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!

Whisky Ladies Diwali Drams from Japan + Bhutan

Gathering bedecked in their colourful finery, the Whisky Ladies came together to enjoy some interesting Diwali Drams… specifically from Japan and Bhutan.

And while we didn’t gamble at cards, we did pit together different whiskies to see which prevailed!

What all did we sample as part of our Diwali celebrations?

  • Hakushu NAS 43% (vs Yamazaki for some!)
  • Bhutan’s K5 40% vs Misty Peak 40%
  • Nikka From the Barrel 51.4% vs Super Nikka Whisky 43% (Revival Edition)

Whisky Ladies Drams (Photo: Nikoulina Berg)

Read on over the coming days to see what we discovered…

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A Salty Peaty Persuasion – Wemyss Peat Chimney 12 year 40%

First up in our mini malts session was a blend from Wemyss.

While I’ve seen all sorts of compelling reviews on whiskies from the independent bottler Wemyss, this was my first foray into their offerings. It was a complete impulse buy in London at The Whisky Exchange, and one I do not regret.

Wemyss Peat Chimney 12 year 40%

Wemyss Peat Chimney 12 yearHere’s what we found:

  • Nose – Such a briney peat greeted us. dry with vanilla, salty with a decidedly maritime twist, seaweed, salty caramel, light chocolate.
  • Palate – Mild, organic mulchy peat, great starter whisky with such an easy to sip kind of peat
  • Finish – Warm peat, seaweed salt, sea mist

Overall, it was one of the saltiest peat whisky I’ve tried. We joked that it was like standing on a wind swept cliff in Scotland, breathing in the salty maritime sea air.

What was interesting was we returned back after some time and the peaty salt had shifted to such sweetness with burnt caramel.

It is reputed to be a vatting of 16 different whiskies with a “hefty slug” of 12 year old Islay malt.

Here’s what the Wemyss folks have to say:

Peat Chimney uses an Islay signature malt to give top notes of sweet smoke, salt and peat.

We sampled from a closed miniature in October 2017… a full bottle would set you back around $60.

And what else did we sample in our merry mini malts evening?

  • Big Peat 46% (Douglas Laing)
  • Longrow 46%
  • BenRiach Quarter Cask 46%
  • Ledaig 10 year 46.3%

And here’s more malt miniatures from my The Whisky Exchange:

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Whisky sampling vs drinking

“Are you tasting whisky every day??” or “You must drink A LOT of whisky!!!”

Yes… that’s what I hear when folks learn I enjoy exploring whiskies. Or see my regular posts.

With the implication that my drinking must be high in quantity, frequency and perhaps even to excess.

And yet, here is the thing.

Believe it or not, I do quite the opposite.

A little goes a long way. I’ve been known in social occasions to skip the alcohol on offer as it is simply didn’t appeal…

And that makes some people uncomfortable.

Because there is a quiet little secret in social circles and the alcohol industry… alcoholism. There. I’ve said it out loud.

Tasting whisky in moderation is quite different than regularly drinking too much.

There is a very good reason I openly shared my Whisky Live Survival Guide mantra of “sniff, swish, savour and spit.” If it was changed to “sniff, swish, savour and swallow” I would have been waving and weaving my way through the stalls, missing the best stuff and paying the price the next day. Not my thing and definitely not worth it.

And while my posts may be relatively frequent, the reality is they are typically based on around 2-3 tasting sessions a month where we sample 3-5 whiskies, sometimes supplemented with a minis evening or a one-off tasting.

And when we have a tasting session, it tends to be smaller pours, in a structured setting, where sampling can stretch over a few hours… liberally offset with water and food.

That’s it. Really. Generally you won’t find me sipping a whisky otherwise.

I think it’s terrific if you enjoy a dram or two! And even more so if you are as passionate as I am about exploring the world of whisky… Just please be kind to yourself and those around you – drink responsibly.

‘Nuff said.

From time to time, you can also find other whisky related updates and activities on:

Brush with Bourbon – Elmer T Lee 45%

Last in our trio of bourbon’s at 1602 Dundas was a dram from Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky who produce Blanton’s, W. L. Weller, E. H. Taylor and Buffalo Trace among others. Elmer T Lee is named after their Master Distiller Emeritus Elmer T. Lee.

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon 45%

Image: LCBO

And what did we find?

  • Nose – Sweet mash, fruity cinnamon spice, over ripe fruits
  • Palate – Grape, raisins, bitter dry oaky, spicy
  • Finish – Slow bitter finish

Elmer T Lee has the clear and unmistakable stamp of Kentucky Bourbon character – lots of fruit, spice, bold and impossible to ignore.

While we split a 30 ml shot, a 750 ml bottle can be purchased at a Toronto LCBO for CND 54.95. Here what they have to say…

LCBO’s Tasting & Serving Notes

Complex and addictive. Scents of cinnamon, hazelnuts, and dried fruit precede big flavors: cinnamon spice, raisinated and plummy, like Madeira or Sherry. Long finish, with a bit of a bite. Score – 97. (Kara Newman, Wine Enthusiast, Sept. 2010).

Bourbon’s sampled at 1602 Dundas in Toronto in September 2017:

Other forays into American whiskies from Buffalo Trace:

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Brush with Bourbon – Basil Hayden’s 40%

Next in our brush with Bourbon informal flight at 1602 Dundas was a bourbon from the Jim Beam stable – part of their small batch bourbons such as Knob Creek. Styled after the mash created by its namesake Basil Hayden, it uses double the rye of a standard Kentucky bourbons.

Image: Beam Suntory

Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon 40%

And what did we find?

  • Nose – Resin, herbal, oats, cereals, sweet, honey, woody, treacle
  • Palate – Initial ‘yeowch’, then acclimatized to it, revealing some spices
  • Finish – There but..

What is fabulous about the world of whisky is the range of styles – something for everyone! However I’ve learned that my palate preferences veer away from both bourbon and rye… Which meant this whisky had a double strike against it as it both is very clearly a bourbon with a higher rye quotient.

What I enjoyed most was the nose – I could keep sniffing it and finding more elements. For me, the kick would be a brilliant dimension in certain cocktails – one where the interesting elements in the nose are given full room to shine with the rye spiciness and character on the palate punching up the drink.

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

The recipe for this classic Bourbon dates back to 1796. Amber in colour; on the nose are notes of dried apricot, caramel, custard, green peppercorn and hay; on the palate it is medium-bodied and warming, with flavours of white pepper, burnt sugar, dried white flowers and vanilla that finishes with a lingering herbal spice.

This bottle was released in February 26, 2015, made in Kentucky, USA by Beam Global Spirits and Wines with a style described as medium & spicy.

While we split a 30 ml shot, it can be purchased at Toronto LCBO for CND $53.95.

Bourbon’s sampled at 1602 Dundas in Toronto in September 2017:

Other forays into American whiskies from the Beam Suntory family:

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Brush with Bourbon – Black Maple Hill 47.5%

We started off our 1602 Dundas bourbon trio evening with a small batch Kentucky straight bourbon with handmade sour mash and mysterious origins – Black Maple Hill.

Image: K&L Wines, Different bottle

Black Maple Hill Kentucky Straight Bourbon 47.5%

And what did we find?

  • Nose – Treacle, molasses, raisins, black pepper, rich…
  • Palate – Spice, sweet, not at all harsh
  • Finish – There then goes, bitter sweet

Most enjoyable, very drinkable… spunky character… it reminded me of Elijah Craig – in a good way.

I will admit I tasted just a small sample with a friend knowing nothing about the bourbon. I’ll admit again – I’m not really a bourbon drinker, but this certainly was more to my taste than most.

What was amusing is when I dug a little deeper to find out more about Black Maple Hill… guess what… it seems the one we had may possibly have elements from the same folks behind Elijah Craig… whaddya know!

Or is it?? The story isn’t so simple… it was once said to mostly come from the Stizel-Weller distillery and bottled by Julian van Winkle – an insiders secret with quality rare bourbons aged from 11 – 22 years… It then was labelled as aged for 8 years and garnered spill-over hype from the elusive over-priced Pappy… selling for thousands of dollars!

The dark rust label no longer claims an age and while Heaven Hill is credited on sites such as The Whisky Exchange, you won’t find Heaven Hill claiming it as one of its American whiskey brands. Throw into the mix Willett Distillery – which for the most part does not distill its own spirits and has even been known to put out products under fictitious companies… And others from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD) and you have a mystery blend from various unknown sources. Then the new Stein Distillery from Oregon came into picture… leading to a new spin-off Black Maple Hill from Oregon.

Alas my photo from our evening is madingly blurry and indistinct, however it was labelled as Kentucky straight bourbon and given the flavour profile of what we sampled, I’m guessing it shares some of the same bourbon source as Elijah Craig.

And what’s the reasonably reliable story? Read David Driscoll’s tale on K&L Wines in which he reveals:

So here it is – the story of Black Maple Hill.  A Bourbon made somewhere in Kentucky, sold to KBD, blended at their facility, sold to Paul Joseph, slapped with a romantic label, and distributed down the street from K&L in Redwood City.

All that matters? Of the trio we tasted that evening, this was my choice!

Bourbon’s sampled at 1602 Dundas in Toronto in September 2017:

  • Black Maple Hill Kentucky Straight Bourbon 47.5% – This post
  • Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon 40%
  • Elmer T Lee Kentucky Bourbon 45%

Other forays into American whiskies….

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1602 Dundas in Toronto – A Brush with Bourbon

When I travel, I enjoy seeking out whisky watering holes… from a collector’s paradise like The Auld Alliance in Singapore to the unabashedly curious range of Winnipeg’s Whisky Bar at Toad in the Hole.

Naturally my latest trip to Toronto (September 2017) had to include a chance to explore… in this case 1602 Dundas – a local joint conveniently found mere walking distance from where I was staying.

Well known for its cocktails, it has a most respectable range for a neighbourhood haunt – a mere 300 whiskies – all served in a chilled out, no pretence vibe where you can kick back, relax, enjoy a drink, discussion and throw in some whisky discoveries too.

After a short chat, knew we were in good hands with the lovely lady barkeep. As I perused the shelves, decided to plunge into waters I don’t normally tred – bourbon.

Image: Yelp Amanda C

Our wee brush with bourbons explored:

This was followed by a cocktail which was exceedingly well made and far too easy to drink.

And while I’m still not a huge bourbon fan… but I do love what ex-bourbon casks do to help the world of whisky!

Where can you find it?

  • 1602 Dundas is located at 1602 Dundas West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M6K 1T8. 
  • Tel: 416 823 0661 – Currently open only evenings 6 PM – 2 AM
  • Or check out their map…

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Springbank 12 year cask strength 54.2%

While I was off gallivanting around North America and UAE, my fellow Mumbaikers were exploring whiskies… This is a guest post by Nikkhil Shirodkar, a member of our original Mumbai whisky club.

  • Nose: This time smoky. Think cured meats, bacon and ham. Lovely notes of orange rind and rose petals. Now some ginger, toffee and leather. Superbly balanced.
  • Palate: Beautiful heather notes with vanilla and menthol. Almost reminded me of the old Highland Park 18. The meaty notes turn into gentle vegetal peat. ​Old books/library​ with leather seating. It kept evolving with lovely sherry notes, roasted apricots and that menthol note again.
  • Finish: Long and warming. A touch of lime, dark chocolate and peat interplay in a magical way! A clear winner.
  • Water: With water the peat smoke gets amplified with pepper notes. Some Pastis? Lovely! Despite the strength, no burn or rough edges. Good mouthfeel.

Reveal: The host teasingly gave away the location to be Campbeltown. From there it was a no-brainer! We were left unimpressed with the Burgundy finish. Maybe as a stand alone whisky it would be a perfectly nice dram but not if it is followed by the vastly superior Springbank 12 year. The host however was of the opinion that the 10 year old – which was the official standard – is superior than the current 12 year old version. It would be interesting to do a comparative tasting.

Official notes:

  • Nose: It’s reminiscent of walking in an autumn forest full of pine and chestnut trees, before returning home to the iodine of a Campbeltown malt and ending with a delicate hint of peat.
  • Palate: A gorgeous richness on the palate which is balanced between citrus marmalade on toast and caramelised toasted marshmallows, not forgetting flavours of vanilla and pepper. It’s a lip licking meaty dram.
  • Finish: A delicious, viscous, smooth liquid with a salty edge. It brings back memories of a ham joint which has been marinated in a rich honey sauce and slow baked in the oven.

This whisky was sampled blind, opened in September 2017 in Mumbai for this tasting. With Springbank, it releases its cask strength avatars by editions which tend to sell out quickly. This edition was released in January 2017 and is no longer available.

PS – You can get Springbank 10 year and 18 year in India! Check out The Vault Fine Spirits.

Whiskies sampled in September 2017 by our original club included:

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Springbank 12 year Burgundy 53.5%

While I was off jaunting around North America and UAE, my fellow Mumbaikers were exploring whiskies… This is a guest post by Nikkhil Shirodkar, a member of our original Mumbai whisky club.

  • Nose: Immediately medicinal, iodine but in a gentle way. Soft peat with an underlay of honey and stewed fruits. Some ash and liquorice notes now replace the medicinal ones. Some raisins and red fruits. It was an interesting nose and evidently non-islay.
  • Palate: Vanilla, gentle peat, sweet lime. The development was not in tandem with the nose. We felt it was rather thin in its mouthfeel. A little musty with damp wood notes. Some chocolate and tannic notes.
  • ​Finish: ​Medium and fades with a slightly bitter aftertaste.
  • Water: With water it becomes sweet with caramel, pineapple and roasted pine nut notes.
​Reveal: The host decided to reveal the 2nd & 3rd bottle together. But he did confirm that it was a non-islay whisky… So check out the next post on the Springbank 12 year for further observations comparing the two expressions.
  • Nose: Bold and rich with mineral and dunnage warehouse notes combining with maple syrup, pancetta, cranberry and red currants.
  • Palate: A soft velvet like texture with buttered brown toast and chocolate shortbread complementing light herb & oak notes.
  • Finish: A medium dry finish gives up liquorice and mint accompanied woody tannins.

Springbank whiskies are from Campbeltown, established in 1828 and remains family owned – now on its 5th generation. The distillery produces whiskies under three brands – Springbank (lightly peated), Longrow (heavily peated) and Hazelburn (unpeated). It also boasts adherence to traditions and proudly and stubbornly keeping every step of the process in-house and on-site.

This whisky was sampled blind, opened in September 2017 in Mumbai for this tasting. It is a limited edition introduced in June 2016 and not readily available, however on its release was retailed for around £60. As the name states, after initial maturation, it was finished in fresh ex-Burgundy casks.

PS – Believe it or not, Springbank 10 year and 18 year are available in India! Check out The Vault Fine Spirits.

Whiskies sampled in September 2017 by our original club included:

You can also find Whisky Lady in India on:

Writers Tears 2013 Cask Strength 53%

While I was off jaunting around North America and UAE, my fellow Mumbaikers were exploring whiskies… This is a guest post by Nikkhil, a member of our original Mumbai whisky club.
Pour 1: Writers Tears 2013 Cask Strength 53%
  • Nose: Citrus, lemon/lime hit which quickly faded into some mild honey followed by some baked/toasted cereal grain notes – think Marie biscuit. Then suddenly it turned solventy. The nose kept changing rapidly. Some odd notes of pressure cooker boiled peanuts. Hints of green apple. Overall very temperamental. And the initial citrus hit never returned. 
  • Palate: A swift uppercut! Hot but strangely not raw. Young and rather thin on the palate. We did speculate on this being a high strength bottling. Again just like the nose the heat faded quickly! Very little mouthfeel. Volatile. Bitter cereals, tannic and spirit driven. A very muted development. With water it turned more bitter. Some faint banana and herbal notes. We couldn’t quite place this spirit either in terms of its flavour profile or geography.
  • Finish: There was none! We were all unanimous on that.
Reveal: We were quite surprised (in disbelief) and those in the know of this brand were even more so. One member was disappointed as he had highly recommended it based on his previous encounter with Writers Tears in Glasgow. Another member was equally perplexed as this was high up on his wishlist having been recommended by an Irish whiskey aficionado.There was not a hint of the “pot still” character even though it claims to be a vatting of Irish single malt and Irish pot still.
In my experience Irish whiskies always start spirit driven and solventy and benefit immensely given some time in the glass. Could it be the same with this one? Did we sample it too quickly? Perhaps I should have poured one more, let it rest and then revisited it.
The discussion then turned to provenance or rather the lack of it when it comes to newer Irish whiskey with many NDPs (non distiller producer) sourcing the bulk of their matured stock from Cooleys and Middleton.
Official notes: 
 
  • Nose: Flashes of apple with hints of vanilla and honey over a distinctively Irish Pot Still base
  • Taste: Gently spiced with a burst of ginger and butterscotch with background notes of toasted oak
  • Finish: Long, elegant finish with subtle notes of milk chocolate and almonds

Writers Tears whiskies are a combination of unspecified Irish pot still and Irish single malt, triple distilled and aged in ex-bourbon casks.

This bottle was sampled blind, opened in September 2017 in Mumbai for this tasting. It can be found online at the Celtic Whisky Shop for €150.00.

The 2014 edition all appears to be sold out/discontinued on Master of Malt, however The Whisky Exchange still has the 2015 (2100 bottles at $151)  & 2016 (2640 bottles at $151) available. 

This may be a cask where variation between the years makes a difference. What was stellar one year becomes merely average another year or – gasp! – even a disappointment.

Whiskies sampled in September 2017 by our original club included:

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