Matured in the Highland. Cask No 6451 with an outturn of only 391 bottles. No chill filtration, natural colour.

A bit of trivia I find interesting is Glenburgie was run for a time in the early 20th century by a woman – Margaret Nichol – reputed to be the first female manager of any whisky distillery.

Up next in our Signatory Session:

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Signatory session with Glenburgie, Bunnahabhain + Edradour

Most single malts tell you surprisingly little about exactly when they began their life.

Sure – the bottle says 10 year but what that really means is the youngest whisky in that bottle in front you was matured for 10 years.

As for the year it was bottled? Look closely… many do not tell you this.

The key with most age statement whiskies is carefully playing around with stock to produce a consistent flavour profile. Which means more mixing and blending between casks than you might imagine to achieve that distinctive taste you have come to call a familiar friend.

However if you really want to explore the nuances of a ‘pure’ single malt, then a single distillation in a single cask preferably at cask strength is the way to go.

And no one does that better than some terrific independent bottlers who keep an eagle eye (or acute nose and taste buds) out for something truly special.

This is the territory that tells you when that whisky hit the cask, which cask and even how many bottles exist… perhaps your bottle even has its own number.

Over the years we’ve had some fabulous Gordon & MacPhail offerings, a few Douglas Laing & Co, however less from Signatory.

2016-02-19 Oak League1

So for three years, I’ve slowly acquired three distinctly different whiskies – two examples of Signatory’s independent bottlings and one from their own wee distillery – Edradour, each from a different region in Scotland.

What pray tell did I manage to track down?

It seemed a fitting trio to fete the beginning our fifth year of whisky tastings as a dedicated group in Mumbai.

Anyone have a favourite independent bottler? Or tried a particularly interesting Signatory bottle?


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Speyburn 10 year 43%

I couldn’t help but be amused with the unveiling of the third whisky! After years of Speyburn not being on our radar, some from our merry malt group tried it :

However our host missed both these events and independently picked up the 10 year, drawn by descriptions of ‘classic Speyside’. We sampled it blind and then revealed the whisky.Speyburn 10

  • Nose – Sweet fruits – particularly banana, honey, light lemon citrus, sweet green lime as it opens, nutmeg and vanilla as it airs
  • Taste – Honey water, wondered if there was a little sweet tobacco? Overall fairly flat, maybe a hint of coffee? Bit of peat, hard to trace the different elements
  • Finish – Some spice however it doesn’t linger
  • Speculation – Clearly ex-bourcon cask
  • Overall – Very pleasant, easy to relax with… call it an eminently ‘drinkable dram’
It is easy to see why Stuart Harvey calls the Speyburn ‘under-rated’… it has a solid dependable quality that makes for a surprisingly good everyday dram.
So there you have it, an exploration of three lighter whiskies:

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