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!

An evening with Stuart Harvey – Balblair 99, 00, 05 + Speyburn 15

It was an evening of sheer enjoyment, no serious masterclass, just good company, good whisky and an exceedingly good evening. It was in a most convivial South Mumbai home with the amusing and knowledgeable Stuart Harvey, Master  Blender for IBHL gracing the occasion…

Photo: Courtesy Niko Berg

And what did we have the good fortune of enjoying? Some mighty fine whiskies – with no dissecting the drams in depth, only a few fleeting impressions remained…

Balblair 05 (2015) 46% 1st Release

  • Light, fresh, green apples, had a classic oak matured quality, honey, citrus sweet
  • A cheerful, happy whisky

Balblair 00 (2014) 46%

  • For many this was the most delicious! Baked apple pie, yum!
  • Sweet and creamy, fruity with chocolate, balanced and nuanced
  • In short, an exceedingly tasty dram

Balblair 99 (2014) 46% 1st Release

  • Could clearly tell there was a marriage of ex sherry with ex bourbon – all the sherry sweetness and beautiful vanilla honey bourbon, light fruits, just enough spice to give it a little pizzazz, rich toffee, overall a class act
  • Lovely long finish – just what one wants in a beautiful whisky!

The Speyburn 15 year

  • A complete change in pace! And in its new packaging too…
  • Had all the usual Speyburn characteristics – shifted to bolder, direct dram… no pretence it is what it is…
  • Everything one enjoys in the 10 years, just enhanced even more

Special shout out to Kavir and Vidhu with our host for putting together such a super fab evening.

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Bunnahabhain 25 year (1991/2017) 50.5% (Blackadder Raw Cask)

Over the years we’ve sampled an increasing number of independent bottles. Clearly Gordon & MacPhail then Signatory are the ones we most readily come across, however every once and awhile we manage to stumble across a whisky from Blackadder.

Blackadder is known to focus on bottling a single cask, predominantly at cask strength. This particular bottle of Bunnahabhain is from their Raw Cask brand.

Image: Blackadder’s FaceBook page

Bunnahabhain 25 year (1991/2017) Cask No 5436 50.5% (Blackadder Raw Cask)

  • Nose – Brine, prunes, sour plum, then sweet yet tangy like amchor or tamarind, a hint of fulfer, candied fruit, rasins, anar or marmalade orange rinds
  • Palate – Had a very classic matured quality. Rich oriental spices, ripe blood orange, really quite elegant and fabulous
  • Finish – A deliciously long sweet finish, more of that marmalade, quite full and satisfying

The overall sense was a really rather “yummy” whisky. One we thoroughly enjoyed sampling!

Krishna Nakula, India’s Malt Maniac, shared it is an “excellent example of wood management.”

What more do we know? Well.. the helpful folks over at Blackadder managed to track down the label… which explains it was matured in a Sherry butt cask until July 2017 for the Taiwan market with 550 bottles.

Here are a few more Bunnahabhain drams sampled over the years:

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One amazing Ardbeg (1990/2003) Sherry 46% (G+MP)

Ardbeg is one of the Islay peaty “kings”… known far and wide for its strong distinctive character… which makes an interplay with sherry all the more interesting… courtesy of a Gordon + MacPhail’s experimentation.

What did we find?

Ardbeg (1990/2003) Sherry Cask 3133 46% (Gordon + MacPhail)

  • Nose  – Initially a bit ‘soapy’, then clear stamp of sherry and peat, cinnamon, wood fires burning, old books, quite rich, some dry hay, tannins, ash
  • Palate – Pure wildfire! With lots going on, fire and spice, chocolate, lots of ash, really quite brilliant!
  • Finish – Long finish with peat, chocolate and don’t laugh –  watermelon rind
  • Water – While ordinarily would not add to a 46%, please do in this case! It then reveals delicious bacon, maple syrup  along with cinnamon spice

Overall this had a brash “Pay attention dude!” quality – a “text book” Islay whisky – in the best possible way.

You won’t easily find this whisky as it was specially bottled by Gordon & MacPhail for Symposion Sweden.

While I couldn’t find any official tasting notes, recommend you check out WhiskyFun‘s review!

Other Ardbeg tasting experiences

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Amrut Port Pipe Peated 62.8% (LMdW)

It is time to admit I’ve gone from being skeptical about the Amrut’s available in India to being puzzled by experiments like Spectrum to becoming rather impressed with some of the expressions available outside of India.

After enjoying the Fever Club Con-Fusion whisky, our host shared the tale of when he 1st encountered this at Whisky Live in Paris. Shared how he was intent on other explorations but when passing by the Amrut booth sampled this and went “Woah!” So much so that of all the options, this is the one that stood out and made its way back to Mumbai for our sampling pleasure. Lucky us!

Amrut Port Pipe Peated 62.8% 

  • Nose – Spice, fruit, basil and mint, not just herbal… it is like a chutney, very sweet fruit, then shifts to dark rich bitter chocolate
  • Palate – “What the F@%k!” Exceptional. An elegant peat. Cinnamon spice. a light brine, very dry.
  • Finish – Long spice peat…
  • Water – Absolutely no temptation to add

There was absolutely nothing off… very well crafted, the kind of whisky that will make you stop and pay attention.

Here is what the folks at La Maison du Whisky has to say?

One of this Amrut’s undeniable charms (of which there are many) is the construction of its aromatic and gustatory palette. Like the peat that gradually tames an olfactory opening of rare power. After taking the upper hand, like an inspired sculptor, it tastefully chisels out a palate and finish with an almost sensually smooth texture. In this, it is every bit as good as the magnificent version also aged in a port cask which, in our 2017 Creation Catalogue, majestically marked La Maison du Whisky’s 60th anniversary.

Profile: the very powerful initial nose is hot, mineral and camphoric. Little by little, an oily, earthy peat envelops the aromatic palette. Equally as present on the attack, this peat gradually becomes sweeter (apricot tart). The finish is malty and full of freshness. Lightly tannic, the end of the palate is herbaceous and floral.

Single Cask no. 2713 – Port Pipe
Limited edition of 420 bottles
Exclusive to LMDW

Curious about other Amrut tasting experiences?

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Amrut Fever Club Con-Fusion 46%

Fever Club is a collection of whisky ardent Amrut fans… With a passion that has even prompted special bottlings like this. The “Con-Fusion” expression seems to be a variation on the “Fusion” theme produced and bottled in India on sale only for the select few for Rs 3,000 (that’s just under $50).

We had the pleasure of sampling it together with India’s Malt Maniac – Krishna Nakula – on a warm March evening…

Amrut Fever Club Con-Fusion (2017) Release No 1, 46%

  • Nose – Fresh citrus, spice, some nuts, flirtatious, a bit of lactic acid, is there a hint of peat? A light puff of smoke
  • Palate – Light soft creamy, milky nougat, white chocolate, burnt almond, has a lovely balance
  • Finish – Not much then the 2nd sip it is there with a nice peat close

A rather enjoyable whisky – the kind you want to simply relax with and unwind. We understand it is matured in ex-Olorosso casks.

Curious about other Amrut tasting experiences?

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An evening with Krishna Nakula

Evenings with Krishna Nakula, India’s Malt Maniac are always a pleasure. This time we meandered through a malty mix.. with our evening featuring a duo from Amrut!

Added to the mix was an amiable amble through the contrasting:

Plus a sniff and swish through:

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European Whisky – Italy’s Puni Nova Bourbon Cask 43%

I first sampled this whisky years ago at La Maison du Whisky together with two other Puni whiskies. At the  time I was hunting for something decidedly “different” for a fellow whisky aficionado and the more daring Puni Alba Marsala + Islay combination was very unique and fit perfectly into my friend’s East to West theme.

Yet I kept remembering how the bourbon, though initially dismissed, had an interesting quality that drew my sampling companion and I back… So when next I had an opportunity, snagged this bottle and impatiently waited for the right whiskies and setting to open it!

Finally in May 2018, with the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents, an evening of European Explorations fit the bill perfectly! And what did we think?

Puni Nova Bourbon Cask, Batch #2 (2015) 43%

  • Nose – Fresh, organic, honey, flowers, almond, was there light smoke like sacred ash? Then increasingly pure honey vanilla… shifting into sour coconut or palm feni
  • Palate – Feels good on the tongue then a bit of a burn, coats the mouth
  • Finish – Spice on the finish
  • Water – Sour and bitter on the palate, yet rounds it out a bit

There was something unfinished about it and after such superbly and surprisingly enjoyable offerings from Germany (DeCavo) and Switzerland (Swiss Highland), the gents were honestly disappointed.

It was not what I remembered from years ago… Perhaps the difference is an open oxidized bottle vs freshly opened? Perhaps I originally had batch 1 and there was variation? Perhaps it was merely the tasting order and comparison. Perhaps it simply needs to be set aside like the first time and revisited.

Here is what they have to say on the label:

Matured for three years in American & European oak casks natural colour & non chill-filtered

  • Honey, banana, vanilla

This whisky was purchased for SGD 135 at La Maison du Whisky.

My European Explorations with the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents included:

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on:

European Explorations – Gouden Carolus Single Malt 46%

During our evening of European Explorations, a complete bonus whisky from Belgium was added.

Het Anker makes a well known dark Belgium beer – Gouden Carolus.  They have branched out into distilling whisky… using the mash of the Golden Carolus Tripel beer which is aged in 1st fill bourbon casks then ‘Anker’ casks.

So what did we think of it?

Gouden Carolus Single Malt 3 years 46%

  • Nose – Deep fried veggies, savoury and oily, caramel sweet, vanilla, flower pod, ripe fruit, after some time we found marshmallows roasted over a campfire
  • Palate – Flat and spice, top is bitter, some salt, a bit sour like amla
  • Finish – Salty finish like saline, frat beer
  • Water – Sour and salt

So… beer to whisky… and while our tasting notes sound a bit odd, it somehow works. It was certainly a far sight better than the only other Belgium whisky I’ve tried – the Belgium Owl.

Here is what they have to say on the label:

  • Rich and balanced with fruit, vanilla, creme brule 

This whisky was a gift to our host.

My European Explorations with the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents included:

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on:

European Explorations – Switzerland’s Swiss Highland Forty Three 43%

From Rugen Distillery, who have been brewing beer on Rugen Mountain since 1892… they ventured into making whisky when the Swiss laws changed in 1999. Their 1st offering was “Mountain Highland” in 2003 and now regularly produce small batches, aged a minimum of three years in oak casks. The wort and distillation all take place on their distillery premises.

This particular whisky is originally named Forty Three for its alcohol content – 43%. We sampled it as part of a European Explorations evening, just after a rather delicious Duetsch dram from DeCavo.

So what did we think of the Swiss Highland?

Forty Three Swiss Highland Single Malt Whisky 43%

  • Nose – Initially quite dry, some sawdust, light balsa, sweet honey, bay leaf, a bit of a shy nose, salt sheen, restrained, hint of vanilla, cream
  • Palate – Soft – surprisingly soft, well rounded, hay, malty like marmite at the back, really grows on you, tasty
  • Finish – Quite long, warm… actually make that remarkably incredibly long

We had anticipated this would be a bit raw and harsh, to discover quite the opposite!  It was again far more accessible and enjoyable than we had anticipated.

Here is what they have to say on the label:

  • Colour – Deep golden amber
  • Body – Soft texture, lightly creamy
  • Nose – The fresh and fiery notes are surrounded by subtle honey and some floral aromas topped off with lovely vanilla notes
  • Palate – Slightly woody notes are combined with coffee and chocolate leading to a light smoothness. A slight maltiness is felt at the beginning, which then rises beautifully in caramel and fermented vanilla bean.
  • The fine balance between sweetness and strength give a special tension to the product, the soft creamy mouth feel creates an exclusive sustainability.

I purchased this bottle at Wien Laden in Munich in November 2017.

My European Explorations with the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents included:

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on:

European Explorations – Germany’s DeCavo 46%

In my trip to Munich in November 2017, I happened upon a speciality spirit shop. As usual, a lively conversation about different whisky distilleries ensued. However I had a very specific quest – to try and find  something I could not buy anywhere else.

DeCavo fit the bill perfectly. Now the challenge is that the very thing that makes an unusual  whisky so interesting… also means further details can be elusive.

What I could find out is that DeCavo is from the Brandenburg specialty distillery based in Hagen with the name inspired by their practice of storing barrels in a cave (Dechenhöhle) for maturation… hence it is called “German cave whisky”…

That being said, it isn’t clear whether the bottle I acquired is a malt spirit or old enough to be called whisky. What can be misleading is you can have a “single malt” that is still a spirit i.e. under 3 years and hence not yet what those  in Scotland and Europe would call “whisky.”

Above all… what matters most to us is what did we think?

DeCavo Handcrafted Single Malt Batch 10, Cask 92 46%

  • Nose – Yum! Banana – to be more precise cooked and caramelized banana crepe, bubblegum, berries, banofee pie, cinnamon candy… after some time  unmistakable coconut like Malibu rum! Or that Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion… Kept shifting into a bit of bay leaf, worm wood, vanilla… and even rum with Christmas pudding notes. Delicious nose!
  • Palate – Striped candy, toffee, wood, there was some substance here not just frothy sweet, almost like a quality liqueur, creamier on the palate with a lightly toasted element
  • Finish – Tight, hints of licorice
  • Water – Brings out the spice, reveals a musty slightly bitter finish

There was absolutely no doubt this was the surprise of the evening! And an absolute delight. I don’t think anyone imagined how much we would enjoy this German dram. It was truly exceedingly tasty and what an interesting inviting nose!

So I dug around to find out more and found out the following:

Jim Murray not only helped us fill the first barrel, but also tested our DeCavo Hand Crafted Single Malt and added it to the whiskey Bible. We are looking forward to an outstanding 91 out of 100 points. Together with an indication of the impressive quality of the distillate, which has already been ripened for several months, and the explanation that he can hardly wait to be able to rate it as whiskey in two years. He describes the taste of the DeCavo Hand Crafted Single Malt as a citrus-toning, attractive, oily, juicy, malty and “smacking delicious”. In addition, he points out that bottlings with such a high score fall into his personal category “brilliant”.

  • Color: light copper
  • Nose: milk chocolate, vanilla and caramel as with crème brûlée, nutty, dried fruit, some marzipan
  • Taste: Vanilla, caramel, nutty, dried apple, fresh pastries

This bottle was purchased at Wien Laden in Munich in November 2017.

My European Explorations with the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents included:

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on: