About Carissa Hickling

Originally from Winnipeg, Canada, has called India home since 2003, working in Asia Pacific and traveling all over! She's also a bit of a 'Whisky Lady' too!

Going on an expedition! Shackleton’s Journey 47.3%

The whiskies of yore are extremely rare, however whisky recreations (particularly when backed with a good story) are making a come-back!

Shackleton was inspired by 3 crates of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt discovered in Antartica in 2007 from an 1907 expedition with Ernest Shackleton, brought to fortify his ‘Nimrod’ expedition. Richard Paterson, Master Blender of White & Mackay (owners of the Mackinlay brand), re-created this whisky based on analysis of the previous preserved bottles from the originals.

There are now three editions – ‘Discover’ and  ‘Journey’ both at 47.3% and a newer 40% version for mass market. The initial editions used Orkney peat in the malting, matured in American white oak sherry casks with a blend of malts from Glen Mhor and Dalmore distilleries with others from Speyside and beyond.

Our original group sampled the Journey version completely blind before the reveal.

Shackleton 47.3% – Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt, The Journey edition

  • Colour – A bright yellow gold straw
  • Nose – Fruity, organic, citrus, a sense that it might be a bit oily, banana, as the pronounced alcohol started to settle down revealed a more earthy side, dairy curds, dry hay, has quite a farm-like quality, a bit of khatta meetha (sour & sweet), tamarind, kept changing and evolving, shifted to cut grass, vegetal, copper, hint of smoke, autumn leaves, garden flowers, light spice, sesame oil, tropical fruits, light honey, even marmalade
  • Palate – Sweet yet with a bitter green element too – like meethi or cereal, a little spice and sweet, while came across as young it was without being harsh or raw, fresh tumeric, dry, even a bit of sulfur?
  • Finish – A long, bitter finish with more of that tumeric

This whisky had quite a volatile character. After the first sip, the nose was dramatically dampened down, the diversity gone, and the aromas and palate aligned. Some found it bitter quality pleasant, others a bit too much. While not complex on the palate… it began with character then became flat with the nose slipping into wet mud.

Then we added water... what a difference that made! The bitterness left, replaced by a much sweeter, balanced dram, a gentle smoke weaved its way around. Often water initially brings out spice – in this case not at all – instead it just brought all the elements together.

As our discussions continued, it aired further as we debated whether this was Scottish at all… could it be European? A blend? The aromas shifted to a medicine cabinet, iodine and adhesive bandaids chased by b-complex pills.

While we concluded it may not be a “repeat” drink, it certainly sparked a lot of conversation and was good way to start our evening.

With the reveal, we were distracted by all the paraphernalia that came with the whisky… The packaging was cleverly designed to bring history to the consumer of the reconstruction – a straw covered bottle, a slim envelop bursting with photographs, copies of old letters, a negative strip, map, booklet outlining the tale…

 

The Journey edition is described to be the “elegant and refined” avatar:

With the launch of the Shackleton Epic Expedition, and continued correspondence with Shackleton’s grand-daughter Alexandra and the Antarctic Heritage Trust, Richard Paterson was inspired to create a second edition of the Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt – The JOURNEY.

The Epic Expedition will attempt to replicate Shackleton’s “Double”: his journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia, a distance of 800 miles over sea and ice. This will be done with the same kinds of equipment used in the 1916 expedition, including the Alexandra Shackleton, a replica of the 23ft open lifeboat used on the original voyage.

The Journey Edition of Mackinlay’s takes the same base of single malts used to create the original Discovery Edition and, still inspired by the original recipe, builds on them to create a noticeably different dram – a more elegant and refined interpretation.

What all did we try in our explorer’s evening of “It’s all about the packaging”?

  • Mackinlay’s Shackleton “The Journey” 47.3% (This post)
  • Tobermory 15 years 46.3%
  • Highland Park’s Valhalla Series “Thor” 16 year 52.1%

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Explorers – Shackleton, Tobermory, Highland Park Thor

One of the reasons we love tasting blind is we can explore a whisky without being influenced by previous experience with the distillery or marketing paraphernalia. For our February 2018 session, this came in handy… as the theme of the evening ending up being the whisky packaging!

What all did we try?

  • Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Shackleton “The Journey” 47.3%
  • Tobermory 15 years 46.3%
  • Highland Park’s Valhalla Series “Thor” 16 year 52.1%

Did I mention the marketing? Just wait to see the booklets, photos, special boxes and more!

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Kavalan Solist Cask Trio – Sherry

After the Kavalan Solist Brandy and Port casks, we finished our trio with the familiar Sherry cask.

Except this is the thing about all Kavalan Solist whiskies, each is a unique cask which means there is also something to discover about the elements specific to that particular cask – be it from 2008, 2009 and even two from (20102010).

So which one did we try? A cask from June 2009….

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask S0906080388 Bottle 098/522 57.8%

Nikkhil’s tasting notes

  • Color: Dark Varnish
  • Nose: Now that’s what you call a Sherry monster! A blast of prunes, orange oil, espresso, chocolate. Whiff of pencil shavings, tobacco, leather, old furniture. Stunning!
  • Palate: Thick like treacle. Gorgeous mouthfeel, if only silk was edible! Follows the nose note to note. It was Christmas all over again. Drams like these should not be dissected. They are simply too complex for words. Hence I’m going to stop. Just sit back and enjoy this masterpiece.
  • With Water: All the gorgeousness gets amplified.
  • Finish: Long and warming. Like a conversation with an old friend.

Photo: Keshav Prakash

And now… to shift from what the tasting group had to say to the separate sampling session…

Carissa’s tasting notes:

  • Nose – More restrained than the 2nd dram, yet clearly has a solid sherry quality, dry, tight fruits
  • Palate – Rich, velvety quality, coffee, chocolate, complex, almost evaporates in the mouth, gorgeous and completely delicious, silky smooth and refined
  • Finish – Not just long, simply remarkable

The colour alone gives it away – deep dark maple syrup. Had all the hallmarks of a mature whisky – the way a sherry cask matured dram should be. “We are not worthy.” Exceptional.

Photo: Keshav Prakash

And the reveal?? Kavalan Sherry… not old at all, just the beneficiary of an accelerated maturation in the warm climate of Taiwan.

The folks at Kavalan have this to say about their Sherry Cask:

Matured in Spanish top quality oloroso sherry casks in special editions, Kavalan Solist Sherry is bottled at the distillery, without any colouring or chill-filtration. It is a naturally smooth and rich whisky with a complex character. It is clean and complex with multi-layers of dried fruit, nuttiness and spices with some marzipan and vanilla touches to it as well.

  • Color – Dark and mouth-watering raisin
  • Nose – Clean and complex with multi-layers of dried fruit, nuttiness and spices with some marzipan and vanilla touches to it as well.
  • Palate – Rich, oily and full with pleasant dried fruit and spices that linger on in the mouth plus a hint of fine coffee.
  • Tasting – We suggest drinking Kavalan Solist Oloroso Sherry Cask neat.

Our Kavalan Cask Trio covered:

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Kavalan Solist Cask Trio – Port

Next up in our trio of Kavalan Solist cask explorations was a single malt matured in Port casks. While sherry casks is a standard, there are few examples of whiskies matured in port casks – however most are ‘finished’ rather than maturing the full time in an ex port cask. So, when tasting completely blind as we did for this whisky, we can be forgiven for not immediately recognizing it as a port cask rather than sherry.

And what was discovered in our two separate tastings?

Kavalan Solist Port Cask 0090728014A Bottle 188/205 58.6%

Nikkhil’s tasting notes with group:

  • Color: Dark Burgundy
  • Nose: Red fruits. Something immediately grassy about this one. Mildly citrus as in orange oil. A tad shy. After airing it a bit a lovely chocolate note appeared with more dark red fruits. A tiny hint of Sulphur but in a good way. Very interesting indeed.
  • Palate: Lovely creamy mouthfeel with beautiful notes of melons, currants, allspice. Some mellow ash, old furniture/bookshelves. Plums, raisins and star anise. Bitter tannic notes appear. Leather chairs and licorice. Very busy indeed and kept evolving. Super stuff.
  • With Water and a little rest that lovely chocolate note from the nose is brought to the forefront along with some toffee/coffee and roasted walnuts.
  • ​Finish: ​Long with spices, tobacco and slightly bitter tannins.

Photo: Keshav Prakash

Carissa’s tasting notes:

  • Nose – Mmmm… old wood, fruity – dark and dried, star anise, dry and dusty, prunes peaking behind… really growing, shifts into chocolate, complex, opens up more and more with rum raisins, seemed like a restrained sherry not the full on Christmas cake… just stunning, rich fruit
  • Palate – Super turbo star anise, polished old wood, full on spice, dry, deep flavours, as complex on the palate as the nose, sooo lovely, dried fruits, prunes, plums
  • Finish – Long, strong and beautiful

There is a concentrated quality to this dram. After setting it aside for a bit, revisited and found the nose had shifted into a bright citrus, palate retained the gorgeous spice and with a few drops of water opens up even more.

It gave the sense of being nearly Sherry… so when the reveal showed it wasn’t sherry at all but instead its cousin port, it all fell into place!

Photo: Keshav Prakash

The folks at Kavalan have this to say about their Port Cask:

Port is a Portuguese fortified wine that is robust and sweet with a fuller and richer body. It is therefore usually served as a dessert wine or digestif. Kavalan Solist Port Cask is fully matured in Portuguese Port barriques under the subtropical climate to create the multiple fruity flavours such as plum, blueberry, blackberry and strawberry just to name a few, with chocolate as the main background note.

  • Color – Deep ruby
  • Nose – The rich fruity and nutty flavours combined and enhanced by orange and citrus notes that can be enjoyed together with gentle and elegant wood spices of our American oakiness.
  • Palate – Satisfying fruitiness blended with quality chocolate aromas that melt delicately on your palate. A wonderful and long lasting after taste for your unique sampling pleasure.
  • Tasting – We suggest drinking Kavalan Solist Port Cask neat. It is also perfect with desserts.

Our Kavalan Cask Trio covered:

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Kavalan Solist Cask Trio – Brandy

What a remarkable opportunity – a trio of cask strength whiskies from the same new make spirit – each matured in a different cask.

First up from Kavalan was the Brandy Cask… Sampled initially by our regular tasting group completely blind with notes by Nikkhil then a sample sent to me… also sampled with no clue about the whisky.

Kavalan Solist Brandy Cask AO90709055 Bottle 052/281 55.6%

Nikkhil’s notes:

  • Color: Dark Amber
  • Nose: Initial hit of spirit vapors. Then overripe bananas, hint of honey, kafir lime citrus. Green apples, damp mud, sawdust. Some leather notes now along with beeswax. Overall there wasn’t a lot of weight on the nose suggesting a younger whisky.
  • Palate: Oh my god can somebody please dial the fire brigade! My nostrils are singed and throat scorched. The fire quickly spread around the group. I’ve never had a whisky that hot and raw. Once the fire was doused by glugging lots of water I nervously got back to tasting.  Young and rather thin on the palate and the heat was still simmering! Very little mouthfeel. Volatile. Bitter tannis and spirit driven. A very muted development. I think this one was bottled too early.
  • With water (and it could take a lot) and about 30mins of rest it transformed completely. That acrid heat was gone and the mouthfeel returned. Now there were tropical fruits, pineapple, some hints of mango, lychee and even coconut. On the palate it was now oily with some faint tobacco and star anise. It was also distinctly briny and the bitterness continued.
  • Finish: Very dry and the tannic bitterness continued with hints of licorice.

Photo: Keshav Prakash

Carissa’s tasting notes:

  • Nose – Woah! Varnish… sharp, astringent then started to settle down… light banana, honey, vanilla, shifting into caramel
  • Palate – Harsh, raw, salty, spice, quite a kick initially, very piquant, bit bitter, then a hint of coffee and chocolate
  • Finish – Warm burn, jaggery, lingers… with more of that spice, salty and bitter, long and tingly

Overall had a sense of being young as in very young, possibly ex-Bourbon cask. A bit “in your face” and seemed to have a high alcohol strength so… decided to try again with a generous splash of water…

  • Nose – Brightens it up, lemon, floral and more honey
  • Palate – Rounds it out, still bitter and reveals even a light leather, old wood and much more depth
  • Finish – Intense

While still young, with water much more approachable. Wait longer and it reveals even more.

Photo: Keshav Prakash

What do the folks at Kavalan have to say about their Brandy Cask?

Part of the Kavalan Solist series, matured in the hand-selected and top-quality brandy cask which is then individually and meticulously selected by the master blender with his skill to create uniquely fruity flavors and distinct characteristics for your sampling pleasure. This cask strength single cask malt whisky is non chill-filtered with natural colour to retain the fullest flavours.

  • Color – Seductive midnight amber
  • Nose – Irresistible peach, passion fruit, strawberry and mango fragrances with delicious vanilla, toffee, spices and honey mingling in the background.
  • Palate – Oily, round and smooth with complex and long finish that ends with a taste of sweet lychee.
  • Tasting – We suggest drinking Kavalan Solist Brandy Cask neat.

Would we agree? For this particular cask, a healthy dollop of water and time to open up makes all the difference. Neat? No. Dillute and give it time… Yes.

Curious how we associated the Brandy with Bourbon cask – now knowing what we were sipping, it would be interesting to try it again side-by-side with the Solist bourbon cask.

Our Kavalan Cask Trio covered:

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Kavalan Solist Cask Collection – Brandy, Port, Sherry

The hard thing about having a “real” job rather than running my own business is that the variables beyond ones control are simply much higher. Which means sometimes, despite best efforts, I have to miss a whisky tasting session.

Galloping yet again to the rescue was our fabulous guest writer Nikkhil Shirodkar… except this time our host insisted on a different approach.

  • Our regular tasting group’s collective impressions were captured by Nikkhil who then also enjoyed the great reveal and further discussions
  • A sample trio was generously set aside for me to go through and jot down my notes separately
  • Both sets of notes to be compared to see how similar or different they were, with enthusiastic pressure put to “guess” the theme
  • Then finally… nearly a month later… the reveal

But it was worth it – completely worth it!

Photo: Keshav Prakash

So here we are… drum roll… our original group’s January trio:

It was a remarkable theme exploring three different casks from Taiwan’s Kavalan distillery with their Solist series of individual casks at full strength.

Nikkhil had this to share about their experience when the whiskies were revealed…

So the host decided to quiz by asking us to guess the producer of the whiskies. The only obvious give away before the reveal was that these were intensely Sherried drams. So we round up the usual suspects: Glenfarclas, Glendronach, Aberlour Abunah without thinking about Non-Scottish producers. I don’t think any Non-Scottish producer has an equivalent range to the Kavalan Solist. But then again, how often does one get to sample/drink a Kavalan Solist on a regular basis? We totally missed that one even though in hindsight it was so obvious.

What Kavalan has achieved in terms of the sheer quality of their offerings is truly remarkable. We are all aware of the hot tropical climes and its effect on maturation but its more than just the weather. Every process, right from the selection of the barley to the shape of their stills, the best wood policy and access to a variety of premier casks all add in delivering stunning whiskies.

Remember that the entire Kavalan range is NAS! Is age on the bottle then just a number? A quick a tip. Every bottle in the Solist range has a code which can be decoded very easily to reveal its age. For eg. S0906080388 bottled in 2015 makes it roughly 6yrs old. Here is how:

Sherry Cask | Year |  Mon |  Day |  Barrel on the Day

S  |   09 06   |  08  |  0388

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Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach 46.3%

Bunnahabhain is known as the un-peated Islay dram… which makes their Ceòbanach a bit of a departure.

Knowing this limited edition expression was new to the market, one of our Whisky Ladies decided it was just the right twist to bring to our “Contributors Choice” evening.

Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach 46.3%

  • Nose – Perfumey peat, sweet, way more peat than had anticipated, creamy, slightly astringent until it settled down, almost salty
  • Palate – Bacon, bloody mary, spice kick, quite direct, black pepper, citrus and bitter yet smooth and almost oily
  • Finish – Long finish, not heavy, spicy and sweet with a dash of salt too

This was one of those drams that is hard to go back to anything else after such peat. It certainly wasn’t “clobber over the head” peat but it wasn’t a push-over either.

Here is what the folks at Bunnahabhain have to say:

Ceobanach [pronounced kyaw-bin-och] means ‘Smoky Mist’ and harks back to a simpler time; when island life depended on peat for warmth and trade, a time when smoke from the open fires mingled with the salty sea air, to create a ‘Smoky Mist’ you could almost taste.

Bunnahabhain Ceobanach has an unusually rich character; from the sweetness of the Bourbon casks, to the intense Islay malt peatiness, not to mention the characteristic sea air influence from more than 10 years maturing on the coast.

  • Colour – Lemon gold
  • Nose – Intensely pungent depths of sweet oak, seaweed, smoke and elegant light tar with mild antiseptic
  • Palate – Exceptionally balanced malt sweetness, then tangy yet mellow vanilla, white pepper, bitter orange and salt
  • Finish – Lingering oatcake saltiness and sweet peppered smoke

For the ladies in the mood for peat, this one hit its mark.

So what did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Contributor’s Choice” evening?

Here are a few more Bunnahabhain’s sampled over the last couple of years…

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Glenmorangie 19 year 43%

Duty free releases can sometimes surprise you… They can be terribly average, a marketing dumping ground to see what sticks. They can also be a rather fine example of the best a distillery has to offer… or an interesting experiment in a new direction.

For this age statement Glenmorangie, I have to admit I was expecting it to take a rather “classic” take on the Glenmorangie style, an evolution from The Original like the classy 18 year rather than shifting into heavy play of finishes like with Amontillado Sherry Casks with The Tayne.

When it showed up fresh from London to Mumbai at the hands of a welcome visiting Whisky Lady as her contribution to the evening, curiosity was indeed sparked!

Glenmorangie 19 year 43%

  • Nose – Surprising sea salt, perfume, restrained, nuanced, honey, with a hint of rancio, a bit musty, old cheese, damp after the rains, then keeps getting sweeter and fresher revealing a soft citrus
  • Palate – Very peppery at first, citrusy, intense and so unexpected after the aromas, oily, bittersweet
  • Finish – Sea salt, iodine, metallic
  • Water – A few drops really opens it up and brings out more of the typical Glenmorangie 10 floral honey aromas, the peppers on the palate into balance and rounds it out beautifully

Quite subtle with some lovely  notes… And a surprising saltiness for a Genmorangie.

How it blossomed with a bit of water surprised most of us who thought at 43% should be zero need to add. We had a debate on its impact on the finish – with some finding it made it even saltier and others thought sweetened it.

But the best way to have it? With sea salt dark chocolate caramel. Which we just happened to have from the US, courtesy our contributor who brought the Glenmorangie.

What do the folks at Glenmorangie have to say?

  • Aroma – This bright sparkling golden whisky is fresh and zesty on the nose with suggestions of mint and eucalyptus, intensifying into candy, peaches and vanilla. A drop of water releases floral notes and honey.
  • Taste – A complex and creamy balance of vanilla, tangy oranges, apricots, apples, butter candy and a hint of menthol.
  • Finish – In the aftertaste, there is a strong suggestion of mint toffee alongside oak tannin and Glenmorangie’s celebrated lingering, bittersweet citrus fruit.

So what else did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Contributor’s Choice” evening?

Other Glenmorangie’s sampled over the years include:

And a few Glenmorangie evenings too:

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The Glenrothes Manse Reserve 43%

The whisky that ruled our Whisky LadiesContributors Choice” evening was The Glenrothes … A speyside distillery known for its rich, complex vintages. For some of our whisky ladies this was an introduction, for others a welcome opportunity to revisit a favoured dram.

The Glenrothes Manse Reserve 43%

  • Nose – Caramel, toffee, vanilla, coffee, honey suckle, buttery, sticky bun, gingerbread
  • Palate – Treacle, oily, bread pudding with vanilla sauce, rum raisins with panache, pumpkin pie
  • Finish – Burnt candy orange, allspice

Soooo yummy! Grounded, complex and complete.

After such a super sweet nose, it was so welcome to have more depth on the palate. Like coming full cycle. Clear balance between maturing in ex-Bourbon and Sherry casks.

Their description of “Autumnal fruits, alluring spice” is spot on.

It was a clear favourite with the Whisky Ladies.

And what do the folks at The Glenrothes have to say? Read on…

  • Bouquet: Autumn orchard, custard cream biscuits, fleeting but recurrent floral notes.
  • Palete: Fresh, uplifting, bottled pears, soft alluring spices
  • Finish: Medium length. Refreshingly fruity with uplifting spices

So what did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Contributor’s Choice” evening?

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Mars Iwai Traditional Blended Whisky 40%

At various international airports, I’ve spotted Iwai Traditional and its cousin Mars Maltage “Cosmo” a few times… And not to scoff at reasonably priced blends, it just never quite made it into the final “cut” to come into Mumbai, India.

Which is why it was a welcome appetizer at a recent Whisky LadiesContributor’s Choice” evening…

Photo: Nikoulina Berg

Mars Iwai Traditional Blended Whisky 40%

  • Nose – Very sweet, banana, caramel, candied green apple, raisins, a bit dusty, soaked fruit. However rather than opening up to reveal more, as it aired took on an almost ‘flat’ quality, settling into a sweet rum or apple juice
  • Palate – Clearly quite a bit of grain in the blend, pineapple rum cake, cardboard, no body at all, came across as a bit raw and young, a slight hint of charcoal peat
  • Finish – Bit of a spice burn and that’s it
  • Water – Not quite sure why but it was attempted. Just don’t. All it does is bring out sharp alcohol and adds nothing to the equation

Now our Whisky Ladies are accustomed to higher strength drams, so it is no surprise several remarked that this seemed to be quite “watered down.”

We expected a pleasant appetizer whisky like Akashi Red Blended Whisky which we had dubbed the “apple cider” whisky. Yet somehow that had no pretence of being more and hence was somehow more enjoyable in its uncomplicated way.

What do we know about this whisky? Not much… except that it is apparently a blend of sherry, bourbon and wine casks with a bit of peat. Alas, I could not track down official tasting notes in English…

The Mars Hombo company is not new to the spirits industry and added whisky to their repertoire in 1949. In 1985, they opened their Shinshu distillery – producing whisky under the Mars label. This distillery at Shinshu, Kuyshu Island, Nagano Prefecture is thought to be the highest in Japan (even more so than Hakushu). More recently, the company is opening a new distillery in Kagoshima, Tsunuki.

What else did we sample in our “Contributor’s Choice” evening?

Interested in reading about more Japanese whiskies tasting notes? Check out the Asia Whiskies page.

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