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!

The Glenrothes 21 year Minister’s Reserve 43%

The Glenrothes is one of those distilleries that you know what you are likely to get – strong sherry influence, robust and full.

It is what one of our samplers called a “Ronseal” after a well-known UK ad for varnish that came out over 21 years ago… The brand was known for its simple ad line “Does Exactly What it Says on the Tin” which soon became synonymous with anything that is what it says it is.

And what did we think?

The Glenrothes 21 year Minister’s Reserve 43%

  • Nose – Spice, sherry, fruity, sweet cinnamon, cloves, chocolate, plus fruit cake and icing, old raisons, tinned fruit, nutty, some berries, more vanilla cake, dash of mocha chocolate
  • Palate – Desert in a glass! Dangerously easy to drink, soft and smooth with some Christmas spice, a very classic sherry on all accounts, enjoyable and full
  • Finish – Fab long finish with tobacco

Nice and classic, and so sweet it was almost like sipping rum. In short, it was exactly what you expect from a quality sherry matured whisky.

While I preferred the Highland Park solo without a cigar, The Glenrothes was a perfect cigar partner!

What do The Glenrothes folks have to say on the box?

Distillation is unusually slow and takes place in unusually tall stills which deliver a sweet, clear, fruity spirit. Maturation is in American oak and Spanish oak casks, a combination designed to deliver a perfect balance of flavours associated with our award-winning Speyside single malt; ripe fruits, juicy citrus, creamy vanilla and complex spices.

Would we agree? Yup!

And what would this set you back? These days, it would be about £155.46 online at Master of Malt. We opened our bottle in September 2018.

In our latest greatest adult evening, what all did we try?

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Highland Park Vintages – The 1991 21 year 40% Official Bottling

Once upon a time, Highland Park was a ‘gateway’ whisky for me… more specifically the 18 year which opened my palate and senses to the character and complexity of a decent dram.

Shift ahead a few years to a period where Highland Park made to the switch to vintages and no age statement “Heroes”, “Warriors” and “Legends”… with the 1998 and Einar disappointing while the Thor surprising and pleasing.

Enter the 21 year old that is known by its vintage 1991. Introduced to travel retail in 2012, the thinking was as each vintage ran out, it would be replaced by the equivalent next vintage i.e. this one replaced the 1990 vintage and the expectation was by 2013 the 1992 would be released and so forth.

Except a funny thing happened along the way… for Highland Park, after a few years the vintage approach didn’t “stick”… quietly without fanfare the duty free shelves holding vintage whiskies were slowly replaced by age statements.

Which means our patient whisky host had managed to keep one of the few 21 year olds from the vintage marketing “experiment”.

As we opened this bottle that had sat patiently waiting its turn for nearly 6 years, talk turned to our varied experiences with Highland Park – good, bad, brilliant and much in between.

And this bottle? Read on to see what we thought…

Highland Park 1991 40%

  • Nose – Grassy, pine, spruce, sea grass or a seaweed salad, light citrus coming from behind, lemon flower bouquet, light fruity, inviting comforting nose, short bread, butter biscuits, vanilla and a hint of cloves
  • Palate – Islands, light leathery peat, very smooth and round, had some substance, chewy mouthfeel, creamy and buttery, yet a slight citrus twist in there too which added a refreshing element
  • Finish – Subtle nuanced finished, cinnamon spice

We really enjoyed it – very yum! And more importantly, had all those elements many of us once enjoyed in a Highland Park – character, complexity and just a darn good dram.

Even more remarkable is that it was full flavoured at only 40%. While none of us were tempted to add a splash of water, these days anything lower than 46% tends to come across as a bit “watery” – not so with this Highland Park.

We set it aside for some time and the revisit just confirmed it is a lovely whisky and a clear winner for most.

However when it came time to pair with cigars, this would not be my pick… I’d prefer to simply enjoy it on its own.

What would this set you back? It was last seen for about £120 on auction.

In our latest greatest adult evening, what all did we try?

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Dewar’s Aberfeldy 21 year 40%

Ah Dewar’s… a blend that has gone beyond the mold by being involved with such initiatives like the Dewarists – an MTV series of musical travelogues around India. This show blended musicians from different genres and places living the motto: “Some things are just worth doing.”

I will openly admit to having a soft spot for any brand that gets behind independent musicians and contributes to the cultural fabric of their target market.

And what does that have to do with this whisky review? Naturally Aberfeldy distillery is part of the Dewars stable… and its 21 year old the high-end of their travel retail offerings.

What did we think? Read on…

Aberfeldy 21 year No 28750 40%

  • Nose – Sherry, vanilla, light hazelnut or bitter almond, dried orange peel, cloves, fruity, like pear or white apricot, very sweet and honeyed
  • Palate – Different than the nose indicated… some leather, bitter and then became fruity. As it settled in became nice and enjoyable with a decent mouth feel
  • Finish – Long yet initially quite bitter, nutty like walnut skin

Never had a whisky that greeted us with such a wet warm whisky welcome… It was quite ‘friendly’ in a sloppy moist puppy dog kisses kind of way. Yet amusing and sweet too.

We set it aside for some time and returned to see how it had become sweaty in the covered glass. A few whiffs and sips, we decided it was worth the wait. The sweetness and initial drizzle of honey became more and more pronounced. The fruit also lightly mingled with a soft peat on the palate.

Overall we found it simple, easy to drink, uncomplicated yet eminently enjoyable.

And what would a bottle of this Aberfeldy would set you back? One can find it online at Master of Malt for approx £130.

PS If you are curious about the Dewarists… here is an ad film that provides insights into this series that ran from 2011 to 2016…

Dewar’s Scotch and The Dewarists

In our latest greatest adult evening, what all did we try?

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Mitcher’s Small Batch Bourbon

Our Bourbon explorations continued with Mitcher’s Small Batch Bourbon.

We began sampling it completely blind, to share our impressions without any influences beyond what was in our glass, then had the reveal followed by a brilliant cocktail.

Here is what we found…

Mitcher’s Small Batch Bourbon L16F747 45.7% (91.4 proof)

  • Nose – We were welcomed by mandarin oranges, sweet vanilla, jasmine, Cointreau, chocolate, creamy, butter rice, toffee, caramel, Chinese sweet red bean buns, fresh bread
  • Palate – Ooh! Very nice spice. Well rounded, has more substance than the FEW bourbon, orange blossoms, cinnamon gum like a Big Red, very smooth, lots of dried fruits
  • Finish – Lovely sweet light clove student oranges… long finish

It was universally pronounced “delicious!” A clear favourite of the evening – bringing enough character to make us happy to keep enjoying.

This was followed by an exceedingly good Sazerac… so good that a few even had a repeat!

 

Something to note about Mitcher’s is their master distiller, Pam Heilmann, was the first woman since Prohibition to serve as Master Distiller at a Kentucky Distillers Association distillery and their Mast of Maturation & Exec VP, Andrea Wilson, was the first woman to ever serve as Chair of the Kentucky Distillers Association.

What do they say about their Small Batch Bourbon?

Michter’s US1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon is made from a carefully selected mashbill that features the highest quality American corn. It is then matured to the peak of perfection. Truly “small batch” each batch of our US1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon is batched in a holding tank sized to fit a maximum of twenty full barrels, leaving no margin for “blending out” imperfection and thus necessitating excellence from every barrel. Reflecting the spirit of the Bluegrass State, Michter’s US1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon is nuanced, mellow and earthy.

Michter’s tasting notes:

  • Rich caramel with balanced vanilla, stone fruit notes, smoky depth, with an oak finish.

Our Bourbon trio included:

  • FEW Bourbon 46.5% was the base for a rather delicious Manhattan
  • Mitcher’s Small Batch 45.7% morphed into a marvellous Sazerac
  • Cleveland Underground AP Bourbon Whiskey finished with Apple Wood, Batch 3, 45% frothed into a twist on an Old Fashioned

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Mackillop’s Choice Caol Ila 31 years (1979/2011) 46%

Every once and a while a rare whisky comes my way… something special shared with pride.

Such was the case one fine evening in Mumbai many months ago where this 31 year Caol Ila graced our sipping, conversing and collective appreciation of whisky…

Caol Ila 31 years (2 May 1979 / March 2011) 46% Bottle 150 (Mackillop’s Choice)

I remember thinking of an apple orchard that has gone sour – but in a rather tasty way. Lots of smoke but old style not hit over the head. More of that fabulous fruitiness…

I remember rolling this around and just taking pleasure in its full flavour, throwing some salty nuts in with the sweet peat and fruits. No off notes, instead a delicious blanket enveloping in smokey goodness.

The finish had a bit of liquorice… long and sweet

It really was quite stupendous.

You will have to forgive my scant recollections as I didn’t take my normal notes. It was instead just a special evening with friends and exceedingly good drams. And one I was very grateful to be able to join and enjoy.

This particular single cask release was specially selected for World of Whiskies  – yes duty free! And last seen auctioned for £150.

What about other Caol Ila experiences? Read on…

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A delightful, delicious yet alas discontinued dram – Cambus 24 year grain 51.9%

Every once and a while there is a chance to sample a piece of whisky history. In this case from a Lowland grain distillery that shut its doors in 1993. Before that, Cambus produced grain from early 1800s, with a hiatus from 1913 to 1938 when a fire destroyed much of the original distillery before it was rebuilt.

Like most grains, it mostly went into blends and you won’t find any official bottles. However – if you are lucky – you may come across a few select independent bottles… such as the one from Signatory that I snagged in Singapore at Whisky Live.

Cambus Single Grain 24 year (1991/2015) Cask 55891 51.9% (Signatory Vintage), Bottle 22 of 447

  • Nose – Floral, tempting, subtly complex, honey lemon, shifting between a heady perfume and light ginger, cinnamon, butterscotch and rich vanilla cream
  • Palate – Spice, with a great mouthfeel, cream like Amarulla with a bit of a hazelnut too, fruity, there was depth and character yet with a soft touch
  • Finish – Lightly bitter, closing on more of that delicious vanilla
  • Water – Brings out even more vanilla and toffee, think of a butterscotch ice cream

Overall it was exceedingly tasty… and far far far too easy to drink! It was hard not to say things like “Really nice!” and other happy murmurings.

And that’s just the thing about this whisky – it is simply delicious! A happy companion for a pleasant evening. It doesn’t challenge you but it does have enough substance and spice to make it a sprightly delightful dram.

What else do we know? It quietly matured for 24 years in a single refill butt and was bottled at cask strength.

While I didn’t find any tasting notes from the bottlers, I did check out what the  chaps at Master of Malt had to say:

  • Nose: Yep, that’s yummy grain – thick vanilla, summer fruits boiled sweets and gentle oak spice.
  • Palate: Spicy and honeyed, more vanilla and red fruit, almond pastries and a touch of treacle.
  • Finish: Quite long with a fruity tang.
  • Overall: Mid-twenties grain with a little fruity cask influence.

This bottle was purchased at Singapore Whisky Live 2017 (La Maison du Whisky) after sampling it at the Signatory kiosk. While not readily available, I paid SGD 203 / USD 150 / INR 10,800 in November 2017 and we opened the bottle in September 2018.

Since then I will admit to taking another nip or two as it is simply a rather enjoyable whisky. I keep telling myself to stop and keep it for others to try a sip of history but it sits in my cabinet temptingly tasty. And did I write more tasting notes? No… it was simply too tasty a treat to do anything but enjoy.

What else did the Whisky Ladies try in their Grain evening?

You can find more on a page dedicated just to Grains here.

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Whisky Ladies Grain – Nikka Coffey Grain 45%

When our Whisky Ladies set out to explore grains, we just so happened to include one we had sampled before – the Nikka Coffey Grain.

Our earlier impression was of a sun soaked piña colada masquerading as a coconut fruity whisky.

So what did we think on our revisit? Juxtaposed next to other grain whiskies from Scotland and Japan?

Nikka Coffey Grain 45%

  • Nose – Quite aromatic and herbal! Has character, toffee, brown sugar, coconut, some vanilla, sweet corn and a hint of sweet lemon, pear
  • Palate – Sooooooo sweet, silky soft and gentle, loads of that toffee
  • Finish – Sweeter note

One exclaimed “Well this is a fun whisky to meet!” Another shared it certainly is one to satisfy a sweet tooth – like a dessert dram!

For those who had tried it in our earlier session remarked that while there certainly was some coconut, it did not have that delightful almost over enthusiastic tropical piña colada quality.

When we considered the grains sampled so far – Haig, Chita and now this Nikka – there was little doubt the Nikka had the most character.

What do the folks over at Nikka have to say?

Coffey Grain is predominantly made from corn and distilled in a Coffey Still. The complex, sweet and mellow flavors of this expression will help you re-discover the beauty of a grain whisky.
The Coffey Still is the world’s first patented continuous still invented by Mr. Aeneas Coffey in 1830. Masataka Taketsuru valued the feature of this type of still, which retains the flavors of ingredients and also creates a distinctive texture. Coffey Grain and Coffey Malt are Nikka’s signature grain whiskies which show the beauty of our Coffey Stills.

And what would a bottle set you back? You can find it online in the UK for approx £55. We tasted it in September 2018 from an open bottle.

PS – Photo credit goes to our contributor Nikolina Berg.

What did the Whisky Ladies try in their Grain evening?

You can find more on a page dedicated just to Grains here.

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Whisky Ladies Go Against the Grain – Haig Club 40%

From Cameronbridge distillery in Fife, on the edge of Eastern Highlands and Lowlands, the Haig grain has set about creating a marketing space for a “different” kind of whisky.

It does not look like your traditional whisky bottle.

It does not attempt to claim space with your standard dram.

It steers far away from being “traditional” and instead embraces being a base for cocktails, welcomes ice, says hello to cola and more….

As they put it, it is deliberately “designed” to be different.

Forget everything you thought you knew about scotch. Experience the new world of scotch whisky.

So what did the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai collectively think?

Haig Club 40%

  • Nose – Initially a hit of pure alcohol, then starts to slip into a fresh, citrusy scent, some spice, light vanilla that over time started to reveal a nice butterscotch or caramel quality
  • Palate – We had quite a mixed response here – some found it smooth, innocuous honey water whereas others thought it flat to the extend of simply nondescript alcohol
  • Finish – Not much, short, perhaps a hint of honey ginger?
  • Water – Surprisingly given this was already at the low end of alcohol strength for a whisky, we actually did try it with water… and found it made it even more of an “easy drinking” whisky

We certainly weren’t “wowed” by this Haig grain but hadn’t expected to be either.

It was very “accessible” which is a nice way of saying easy-drinking without much distinctive character.

What was more amusing was the division of opinion on whether the “perfume” style bottle was aesthetically pleasing or not. Just like the palate, the room was divided between liking and not.

What is it exactly? A combination of three cask types – first-fill, rejuvenated and refill bourbon barrel-matured whiskies.

Beyond that… here’s what the folks producing it have to  say :

HAIG CLUB’s ultra-smooth character and toffee and butterscotch notes can be paired with a variety of complementary flavours to add extra layers of complexity, resulting in a range of cocktail styles that eclipse most whisky brands and showcase unexpected ways for people to enjoy Scotch.

  • Appearance: Light, bright gold with a fine viscosity, suggesting freshness and sweet flavour.
  • Nose: Light creamy butterscotch or custard, with tropical fruits and citrus becoming richer and sweet; a pleasing light woody spiciness.
  • Taste: Icing sugar or coconut creamy sweetness, butterscotch, and a mouth-watering spiciness. Like a tropical fruit salad with a fresh clean balance.
  • Finish: Short and very clean, with traces of freshly sawn wood.

And what would a bottle of the Haig set you back? You can find it online at Master of Malt for £39.95 or various duty free airports around Asia. Our bottle was purchased a few years ago and opened in September 2018.

PS – Photo credit goes to our contributor – with thanks!

What did the Whisky Ladies try in their Grain evening?

You can find more on a page dedicated just to Grains here.

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Whisky Live Singapore – go no go?

I need to make a decision… To go or not to go… that is the question.

It would seem obvious that a whisky lover would take advantage of every opportunity to explore. And with Whisky Live in Singapore convenient to us Mumbaikers, in a city that I’ve often called my “alternate home“, it seems a no brainer.

My first Whisky Live Singapore experience in 2016 was brilliant!

But here is where the challenge comes…. my 2nd experience in 2017…. wasn’t. I sincerely WANTED to enjoy it as much or even more than the previous year however…

What changed? In my exceedingly biased opinion…

  • Range – Less… far less…. mostly repeats… fewer “wow!” options. Granted I was a year further into my whisky explorations but surely the same distilleries would bring different expressions a year later? Not nearly as much as I had hoped…
  • Industry connect – Also far far FAR less… most booths were populated by local bartenders not folks actually directly associated with the distilleries or brands. Surface level schpeels which added little value to those keen to go beneath the marketing. There were a few with direct representation and some enthusiastic exceptions from the local team, but there is something completely different to chatting with someone actually FROM where the whisky is produced that makes all the difference. For me, that is the real advantage of such events… travelling to one place instead of many…
  • Crowds – Don’t get me wrong… there were crowds the previous year too however there was simply more room to wander around, to find a quiet corner to relax before heading back into the fray
  • Viva la venue? I really like the Robertson Quay area… once upon a time it was practically my home away from home… yet the venues alternated between sweaty outdoors and sweaty indoors as the A/C couldn’t keep up with crowd capacity then empty stretches of ‘gallery’ where you could neither sit and relax nor be more sociable… just stand… alone… and stare… at nearly blank walls
  • Cocktails king – Loads of opportunities to try different cocktails… which is certainly an industry trend. However call me a purest, I’m there to sniff, swish and savour my way through discovering the original dram not disguise it in a cocktail, however creatively that may be.
  • Drunken debauchery – You would think this is simply what to expect at a liquor event… however the emphasis and attendees seemed to care less about discovery and more about just drinking to get drunk. Not my cup of tea (so to speak). Clearly few followed a Whisky Live “Survival Guide” approach!
  • Collectors room – The separate seemingly rarified atmosphere of the 2016 collectors room contrasted completely with a sweaty bar just outside a raucous VIP room. And the collection seemed much smaller and pricier too. Dare I speculate the robbery that hit La Maison du Whisky in Paris not long before Whisky Live Singapore impacted the bottles on offer?

I could go on but you get the gist… it simply wasn’t for me… much as I would have wanted it to be.

Don’t get me wrong. I get that so much sincere intentions, work and sweat goes into pulling an event off like this. And am a huge fan of what La Maison du Whisky continues to contribute to the world of whisky – particularly through their Singapore store anchoring Asia.

However on a personal level, I still need to decide.. should I go to the 2018 event just a month away???

Time for a little website homework…

  • Hotel = A/C YEAH!!
  • Brands much the same but I’ve calibrated expectations and remain optimistic there will be some new and/or unique expressions not previously featured…
  • Introduction of a new 10 coupon limit… hmmmm…. While I would never over the course of a wander through the whiskies ever actually consume 10 drams, I’ve always enjoyed the lack of limit. You can find me shamelessly sampling some 20+ exceedingly small pours… speed “tasting” through a sniff, swish and spit of a few precious drops. I do appreciate needing some mechanism to reduce consumption to more reasonable levels… however it is a significant change to think of making a nodding acquaintance with a mere 10 options.
  • No collector’s room on the venue map…. surely that can’t be right?
  • And the master classes? While I’d welcome a chance to enjoy Old Pulteney, Bruichladdich & Octomore again, the one that caught my attention was the “Rare Malts” for a mere $250! (yikes!)

Decisions, decisions, decisions…. Hop on a plane in a month… “Should I stay or should I go now??” 

You can read more about my different Whisky Live Singapore adventures…

Whisky Live Survival Guide (2016) vs Whisky Live Singapore 2017

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Whisky Lady – September 2018

In Mumbai, September is a season of transition… from the cooler monsoon slipping into the October heat of our 2nd summer. Which means the first part of the month is ideal whisky sipping weather by Indian standards and the later is when one tends to think more of a cool Gin & Tonic than straight up dram!

And yet, rain or shine, heat or not, our merry malters of Mumbai are always up for a wee nip or two!

For our Whisky Ladies, we shifted gears to grains. In the past, one would rarely find a grain featured solo, instead it would find favour in blends. And yet more and more one sees grain flying solo, so we decided it was time to explore!

  • Haig Club 40%
  • Suntory Chita 43%
  • Nikka Coffey Grain 45%
  • Cambus Single Grain 24 year (1991/2015) Cask 55891 51.9% (Signatory Vintage)

And our original club? We had a complete departure from our standard fare! We began our evening with a bourbon quiz, then teasingly small snifters of 3 different bourbons followed by carefully curated cocktails. Wow!

  • FEW Bourbon 46.5% morphed into a Manhattan
  • Mitcher’s Small Batch 45.7% slipped into an exquisite Sazerac
  • Cleveland Underground AP Bourbon Whiskey finished with Apple Wood, Batch 3, 45% opened into an original Old Fashioned

Whereas our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents were up for a more classic evening with whiskies aged 21 years:

  • Aberfeldy 21 year No 28750 40%
  • Highland Park 1991 40%
  • The Glenrothes 21 year Minister’s Reserve 43%

Given our Whisky Ladies 3rd year anniversary celebration was on the last day of August, tasting notes about our sociable evening of Irish drams, courtesy of our friends over at Pernod Ricard, were posted in September with:

Beyond this, there was a special chance to try Compass Box‘s new sherry influenced core offering – The Story of the Spaniard.

And I finally found scribbled notes from a November 2017 session where we explored   uncommon peat whiskies:

Curious to know more? Check out recent Whisky Lady’s monthly missives:

For many of our September sessions, tasting notes will come soon…

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