Trying to give Smokehead a chance….

So we tried Smokehead once before – the Rock edition. To say that it didn’t impress the Whisky Ladies is putting it mildly. While we are always curious to try different things and no strangers to peat, ashtray is generally not our preferred style.

However when approached by the folks over at Ian MacLeod distillery suggesting their standard Smokehead is more accessible than the Rock edition, I didn’t have the heart to refuse their rather sincere representative, though did warn him our tasting would be unbiased and honest.

The little Smokehead mini sat patiently waiting for many months until finally one evening it was time to try a range of peat whiskies. Thus was born the evening of minis of a peaty persuasion – Peat Chimney 12 year 40%Big Peat 46%Longrow 46%BenRiach Peated Quarter Cask 46%Ledaig 10 year 46.3%. Smokehead came along for the ride but the others politely but firmly declined.

What to do with our poor rebuffed Smokehead sample? Try try try again… finally a fateful evening occurred when Smokehead finally was cracked open.

Smokehead 40%

  • Nose – Sweet smoky “breathable” want pulled port, braised steak craving, cinnamon, sweet BBQ rub
  • Palate – Watered down, then ash tray, came out as oddly flat
  • Finish – Queer finish, almost off

Our conclusion “All talk, no action”… in other words the nose was more promising than the palate.

Full disclosure – this sample was provided by the folks at Ian McLeod.

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McClelland’s Speyside Single Malt 40%

During my last trip to Canada, I caught up with one of our Mumbai Whisky Ladies who moved to Canada. Naturally our evening turned to a sip or two. Of late, her preferences have leaned towards lighter Speyside drams.

One was from a familiar distillery – Auchentoshan – though an expression not yet reviewed – American Oak…

The other was new to me – McClelland’s Speyside, started originally as a blender, now part of the Morrison Bowmore distillers.

The thinking behind the McClelland’s range is to explore the ‘character’ of key whisky distilling regions –  launched in 1986 with an Islay, Highland and Lowland expressions  and joined in 1999 by this Speyside expression.

They describe a Speyside whisky character as being:

Speyside malts are sweet and fruity;
sometimes delicate, sometimes rich and robust.
Always complex.

And while I did not take detailed notes, my recollections were of:

  • Nose – Honey, light fruit and florals, fresh, sweet
  • Palate – Light spice, slightly nutty, floral with a oaky slightly bitter quality too
  • Finish – Short

Overall quite pleasant and an easy drinking dram.

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

  • Colour – Honeyed with golden highlights.
  • Body – Light to medium, elegant and balanced.
  • Nose – A fresh invigorating Speyside malt of mint, menthol and freshly cut pine. Traces of fine dark chocolate and a lingering sweet malt aroma.
  • Palate – An initial fibrous sweet nougat essence is complemented by the savoury flavours of brazil and hazelnut. A subtle floral freshness adds a faint perfumed bouquet to the palate.
  • Finish – Short, yet powerful, complex unforgettable.

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Peat Unusual – BenRiach 25 year Authenticus Peated 46%

Last in our “Peat Unusual” evening was the beauty that inspired the evening in the 1st place! To recap, the goal was to sample peaty whiskies – other than Islay – that did not neatly follow conventional expectations of a Peaty dram.

Alas my notes from that evening were waylaid… however I had an opportunity to share a few remaining drops in another occasion… so what follows are those impressions.

BenRiach 25 year Authenticus Peated 46%

  • Nose – An initial whiff of surfer that then disappeared. Sherry sweet, peat, medicinal, green apple like a Granny Smith, cranberry juice (the tart kind not cough syrupy sweet type), juicy tart, dried hay
  • Palate – Lots going on, grassy and herbal, taste like tobacco, coriander seeds, light rancio, unmistakable peat yet equally rich and robust with other dimmensions too
  • Finish – Whiff of smoke, fabulously long and lovely

Overall we found it to be a brilliant dram. Complex, nuanced, mature and having a sophistication few whiskies achieve.

To put it mildly, this whisky was in a completely different league than the others.

And what do the folks over at BenRiach have to say?

  • Appearance: Bright, warm amber gold.
  • Nose: Elegant aromas of ripe pineapple, fresh mountain herbs and a profusion of sweet peat. A huge pungent blast of peat smoke emerges, partnering the peated element perfectly. Full bodied and audacious.
  • Palate: A fantastic fusion of rich peat and smouldering embers bound together by fresh herbs – oregano, aniseed and chicory in particular. A rush of sweet, wild honey provides a lovely contrast to this lively, intense expression.
  • Conclusions: Terrific weight and development which leaves a powerful long lasting impression on the palate.

I know this whisky was picked up at The Whisky Exchange in 2016 where it can be purchased for approx 225. I was impatiently waiting for the appropriate occasion to try… what a wonderful evening of seated whiskies.

Our “peat unusual” whiskies featured:

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Barbados Rum – FourSquare Criterion 10 year 56%

When my fellow spirits adventurer and I first sampled this rum with Sukhinder Singh in London – we were blown away. We both bought bottles from The Whisky Exchange and were rather impatient to engineer the right opportunity to try again.

It came out at the close of a rather ambitious tasting evening that started with a set of whisky minis of a peaty persuasion – Peat Chimney 12 year 40%Big Peat 46%Longrow 46%BenRiach Peated Quarter Cask 46%Ledaig 10 year 46.3%…

Followed by rum Quintet of Diplomatico 40%, Zacapa 23 Solera 40% vs XO 40%, El Dorado 12 year 40%…. then this Criterion… added as a ‘reward’ for our extensive tasting adventures!

Foursquare Criterion 10 year (April 2017) Ex Bourbon / Ex Madiera 56%

  • Nose – Chocolate, berries, lemon grass, nutmeg, tropical fruits
  • Palate – Lovely rich spices, creamy, rich and dry, multiple elements at play
  • Finish – Yes we had a finish with this rum, initially a bit sharp, it mellowed beautifully

This Barbados rum is matured in ex-bourbon & Madeira casks, uncoloured with no additives.

Tasting notes by Billy Abbot, The Whisky Exchange:

  • Nose: Intense brown sugar and roasted tropical fruit to start – pineapples and bananas. Salted caramel and baking spices follow, with nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon joined by a hint of sweet butter. Underneath are sharper notes of candied lemon, and sweet and sour toffee apples.
  • Palate: A burst of Crunchie bars is balanced by touches of barrel char. Caramel runs through the middle with singed sultanas and apples leading the way to medicinal touches that quickly fade under a Portuguese custard tart onslaught. Oaky tannins dry out the sides of the mouth while sweet fruit builds in the middle: more toffee apple and banana.
  • Finish: Mouth-watering, with dark chocolate, treacle toffee and Crunchie bars sat alongside stewed apple and barrel-char bitterness.
  • Comment: Intense, with sweetness balanced by hints of char. The cask influences really make themselves known, with the dual attack of toffee and custard tarts harking back to their previous occupants.

What else did we sample in our rummy evening?

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Guyana Rum – El Dorado 12 year 40%

After the Diplomatico and Zacapa duo in our rum sampling evening, was  El Dorado. My 1st brush with El Dorado was the 15 year version at the close of a whisky tasting session, paired with a delicious desert.

El Dorado 12 year 40%

  • Nose – Raisins, very sugary, strong caramel
  • Palate – Alcohol to the extent of being more cognac like than rum

By this point you could tell we’d had enough… Truly there is much more going on with this rum and I certainly recalled quite enjoying it with a previous tasting experience as a ‘finish’ to a delightful evening of whiskies.

El Dorado is from Guyana and here’s what the folks over at El Dorado have to say:

Lush tropical fruit and spice nose with hints of honey and dark sugar. Round, mellow, full bodied palate with rich flavours of fruit and spice. The finish is delightful, elegant and dry.

“Hedonistic and well balanced”

What else did we sample in our rummy evening?

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Guatemalan Rum – Zacapa 23 Solero 40% vs XO 40%

Next in our rum sampling was a head-to-head of two Zacapas – the 23 Solero and the XO… Zacapa rum is from Guatemala.

Before proceeding, there is a caveat… we are primarily whisky aficionados… and this rum distraction followed a rather marvellous round of peaty whisky minis. So I do hope our scant notes can be forgiven and instead just sit back, relax and enjoy our light meanderings into the realm of rum…

Zacapa 23 Solero 40%

  • Nose – Sweet, woody, prunes, cream, almost like port, then shifts into a Malbec, rum raisins
  • Palate – The port like quality is even more pronounced on the palate, more raisins, rich and robust, lots of the deep sherry spice and dark fruits

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

Combining a blend of rums from 6 to 23 years old.

  • Keynote – Wonderfully intricate with honeyed butterscotch, spice oak and raising fruit, showcasing the complexity of the sistema solar aging process.
  • Nose – A soft start which develops complexity in the glass; sweet aromas of caramel, vanilla, cacao and butterscotch, combining with layers of flavour indicative of the different barrels in the solera process; sherried notes of caramelised, roasted brazil nuts and toasted hazelnut, and the characteristic rounded toffeed banana and dried pineapple of ex-American whiskey casks.
  • Palate – Wonderfully complex, generous and full-bodied, with a sweet honeyed viscosity atypical of an aged spirit; a great depth of raisined fruit and apricot preserves, building to an intense heart of savoury oak, nutmeg, leather and tobacco with notes of coffee and delicately sweet vanilla, balanced with a spicy touch of cinnamon and ginger on the pleasantly astringent finish; truly a rum for the discerning palate.

Zacapa XO 40%

  • Nose – Honey, dry wood
  • Palate – Lighter, bitter, dry, woody

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

Combining a blend of rums from 6 to 25 years old.

  • Keynote – A perfectly balanced combination of sweetness, spice, fruit and spirit, a connoisseur’s delight and the ultimate expression of the Master Blender’s art.
  • Nose – A very open nose with a wealth of aromas that seem to evolve each time you nose the glass; a great balance of mature toasted oak, burnt caramel, dry-roasted nuts, marzipan and orange peel; a delicate floral note of honeysuckle in the background.
  • Palate – A wonderfully complex and satisfying balance of sweetness, fruit, spice and spirit, all tempered by the extra ageing stage in ex-cognac French oak barrels; long, smooth and sweet with a weight of dark cherry chocolate and flavours of intense dried fruits like sultana, date and prune; sweet oak spices of clove, vanilla and cinnamon, and lighter notes of dried mango and raspberry, with a subtle hint of ginger to finish. A connoisseur’s delight and the ultimate expression of the Master Blender’s art.

We found the XO much more restrained on the palate than the 23 Solero. We also tried it in the Norlan glass to find it much smoother, revealing more rum like qualities with brown sugar soaked raisins.

What else did we sample in our rummy explorations?

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Venezuelan Rum – Diplomatico 40%

The first in our rum minis evening was Diplomatico… which I first avoided at the 2016 Whisky Live Singapore – doing my best not to get my feminist hackles up over their dominatrix styled models wandering about to pique male interest in the rum.

However marketing faux pas aside (from my perspective at least), the chance to share a mini with a merry bunch seemed the best opportunity to get over my prejudice.

Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva 40%

  • Nose – Toast with butter and marmalade, then a bit of marmite, burnt sugar like a crème brulee, spiced rum raisins, caramel custard, a German Stollen or marzipan
  • Palate – Very sweet, lighter than anticipated

In short, this could be described as “sweet and delicious” like desert in a glass.

Diplomatico origins are Venezuelan and can be found in 60 odd countries.

What do the folks over at Diplomatico have to say?

  • Nose: Complex and characterful, with notes of maple syrup, orange peel, brown sugar and liquorice.
  • Mouth: Sweet toffee fudge and a seductive and elegant finish.

What else did we sample in our rummy evening?

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Rum Quintet – Diplomatico, Zacapa 23 vs XO, El Dorado, Criterion

After our peaty minis session, talk turned to the emerging quality of unique single rums… in part sparked by a few rum miniatures peaking amongst the whiskies and in part sparked by the availability of a few rums to run a few comparisons.

What did we settle on?

This wasn’t my first brush with exploring rums… aside from the occasional opportunity to taste a single rum here and there, there was a rather memorable session at Whisky Live SingaporeIs Single Rum the new Single Malt? Masterclass with Luca Gargano and Dave Broom.

Other remarkable rums….

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Sansibar’s Spicily Sweet 48%

After our Douglas Laing trio of Timorous Beastie 46.8%,  Epicurean 46.2% and Rock Oyster 57.4%, we shifted gears to Germany with a restaurant cum independent bottler Sansibar.

This was not my 1st brush with Sansibar…. I had snagged a cask strength Islay dram for my whisky tasting groups a year earlier… shared in two sessions:

I then had a chance to try more of their range at Singapore’s Whisky Live in November 2017. There was no doubt one of the set I tried was coming home to Mumbai to share…

To then have an opportunity to try it together with BOTH the Whisky Ladies and Bombay Malt & Cigar gents? Along with other independent blends? Well it seemed like just the right opportunity!

Sansibar’s Spicily Sweet 48%

  • Nose – Mmmm…. caramel sweet… lots of toffee… Christmas pudding, coconut, brandy butter tart, then started to reveal more fruits like papaya, shifting back in vanilla, more baked goods like butter pecan pie, a hint of cinnamon and other sweet spices
  • Palate – “Wow!” It was one of those whiskies where articulating the experience in specific descriptors was lost in the pure pleasure of just enjoying the palate. Nicely rounded, sweet and spice beautifully balanced. In short – it was simply delicious.
  • Finish – Continued in the lovely sweet spicy vein
  • Water – Why add? Not needed at all

For most this was a return to their whisky ‘happy place’… particularly for one of our gents, this was “his” style of whisky and a perfect accompaniment to a good cigar.

There were a few ‘outliers’ with different impressions. One lady remarked it started off with “old sock” scent.. which may sound atrocious but it actually quite common and not a disaster in drams. Another said she found naphthol in the finish….

Yet the overall consensus was this was an enjoyable dram, aptly named “Spicily Sweet” with more emphasis on the sweetness than the spiciness.

Here’s what the folks at Sansibar have to say:

NOSE Honey, figs, prunes on butter crumble, with marzipan, raisins, caramel and cinnamon
TASTE Sweet honey, herbal liqueur, caramel and almonds, with pepper, cinnamon and dried fruit
LEAVING Spicy, peppery, with dried fruit and hazelnut

Photo: Nikoulina Berg

This bottle of Sansibar Spicily Sweet was purchased at La Maison du Whisky, Singapore for approx SGD 150.

What were the whisky blends explored?

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Douglas Laing’s Lowland Blend Epicurean 46.2%

Last in our Douglas Laing’s Remarkable Regions blends was Epicurean from the Lowlands

Douglas Laing Epicurean 46.2%

  • Nose – Yheasty, butter caramel, slightly raw, herbal, sour peaches, basil, almonds, quite tangy with tamarind, puckering citrus, almond face oil, the peaches quality became increasingly pronounced from raw to steamed to canned peaches
  • Palate – Sweet almond paste, spice, cinnamon, bitter, burnt citrus
  • Finish – Quite nutty, light sweet and lingers, rubber, coffee
  • Water – Initially brought out honey then dissipated almost immediately

For many this was a favourite of the Douglas Laing trio… for others the salty quality of Rock Oyster was a welcome departure. What we can say is the Epicurean paired rather well with a cigar.

Here’s what they have to say:

Douglas Laing’s The Epicurean Lowland Malt Scotch Whisky tells the story of a 1930s Glasgow man, a real cheeky chappy who was ever the life and soul of the party, and a real connoisseur of fine food and drink. A dram we describe as “city born and bred”, The Epicurean is a blend of some of the finest Lowland Malts; a marriage of the best that the East and the West of Scotland have to offer. This small batch bottling is proudly without colouring or chill-filtration and bottled at 46.2% ABV.

Tasting notes:

  • Nose – In a tipple of our Small Batch “The Epicurean”, you can bet on a nose that is barley-rich, citric, floral and herbal.
  • Palate – The mouth-coatingly sweet palate displays crunched sugar, burnt citrus, mixed spices, thyme, peaches and hard candy…
  • Finish – All charmingly underpinned and enriched in the finish with more of that earlier herbal character, in a gristy style with almonds, cut grass and burnt sugar.

Photo: Nikoulina Berg

What were the whisky blends explored?

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