Celebrating 30+ European whiskies!

In the grand scheme of things, trying 30 whiskies is no big deal.

But when you live in India and those happen to be European whiskies… it is an accomplishment!

Let’s face it, exploring the world of whiskies behind a crazy custom’s “curtain” that restricts access not just bringing into India but state by state… means relying on individuals making an effort to source directly from far-flung lands rather than simply strolling over to a corner liquor store.

Hence it is indeed a celebration – with thanks – to share a summary of European samples! Now… just providing a list alone isn’t fun.. so with each, I’ve shared a fleeting impression so you can see what might peak your interest to read more…

European Whiskies  

Many of the Nordic whiskies came compliments of 

The Europe page is continuously updated as we explore more whiskies, so feel free to check back anytime to read of more!

PS – Anyone spot the ‘malted spirit’ rather than proper whisky??

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Italian whisky? Puni Alba Marsala + Islay 43% – Oh My!

The Whisky Ladies of Mumbai are well on the path of exploring European whiskies… having tried drams from Finland (Teerenpeli), Denmark (Danica), France (Kornog), Germany (Slyrs), Sweden (Mackmyra & Spirit of Hven)… all unique and different from standard Scottish fare.

Whereas our original tasting group, with five years of monthly merry malt sampling complete, have only scratched the surface when it comes to whiskies from Europe. In 2013 The Belgian Owl and Dutch All Rye made less than stellar appearances and in 2014, the Czech Hammer Head received a rather firm ‘thumbs down’.

We were due a tryst with European whiskies. Yet after the disappointing drams, anything offered had to 1st pass the ‘taste test’.

When given an ‘assignment’ to find something ‘different’ by our host for his January 2017 session, my 1st thought was Europe and the 2nd thought was that it simply had to be tried before buying – no leaving the experiment to chance!

Which is where my August 2016 trip to Singapore came in handy with an opportunity to ‘speed date’ a trio of Puni whiskies at – where else – La Maison du Whisky.

Even I wasn’t sure before trying. Italian whisky? Really?! When there is such marvellous Italian wine, it begs the question… whisky?

Our original group sampled this completely blind – having no clue what they were trying…

Puni Alba 3 year Batch #2 (2015) 43%

puni-alba

  • Nose – How unique – we needed to ‘tease’ out the different elements. At once sweet and sour, mild antiseptic, hint of tropical fruits, some nutmeg, coconut? There was something truly completely different about this one… sweet, dry yet teasingly
  • Palate – Wow! Starts off so smooth then there is a remarkable dry chilly that sneaks up from behind and ‘whoosh!’ envelops completely. One found cooked drumsticks, another lots of tannins, yet another found chocolate
  • Finish – An, unbelievably long finish and so surprising, it extends from the dry chilly to a long drawn out light cigar like finish
  • Water – Needed? No. Nice? Yes and remarkably did not dent the fabulous finish, simply enabled the mild peat quality to surface more

What a different whisky with its ability to have a deceptively soft ‘front’ then delicious spice that sneaks up from ‘behind’. Without a doubt, it had the most remarkable long finish of all whiskies sampled that evening.

As we speculated, it was very clear this was not Scottish and quite untraditional in its approach. The dry sweetness, soft smooth front then spice from behind, the shy peat that slowly unfurled, the exceptionally long finish… This was a whisky that didn’t neatly fit into clear categories.

Our host pulled out the bottle. Italy?

Putting it mildly, we were collectively ‘maha’ (greatly) impressed. From the design of the bottle to the quality of its contents.

Let us be very clear, Puni is out to change any pre-conceived notions that Italians aren’t up to the challenge of producing whisky! The Puni distillery began operations in 2012 and is located in the Italian alps, taking its name from the nearby Puni river. They use locally grown rye, pot stills and began with three core expressions:

  • Nova – American & European white oak casks
  • Alba – Marsala wine and Islay casks
  • Nero – Pinot nero casks

Here is what they have to say about their Alba:

ALBA – the Italian word for dawn, as well as the Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland – is matured for three years in the finest Marsala casks from Sicilly and finished in handselected casks from the Isle of Islay. ALBA is a harmonious combination of the rich & fruity flavours of Italy and the distinctive smoky character of the Scottish island.

Flavour : dark fruit | peat | cloves

The interplay between maturation in Marsala casks and ex-Islay peated whisky casks shows such experimentation can bring about quite wonderful results!

Puni Italian Trio

Other whiskies sampled our East to West evening included:

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East to West – Hakushu, PJ Bold, Puni Alba + Clynelish

I love the forethought and creativity that goes into some of our whisky tasting sessions…

Our January 2017 host’s theme was a journey from East to West… following a geographic progression from Japan to India to Italy and finally Scotland.

hakushu-paul-john-puni-clynelish

It was a fabulously curated collection that shifted in styles and threw in surprises too! Each was sampled completely blind before the reveal.

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Singapore “Speed Dating” Whisky…

Singapore may be expensive as far as whisky purchasing is concerned, however it never fails to deliver a new discovery.

There are some terrific night spots to nip into for a whisky flight (or two) – The Auld Alliance, Flagship and Quaich.

There are always unique offerings at La Maison du Whisky.

Even Changi Airport is no slouch as a spot to sample something novel with its range of whiskies from everyday duty-free to airport exclusives to a special “I have way too much money” collection upstairs…

So what did my August 2016 Singapore trip have in store?

It began with a pilgrimage to La Maison du Whisky

I stopped by early, well in advance of 6 PM ‘sampling’ time to pre-select options more or less under SG$200, less readily accessible elsewhere, not a repeat of any previous drams and could spark conversation from our fellow samplers back in Mumbai.

After a bit of careful thought, Priscilla sprung into action and began pulling out a few… checking some possibilities that I declined… to come up with a diverse shortlist. My sampling companion arrived and we began our final selection process by “speed dating” each whisky with quick short nips.

Puni Italian Trio

We began with a trio from Italy. Yes… Italy. We compared (right to left):

Puni Nova Bourbon Cask 43% 

  • Matured in American and European oak casks, initially seemed just grains, flowers, honey and vanilla… relatively standard on the palate.
  • In short, dismissed as not terribly interesting… but after the others, we found ourselves drawn back… then it really began to grow on us… for a young whisky, it has something quite enjoyable and attractive for a lighter dram.

Puni Alba Limited Edition 43%

  • Limited edition, uses barley, wheat and a locally grown rye matured from six months to three years in oak barrels that previously contained Sicilian marsala, Pinot Noir from South Tyrol and Zibibbo from Pantelleria.
  • And the result? Interesting, definitely interesting, but also oddly schizophrenic… simply didn’t seem to know what direction, here there or where?
  • Was it a light romp or storm the bastions? No balance between the sweet and spice elements like a cocktail with too many ingredients.

Puni Alba Marsala Islay 43%

  • Matured in Marsala and Islay casks, initially attracted attention – quite different with its pronounced cloves, range of fruits, peat, tobacco and nuts.
  • However like a one trick pony, we kept waiting for more… then reached back to the Puni Nova as the more drinkable dram!

Bruichladdich 1990 24 year

Next up was Bruichladdich 1990 24 year 56.5%

  • I was pre-disposed to fall in love… after all this was a special bottle for LMDW from a distillery that produces a rather interesting range of whiskies…
  • Eager anticipation, I took the first few whiffs…. and sip… And had the opposite reaction.
  • Harsh cloves cinnamon no softness… thin rather than layered and robust
  • Perhaps it needed time to air, a few drops of water or simply more consideration possible in a quick sample however didn’t pass the taste test… and in fairness, not all whiskies do… some simply require patience and attention not possible when “speed dating”

W+M Sherry + Sansibar Islay

We then moved on to two independents without the distillery disclosed:

Wilson & Morgan “Highland Heart” Sherry Cask Malt 2006 43%

  • As you would expect from a sherry, lots of delicious stewed fruits, a distinctly winey quality yet accompanying this was also a richer nutty dimension that brought you back for another nosing again and again
  • On the palate it was mellow, smooth and seemed to have many more layers than we could properly discern in a small taster… overall left you with the impression of an eminently drinkable dram

Sansibar Islay 8 year 52.5%

  • Sansibar are new independent bottlers from Germany and a first for me!
  • Unlike some who disclose minute detail about the cask, here the approach is different sharing only that it comes from a single cask, aged 8 years (2007-15) with 330 bottles…. and the rest? Up to you to guess!
  • We quickly pronounced it a fine specimen of an Islay malt
  • Compared it with the distillery official bottling – no doubt which WE preferred!

Wolfburn

Wolfburn 46% Batch #2

  • As a new re-entry, this distillery has been on my radar and considered in London with rather honest advice “It is still quite raw” enabling the Teerenpeli to win that round (I’m ever so grateful!)
  • From 7.03.2016, Distillery Manager Shane Fraser shares “On the nose you’ll find fruit and malty aromas, with a hint of peat. On the tongue, sweet and nutty flavours are present, which coat the palate and leave a very slight pleasant flavour of smoke. It is a joy to drink – I hope you enjoy every drop.”
  • This one was thrown in as a courtesy to let me try as a bottle was not available for purchase. Yes there is fruit, nuts, hint of peat, quite intense with lots of promise but not there yet – a bit ruff, gruff and certainly not balanced.
  • However… Let’s just say I’m looking forward to seeing what more comes… though can safely skip this one…

Taylor

We then shifted our attention to the Americas… In this case, to potentially obtain a 3rd American whiskey as counterpoint for two recent acquisitions direct to Mumbai from Denver, Colorado…

For this ‘brief’ we explored a duo from Colonel E. H. Taylor, part of the Buffalo Trace stable:

  • Small Batch 50% – What a change to shift gear to a rye! I’ll admit I’m neither a bourbon nor rye aficionado, however for this style, was a rather good example.
  • Barrel Proof 63.6% – Packs a serious wallop! As in galloping head on into all senses, firing all cylinders. Yowza!

Singapore Airport's Whisky Wall

Next up Changi Airport…  A few highlights / lowlights include:

  • Suntory has launched outside of Japan The Chita… Quite reasonably priced, alas it was not the exquisite Chita Single Grain 12 year I picked up in Tokyo years ago. Easy to pass…
  • However the Kavalan selection was tempting with a Sherry cask strength for less than SG$100. And a new Kavalan Peaty Cask – matured in a cask which previously held a peated whisky for SG$175.

What made the final cut for purchase?

You will just need to be patient til one or more whiskies sampled make it into a focused tasting session.

  • Sept 2016 – Wolfburn Batch #1 makes its way via another original tasting group member
  • Jan 2017 – The Italian Puni Alba was a hit with the original tasting group!

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