“Single malt drinkers are promiscuous”

Now before you get all offended… there is a very specific context to this comment.

It came up at a Whisky masterclass with Master Distiller Stuart Harvey, where one of my whisky partners in crime whispered cheekily:

“Single Malt guys are promiscuous, whereas blended guys are very loyal.”

It echoed something mentioned earlier in the day by Stuart, when asked why Inver House decided to enter the Indian market in 2015.

Stuart shared how over the last decade he has seen a shift across the globe but particularly in India:

“Basically we’ve seen people trading up. Ten years ago it would have been the cheaper and mixed products that people were drinking. That was down to affordability, the price point.

Obviously now foreign travel is a lot more common. And they come back and bring back whisky – a nice status symbol.

Earlier they would bring back a nice blend. Then they moved up the ladder to a 12 year old blend. That’s the signal that it is time to introduce single malts. As going from 12 year old blend to a single malt is easy.”

So far, not terribly promiscuous…. however according to Stuart, 12 year old blends can be a tipping point to become a seeker of diversity over monogamy…

“They start getting more interested in the different flavour profiles, they want to try something different, they want to entertain their guests.

Single malt drinkers have more than one brand. As opposed to blended product where people tend to be very loyal to a particular brand.

They want to try something different. So when they are traveling, they try to pick up something different.”

From that point of picking up something different during travels eventually translates into two outcomes:

  • The single malt adventurer infects a loyal local blend drinker into the dangerous world of illicit relationships with an imported single malt!
  • And from such exposure, the desire to acquire extends to duty-free airports at ‘home’ or perhaps eventually from the local ‘wine’ shop.

So while blend drinkers are a loyal lot who for years, nay decades, stick to their Black Label, Teachers, Blenders Pride, those who have strayed down the path of single malts are always itching to explore, make that next remarkable whisky discovery!

I was again reminded of this when a fellow whisky explorer requested ideas for acquiring more miniatures… to add to his growing collection of different sets… already at 14, he added another 20 during his latest London jaunt.

So far we have explored the Tomintoul triofour more minis in August, another set in September… and yet another mini session planned next week!

J2M Miniatures

Before getting smug about such miniature mania, I then thought of our Mumbai based whisky club members creative approaches to sourcing something ‘untried’ from around the globe and my own sampling scores:

Canadian stash

Would you agree? Are single malt sippers incapable of fidelity and always seek the novelty of something ‘new’ in their quest for the next great whisky?

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Hazelwood 21 year 40%

When the Hazelwood series first came out, I couldn’t help but be struck by the rather attractive packaging and decidedly art deco style. A little pricey for a 500 ml bottle, I passed it up a few times at duty free.

From William Grant & Sons, the Hazelwood blended whisky series was created to honour William Grant’s granddaughter Janet Sheed Roberts, after her Hazelwood house, full of art deco items, near their Glenfiddich distillery.

Each in the trio is dedicated to a city from the 1920s:

  • Hazelwood 18 year for Paris
  • Hazelwood 21 year for Bombay
  • Hazelwood 25 year for Shanghai

Fittingly, one fine evening in Mumbai, we polished off the last of the Hazelwood 21 year, in honour of a French friend leaving our fair land for other shores…

hazelwood-21-year

Hazelwood 21 year 40%

  • Nose – Mix of slight tobacco smoke, sweet, vanilla, apple crumble, cinnamon, fruits, berries with an overall sense of freshness
  • Palate – Smooth, soft and accessible, honey, sweet spices
  • Finish – Just a honey sweetness that slipped away relatively early

Overall it is exceedingly easy to drink. Jokingly it was described as quite a ‘homely’ whisky. One could even say ‘charming’. There is a danger in attributing gender to a whisky, but this one certainly seems to be trying to appeal to women.

Here is what they have to say:

House of Hazelwood 21 Year Old is inspired by the sultry beauty of Mumbai in the 1920s.

This release represents a bolder, somewhat spicier and more robust whisky balanced to perfection by the ageing of some of its malts for 21 years in sherry casks made of European oak.

  • NOSE: Dried fruits and spice dominate, alongside a sticky sweetness reminiscent of rich fruit cake. A splash of water alters the balance and adds complexity with a subtle hint of tobacco leaf.
  • TASTE: Cinnamon, cloves and woody spice, with a dry finish. Water accentuates the sherry cask influence, bringing out the sweet oiliness of treacle, dates and polished leather.
  • FINISH: Spice, Molasses, and Resin.
20161017-yamazakisipsmithhazelwood

Farewell gifts… and fare thee well my friend!

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Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve 40%

Last in our original Mumbai whisky tasting group‘s October session was a no age statement Glenlivet.

Glenlivet is a global leader in single malt. They know scale. They know what the masses want. You will find Glenlivet practically everywhere. And generally at fairly reasonable prices too.

We sampled it blind, from a new bottle… and here is what we found…

glenlivet

Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Select 40%

  • Nose – Bit organic, sour curd, sour fruits, sweet and ‘green’
  • Palate – At first a burn, bit bitter, again that sense of being ‘green’, quite smooth with no depth
  • Finish – Medium with a hint of cinnamon

We found it quite light, again expected it would be 40% and while there was nothing specifically ‘wrong’ there was nothing that stood out as fabulously ‘right’ either.

The sense of being ‘green’ or young was clear and overall quite smooth. If anything, it was nice yet, well, rather bland.

Created for travel retail, it certainly wouldn’t be for anyone on a quest for something ‘different’ however it is sufficiently light and simple, you won’t realize when your glass is empty.

Here is what the folks over at Glenlivet have to say:

  • Colour – Bright, exuberant gold
  • Nose – Ripe pear, fudge
  • Palate – Fruit, pear, spice
  • Finish – Marzipan, fresh hazelnuts

The distillery shares it is triple cask matured in first fill American and ex-sherry oak.

What all did we try in our October session?

Other Glenlivet sampling sessions:

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Sherry but… Glengoyne 18 year 43%

Glengoyne is one of those well regarded distilleries with a distinctive sherry berry quality.

Our original Mumbai whisky tasting group has sampled both a 12 and 21 year during sessions I either missed (or missed taking notes). I did encounter a Glengoyne 21 year at an ‘adult whisky evening‘ however it was curiously off, so likely not representative.

For our October session, our host was careful to ensure that while we may have sampled Glengoyne whiskies previously, what we opened that evening would be a different age statement than we had tasted together before.

As usual, we sampled blind before the reveal…

glengoyne-18-year

Glengoyne 18 year 43%

  • Nose – Subdued sherry, strong yet light (yes it sounds like a contradiction but true!), berries, hint of orange cake or apple crisp
  • Palate – Pungent, bitter orange marmalade, decent mouthfeel, good body, smooth, some sweet spice, quite delicious
  • Finish – Nice and pleasant

Overall we found this whisky very accessible, good aromas and gave the impression of being not fully sherry but perhaps a mix of 1st fill sherry with other casks, nicely rounding out the elements so the sherry dimension was not overpowering or too intense. In short, it was sherry but… not. Which worked!

For those of us who drained to the last drop (seemed to be all!), we were impressed by the excellent aromas remaining in the empty Glencairn glass.

For most, this was the whisky of the night!

Here is what the folks at Glengoyne have to say:

Spicy vanilla fruit, ripe apples and a rich, luxurious mouthfeel. This is the result of eighteen long years and a generous proportion of first-fill sherry casks.

  • Nose – Awash with red apple and ripe melon. Heavenly and well rounded, it drifts into hot porridge topped with brown sugar.
  • Taste – Full bodied, round and rich. At first macerated fruits, marzipan and walnuts; then warm spices, dry cocoa and lingering Seville marmalade.
  • Finish – Long, warm and dry.

What was particularly interesting is Glengoyne sharing their cask recipe which is: 

  • 35% 1st Fill European Oak Sherry
  • 15% 1st Fill American Oak Sherry
  • 50% Hand-selected quality Oak Refill casks

What else did we try in our October session?

Related tasting sessions:

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Perplexing peat? Connemara NAS 40%

1st up in our original Mumbai whisky tasting group‘s October session was a no age statement dram from Ireland. Unlike most Irish whiskies, Connemara uses peat, hence it was an interesting choice to start the evening with.

We sampled it blind, the bottle freshly opened, and didn’t know what to expect!

connemara

Connemara NAS 40%

  • Colour – Bright pale yellow
  • Nose – Initially quite pungent, harsh, wood varnish, sour curd, then as it aired took on some vanilla, spice, hint of citrus while still retaining a sharp quality and dash of sawdust, settling down further it became increasingly sweet
  • Palate – Salt caramel, peat or coal (for some), wood, unidirectional, very oily. As our palates became better acquainted with it, there was an almost dry waxy quality
  • Finish – There was a finish, however surprisingly subtle. It retained some of the oils, with a sweet pine after taste

Overall we found it relatively thin, so assumed it must be 40%, no more. While it lacked depth, there was an oily quality which gave it some character.

Now here is the thing… there was a bit of a debate on the peat element. One of our members simply did not get a trace of peat whereas others found hints, but not a clear stamp.

During the reveal there was surprise. Those familiar with this whisky recalled a much more direct “in your face” type peat, not this gentle tease. Leading to speculation that perhaps Connemara has been tinkering with the recipe? Or something else what at work?

After sampling all three whiskies for the evening, we returned to the Connemara to see if we could solve the perplexing peat question.

This time, when another glass was poured, instant recognition of peat.

Now… was it in contrast with the Glenlivet? Did we not all have our peat detectors fully switched on with the initial go? Or did it need time to fully reveal its peaty character?

While it still did not have a strong peat quality, there was no doubt it did indeed have some peat.

For a previous review on Connemara, check out what fellow Whisky Lady Lina Sonne has to say:

What all did we try in our October session?

  • Peat – Connemara NAS 40% (this post)
  • Sweet – Glengoyne 18 year 43%
  • Light – Glenlivet Master Distillers Reserve NAS 40%*

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Mixing things up – Connemara, Glengoyne, Glenlivet

After more than five years, our original Mumbai whisky tasting group has become known for pushing the boundaries with a focus on discovering new and different whiskies.

We’ve had home-made experiments with aging, phenomenal food pairings, independent bottlers, country specific themes, unique blends and more!

Which meant it was high time to revisit slightly different avatars of well known whiskies, completely blind to avoid the influence of advertising and pre-conceived notions.

glenlivet-connemara-glengoyne

What did we try?

No strangers to these brands, we’ve even previously had a session focused on Glenlivet, a couple of Glengoynes over the years and most have separately sampled Connemara.

What made it interesting is the order…

Traditionally, we would start with the lightest (Glenlivet) then sherry (Glengoyne) and close with a peated whisky (Connemara).

Here we did the exact opposite – peat, sherry, light! With some interesting results.

*Tasting notes coming soon

Related tasting sessions:

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Whisky Archives – Glenlivet Nadurra, Scapa, Mitcher’s Straight Rye, Kilchoman Spring 2011 + Caroni

Another from the tasting archives… This time the post is truly a ‘blast from the past’ – Oct 2011.

This month we were back to our standard format and blind tasted before revealing the whisky. The session featured: Glenlivet Nadurra, Scapa 16 yr, Mitcher’s Straight Rye, Kilchoman Spring release followed by an extra treat Caroni 18 yr rum.

It was an exceptionally lovely evening in Worli with perfect hosts. A comfortable setting, the right music, glasses, spitoon and cucumbers all laid out, followed by the most fabulous nibbles… yum!

The contrast between the different single malts was also a wonderful learning experience… which was, naturally, the real focus of our evening.

Awaiting the revelation!

AWAITING THE REVELATION!

Glenlivet Nadurra 16 years – Batch 1010K Bottled 10/10. Cask Strength 54.9%. Non Chill Filtered. Wood – not stated.

The legs were slow though closely spaced, colour bright gold. The nose was sweet with a hint of honey, grass, a little “woody”. Not off to a bad start… and then we sipped, spit and then sipped and swallowed. While not ‘knock me down’ harsh, the first hit definitely had an edge. Spicy was a word bantered around a bit. The finish was also… well.. not so impressive.

Our overall conclusion was this perhaps wasn’t a keeper… Unveiled we were surprised this is one of the few Glenlivet’s non-chill filtered considered to be ‘good’. The distillers notes included words like ‘fruity’?! Puzzled, we chocked it up to a mass production distillery and moved on… til somewhere along the way a discussion about ambient temperature in Scotland vs India with an impact on flavour led to an inspired idea – why not chill the Nadurra and see if it makes any difference?

PS The debate on alcohol strength was lost by all thinking it was lower than 54.9%.

Scapa 16 years 40%. Wood not stated.

The legs were broad and a little faster than the Nadurra. The nose was certainly also sweet, with a more pronounced heather honey aroma than the bolder Nadurra. First savour was clean, was there a teasing hint of peat? Perhaps a little of the ocean? Neat was clearly best – any dilution simply detracted from its gentle dance on our palates. The finish wasn’t notable however this Oarkney Islands contribution was deemed light, lovely every day enjoyable. Scapa is slightly ‘cultish’ whiskey and we were a bit disappointed about such limited details on its maturation process.

Mitcher’s Straight Rye 10 years 46.4%. Wood – Charred White Oak, Single Barrel.

What a contrast to go from the Scapa to a Rye… Colour very dark – distinctly so. The notes were apple pie… comments were that it is non-whisky or almost wine-like. Our first American offering, it was a fabulous addition to our tasting journey. We learned later is that this is quite a rare bottle with the Mitchers team’s comment “You have tried one of our best!” Lucky us!

Kilchoman Spring 2011 release 46%. Age not stated – estimate 3 years.

Caramel notes… In your face peaty… smokiness of a cigar or pipe. Adding water transformed it – toned down the peatiness and opened up the whisky.  Then some fruity flavours emerged with a nice lingering smoky finish. The surprise post unveiling is that it was quite sophisticated for what we understand is only a three-year old from Islay region. For a few, the Kilchoman Spring 2011 release was the clear favourite. We also experimented by adding a twist of a mosambi peel. What an exceptional combination!

Now back to the Nadurra… Was it the booze in our collective systems, or just residual disappointment from our earlier quaffing? All one can say is there does indeed seem to be a clear correlation between temperature and taste. Cooled – the Nadurra was a delight! The earlier harshness was chilled into submission, allowing the fruity flavours in the distillery’s tasting notes to actually emerge.

Our evening closed with a little ‘extra’… not a whisky but instead a remarkable rum – yum yum!

Caroni 18 years  55%, Heavy Trinidad Rum.

Another special surprise our host pulled out of his marvellous liquor cabinet was a Caroni. Clearly no ordinary offering, it was rich, layered, full of flavours and soooo smooth going down. The alcohol content was deceptively much higher than it seemed – so one to add caution if doing more than sampling! It is also a fascinating story of an Italian so passionate about this rum that he bought the entire distillery just to not be deprived of his favoured Trinidad rum. The packaging is also superbly stylized. Naturally we also added a hint of mosambi to this too… mmm mmm good!

Anyone have other comments on these whiskies and rum?

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Whisky Ladies go on an American Adventure…

This wasn’t our first flirtation with American whiskies… nope we had an earlier evening combining some whisky standards in cocktails. However that night there was only one American single malt (Hudson).

For this evening, we planned three whiskies which somehow morphed into five bottles and a jar – funny how that happens with these ladies!

american-whiskies

In this case we managed to get our hands on:

The Whisky Ladies debated the whisky tasting order for our American adventures and finally decided to split the evening between single malts – moonshine – bourbons.

Then came the question of which whisky to start our evening off with… given Pine Barrens is known for being geared towards beer drinkers, we thought it a rather fitting start!

From there we moved on to Colorado’s Stranahan’s which… ahem… reminded us why we don’t tend to be big American whisky fans.

Followed by the lovely Westland Sherry which reminded us to stop being such whisky snobs and simply enjoy a good dram!

Break time with the Ole Smoky – dutifully drunk straight from the jar. It felt like we were channeling our inner “Mellie” Grant with her moonshine stashes all over the White House (Scandal).

Then we cracked open the AD Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon, pronouncing it rather yummy, partly as it isn’t a typical bourbon.

And finally closed our evening with a proper bourbon – the Woodford Reserve.

Other American adventures:

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Caorunn Gin… Beat the Mumbai heat!

Yes this is a whisky blog.

However I did warn that from time to time another tipple or two may make an appearance.

And I think we CAN make an exception for this gin – given that it is made at a malt distillery – Balmanech.

I’ve had the opportunity to sample it thrice in 2015:

  • Once at a BMC member’s home in a highly convivial social evening
  • Again as the ‘starter’ to sip before getting down to the serious business of a whisky master class with Stuart Harvey, Inver House Master Distiller
  • A wildly popular ‘appetiser‘ for a Whisky Ladies evening with Karen Walker

In all cases, it was served with an apple and an equal portion of tonic to gin. Perfection!

Bright, light, highly refreshing. Delicate notes.

As Karen shared, the five points of the red star bring together the Caorunn gin elements – bog myrtle, rowan berry, heather, coul blush apple, dandelion.

Yet since then… only a whiff in Winnipeg’s liquor mart.

Til today! Thanks to my partner’s recent trip to London, our liquor cabinet is graced by our very own bottle.

As Mumbai’s 2nd summer comes upon us, temperatures rise, a chilled G&T or other assorted beverages seem just right! Oh happy days!

Caorunn Gin (Courtesy International Beverage House)

Caorunn Gin (Courtesy International Beverage House)

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Amrut Bourbon 62.8% (LMdW)

Last in our Bombay Malt & Cigar club’s blind tasting surprise evening was an unusual dram. Clearly cask strength, clearly different… it was definitely an interesting close to the tasting portion of our evening.. to then shift gears to desi street food snacks and fine cigars.

amrut-bourbon

Amrut Bourbon 62.8%

(circa 2016 via La Maison du Whisky, Singapore)

Here is what we discovered:

  • Nose – Initially lots of phenols, quite ‘chewy’ seeming, woody, then as it began to open up a dark mocha chocolate, shifting between bitter chocolate and espresso coffee, hint of sweet grass smoke. With more time, dried bitter dark berries, some currents, vanilla joined by wheat
  • Palate – Flat…thud. Sweet, clearly cask strength. Did we mention sweet? Some spice, cereal, sugar sweet. Did we mention flat and sweet? Think diet coke opened for days…
  • Finish – Nothing much, a tingle, with a malty chaser

The nose was really quite promising but the palate was simply flat and disappointing. Like pricking a balloon letting all the air out… just simply didn’t even come close to matching the aroma.

We gave it more time. Wet rag, malt and more raisins joined the aromas. The palate? Still lacklustre.

We added water. Sugar sweet.

We waited some more. Sigh…

This was a difficult dram. Definitely different however not an easy one to get to know.

Our efforts to speculate what it could be fell as flat as the palate. We just couldn’t figure it out. Though perhaps someone tossed Amrut out simply as our whisky curator is an Amrut fan.

With the reveal… surprise. Particularly at the strength! “Can a whisky even have an alcohol strength like 62.8%??” Leading to discussion of another of our curators favourites – Aberlour with their cask strength A’bunadh sometimes coming above 60%.

Now here is the challenge. I want to like Amrut’s offerings. I want to be proud of what this Indian distillery is offering and what is exciting the world too! Somehow I struggle…

With the Old Pulteney, we had a clear classic. A terrific start and clearly a whisky to simply enjoy.

With the Westland, you could picture curling up with a warm fire or lighting up a cigar and whiling away the evening, chatting with friends, sharing a laugh or two or three!

However with the Amrut, I simply couldn’t picture a context I would reach out for it. Instead, it fell neatly into the academic category of “I’m glad I tried it once.”

This Amrut Bourbon forms part of a trilogy exploring different effects of peat – all at cask strength.

Here is what the folks at La Maison du Whisky have to say:

Unpredictable and surprising, this unpeated Amrut draws on both malted barley and a perfectly integrated woodiness to express every facet of its personality with great lyricism. With an exotic character overflowing with freshness, it also shows itself to be particularly spicy and vanilla-tinged. Alongside its two peated “sisters” released in our 2016 Collection, they form a trilogy that will mark a milestone in history of the Bangalore distillery.

Tasting notes:

  • Appearance : Burnished gold tinged with orange.
  • Nose : Full-bodied, firm. Majestic malted barley takes centre stage in the aromatic palette. It is accompanied by vanilla, nuts (walnut), strong spices (curry), flowers (lily, iris, lavender) and exotic fruit (pineapple, banana). Gradually, noble wood essences bring out the exceptional quality of its woody character.
  • Palate : Dense, complex. The palate counterbalances the rigour of the nose with a remarkably liberal style. It offers numerous gustatory paths, each as intense as the next. Vanilla acts as a base for fresh and exotic fruits, aromatic plants (vervain, camomile), spices (turmeric, star anise) and white spring flowers (lily of the valley, lilac).
  • Overall : Long, almost never-ending. Without losing any of its exotic character, the finish develops with aromas of liquorice and cocoa powder. The spices become increasingly hot and the fruit bursts with sweetness. Like the nose, it has a phenomenal, superb woodiness. Thirst-quenching retro-nasal olfaction fills the taste buds with the delicious juice of blood oranges. The empty glass leaves a noble spiciness (saffron).

Other whiskies featured in our BMC Blind Surprise tasting:

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