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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Another French whisky? Guillon Banyuls 43%

Once upon a time if you spoke of whisky from France, folks might look at you with a rather puzzled expression. Whisky? France? Surely you mean the other W – Wine, right?

Fast forward and there are an increasing number of contenders vying for a place in the world of whisky… including from France. And with France the 2nd largest consumer of whisky after the UK and before the US, no wonder French distilleries are popping up and getting into the act.

This Guillon spirit was our 1st in a quartet of NAS whiskies with our original Bombay Whisky tasting group – sampled completely blind.

Guillon Banyuls (2015) 43%

  • Nose – Some chocolate cherry, almost a rum quality, fresh lemon then vanilla, light banana fruits, a ginger oil, then shifted into some cereals with a hint of sweet spice
  • Palate – Mirchy pepper hot with raisins, young, no body and oddly flat
  • Finish – Short – just alcohol warmth with a bitter
  • Water – Doesn’t enhance – if anything makes it a bit dry

It initially reminded us of a bourbon – not with the typical brash banana caramel but instead a softer, fresher approach.

With the reveal and the decanter styled bottle, we started joking about whether we were having perfume or whisky or something else entirely?

While new to us, Guillon Distillery has been producing spirits since 1997. Owner Thierry Guillon has been aging spirits in oak barrels from French vineyards of the AOC regions of Champagne, Banyuls and Sauternes.

This particularly spirit was matured in Banyuls wine casks – a French dessert wine similar in style to Port.

But is it whisky? Turns out… it is not. After I originally shared this post, a wee twitter flurry commenced which clarified this is a ‘malt spirit’ rather than whisky… as Franck Debernardi   pointed out “They use white alcohol mixed with malt extracts/flavors and sugar. They were forbidden to sell their spirit as whisky.” 

What this meant was during our evening of sampling, we were under a misconception. Where talk had turned to French whiskies… Given the range of wine casks in France, it is entirely logical that French whiskies play around with maturing in wine casks. Our Whisky Ladies recently sampled a whisky from Alsace (AWA) matured in ex Pinot Noir cask and another (Brenne) in ex Cognac casks. But was this particular liquid in that category? Apparently not!

What else did we try in our NAS evening?

French whiskies sampled over the last year or so include:

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Exploring NAS whiskies – Guillon, Oban, Arran + Kavalan

Sure folks still bemoan the days where “No Age Statement” whiskies were few and far between in the world of single malts, however NAS whiskies are here to stay! And frankly, some of them are rather good.

So it was rather apt that one of our retired whisky club members for his birthday (of years we shall not say!) turned to a quartet of NAS whiskies… which turned out not to all be whiskies… as there is a new avatar of ‘malt spirit’ which joins the fray.

Guess which one of our 4 bottles wasn’t a whisky after all?

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Who knew Alsace produces whisky? AWA Pinot Noire 42%

Next up in our risky whisky evening was another offering from France – this time the Authentique Whisky Alsacien (AWA) Pinot Noire.

The whisky lady who brought this unusual offering shared how she discovered this whisky nestled amidst all the wine in France. As in AWA was the ONLY whisky to be found amongst a LOT of wine! Apparently there are other varieties of AWA – linked to different wines like Reisling, GewurztraminerPinot Gris and this Pinot Noire. Plus someone clearly has a sense of humour with AWA’s “The Dog’s Bullocks” whisky!

So… what did we find?

AWA (Authentique Whisky Alsacien) Pinot Noire 42%

  • Nose – Dark purple grapes, fruity almost reminds one of a sloe gin, fresh figs, flower like wild rose or hibiscus, then took on a deeper quality with malty treacle
  • Palate – Initial hit of raw grain for some, flowers like a bouquet bursting in ones mouth for others, bit of a sharp zing, sits on top
  • Finish – Grapey wine-like finish

There is a playful quality to this whisky. Sophisticated? Nope. Just fruity fun! Perhaps it was our imagination but we certainly found the wine influence which made it quite a departure from your standard ex-bourbon / ex-sherry cask fare.

Overall this surprise from a Whisky Lady’s trip to France received a ‘thumbs up’ just for being… rather.. well like-able!

When we contrasted tasting this whisky in our standard Glencairn glass vs Norlan, we found in the Norlan it flattened the nose to brown sugar however brought much more out in the palate – much spicier with cloves, quite a delicious piquant quality.

The verdict? Comes across more like “whisky” in the Norlan than the Glenairn glass. So all depends on how you like your tipple.

You won’t find much about AWA however… try as I might no luck finding any official tasting notes! If anyone does – let me know!

What else did we sample that “risky whisky” evening?

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Risky whisky? Not with a delightful Brenne

Our whisky ladies evening began with a decided romance spun atmosphere by candlelight… thanks to a rather more mundane reason – the road was being dug up in front our host’s home!

Yet starting the evening with a soft glow was rather apt for the 1st sample –  a French Single Malt Brenne Estate Cask.

Brenne is one of those whiskies I’ve been curious to try for some time. The brainchild of Allison Patel (The Whisky Woman) in partnership with a 3rd generation Cognac producer, she set about creating a ‘new’ whisky.

Brenne Estate Cask 40%

  • Nose – A burst of apple sauce, then bubble gum – as in bazooka or hubba bubba – quite candy sweet and as it opens up, sweet basil, honey and lavender join the choir, settling into a raspberry cherry cough syrup sweet
  • Palate – Lightly spiced sweet apple juice, light, soft, gentle cognac, cherry cola, more and more cherry
  • Finish – Red dark cherry

For some, this style of whisky may be too sweet yet it somehow manages to be a desert whisky without slipping into that sickly sweet territory. Think of it like ice cream after a meal!

In short it is a quite lovely whisky, pretty, delightful and something you could easily sip at the start or end of an evening. Rich and complex? Certainly not, but nonetheless quite enjoyable!

We wondered how the notes might change between our standard Glencairn glass and Norlan… with the Norlan, there was more flower than bubblegum and on the palate a very clear apple cognac with whisky cream. Little change in the finish.

We then wondered how it might be if chilled so put a glass of Brenne in the fridge.

The verdict? Don’t! Cold it simply became syrupy sweet stepping clearly onto the side of being TOOOOO sweet and loosing all its lovely nuance.

Brenne is produced in the Cognac region, initially aged in new Limousin oak barrels then finished in used Cognac casks – on average for approximately 7 years. The distilling technique follows the “Cognac” style, using colder fermentations and small batch production, then twice distilled in copper alembic still.

As we understand, each Brenne is from a single cask so one can anticipate some variation between what you sip today vs another bottle from a different cask tomorrow.

Here is what the Brenne folks have to say about their whisky:

SMOOTH, APPROACHABLE with lots of FRUIT A distinct experience of fruit-forward expressions followed by the spice notes from malted barley, all balanced with the sweetness from Cognac soaked oak

What else did we sample that “risky whisky” evening?

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Whisky Ladies Risky Whisky

Our Whisky Ladies are generally an adventuresome set. Which is why our whisky explorations are not limited to your standard Scottish fare… not to say we don’t thoroughly enjoy a solid Scottish dram, just that our predilections lean to the off-beat rather than well trodden paths.

Which sometimes leads to some rather stellar flops! Most recently the AD Laws Triticum + Hordeum stand out as whiskies we would never ever chose to repeat. On the other end of the spectrum, that very night Canada‘s Shelter Point was an instant hit and another evening Finland‘s Teerenpeli 10 year was just yum!

We know when you take risks with your whisky choices there will be some delicious surprises mixed in with some unmitigated disasters!

When we began our evening, we had no idea how our selection would fare… just that we wanted to continue our whisky explorations to seek out new distilleries! Here is what we tried:

Then we added brilliant bonus drams… Our whisky lady host of the evening was celebrating her 40th birthday. What better way than with a 40 year old Auchentoshan!! And her whisky lady mother then decided we simply must have an extra desert treat of a rather bonus bourbon Willlett.

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Ladies Choice – Kornog Taouarc’h Pempved 14 BC 46%

Our Ladies Choice evening moved from Sweden to France, home of the Glann Ar Mor distillery with its peated single malt Kornog.

pooja-virPooja Vir joins as our next Whisky Ladies of Mumbai guest whisky reviewer…

Pooja has spent the last twenty years working in the  hospitality industry in Bombay and London in project management, operations and marketing communications. She always did love to eat on the job but recently swapped the 9 to 5 and terrific staff discounts for afternoon naps and private clients she loves.  

Here is what she has to say…

The last time we drank a Kornog I wanted to take my bra off.

And this, forever, will remain my first thought each time I drink the (very) peated malt from Breton.

When our favourite Whisky Lady invited me to write a guest post on a whisky I sourced for one of our club’s evenings I warned her it wasn’t going to be about the whisky. She didn’t seem to mind, and so here I am.

My love affair with whisky began when I was 6 months old. Several decades later, over my first ever whisky sour (which I sent back) in a trendy hotel in London’s Shoreditch I began to write a blog called Table for One. It’s a personal diary of sorts, and a record of what I felt when I was out eating and drinking on my own.

More decades later, after a fairly democratic voting process, the Whisky Ladies of Bombay chose 5 bottles for the evening we were hosting the Bombay Malt & Cigar evening. The Kornog Breton Single Malt became my responsibility. A quick call to my bootlegger in London and we were in business.

But I digress… you must want to get back to Breton, and bras.

The bra-extracting whisky that my fellow Whisky Ladies were referring to was the Kornog Taourac’h Trived 10 BC 46% they tasted a few months ago. However, the Kornog Taourac’h Pemved 14 BC 46% we drank tonight was less titillating.

kornog

Much to the disappointment of the “gentlemen” we were hosting, no bras came off. And much to the disappointment of the ladies who had experienced a Kornog before, this one was as mild as the gents we were hosting.

Fortunately for me though, I didn’t carry the burden of experience. I had started to fall for this Kornog soon after I saw it for the first time. I loved the font on its label. I loved that it came from France (but wasn’t an Armagnac or a calvados or a pastis). I loved that it was the whisky version of Italy’s slow cooking movement – made with wooden washbacks, slow distillation and maturation by the sea.

So I gave it the benefit of the doubt. I decided to like it and all it had to do in return was deliver a perfect first kiss.

The clever folk will tell you its nose is “smoky and fruity with citrusy peat and notes of marzipan.” That it tastes “medicinal with hints of seaweed, tar and pear.” That the “smoke goes awry and marzipan hits again.” Or as the Whisky Ladies put it: the bras stayed on.

It seemed harsh at first sniff, but so much gentler on the tongue. I flirted enough for the two of us, but it didn’t seem to notice. I put a lot of heart into every conversation, and even though all I got back was monosyllables, it didn’t seem to notice.

Ladies and gentlemen, it would seem that I have been afflicted by a one-sided romance. I say this isn’t about the whisky… but of course it is. For it is unlikely that any other whisky, on any other night, with another group of people would have inspired what it did. It is unlikely that anyone else I loved so much, would reject me as surely as this Kornog did.

The Kornog Taouarc’h Pempved 14 BC is a single-cask bottling, aged in a bourbon cask and bottled in 2014.

Table for One

Table for One

What else did we sample in our “Ladies Choice” evening for the BMC gentlemen?

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Whisky Ladies Choice – Treating the BMC Gentlemen…

Last year, the gentlemen from the Bombay Malt & Cigar club took it upon themselves to treat the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai to an evening of Irish whiskies and cigars.

This year, it was our turn to return the favour.

We debated a range of different approaches and finally decided on a theme of “Ladies Choice.” And what pray tell did that mean to us?

We wanted to share with the gentlemen some of the most memorable whiskies we sampled together as a tasting group. They may not be the world’s best whiskies but they would be our “Choice” – ones that stood out in some kind of way.

We went about it in a democratic manner and voted, tallied up the responses to create a “short-list”, then began the efforts to source these whiskies.

Our approach was a bit flexible, in some cases we knew it would be impossible to source the EXACT same whisky. What worked was finding something from the same distillery or similar category.

The whiskies were literally sourced from around the world involving travel, friends of friends and even last minute acquisitions…

What made it into our final “Ladies Choice” list?

JapanAkashi Red Blended Whisky 40%

  • In truth we had several Japanese whiskies in mind however the Akashi was accessible and a refreshing departure from the expensive exclusive impossible to find Japanese single malts, so figured why not!
  • It also made for a perfect ‘appetizer’ whisky to get the evening going…

Sweden – Mackmyra Vinterdröm 46.1%

  • The most enjoyable peaty Mackmyra Svensk Rok 46.1% captured our attention with its clean, minimalist yet smoky qualities.
  • So when our Swedish whisky lady went on the hunt over Christmas for something distinctly different from the distillery, this limited edition “Caribbean love affair” avatar was her pick!

IndiaPaul John Single Cask #1844 60.5%

  • The Paul John Select Cask Peated Batch 1 “OMG bacon!” made many Whisky Ladies swoon for more during our Paul John evening… we definitely wanted to include a Goan single malt, preferably a Select Cask or Single Cask…
  • Thankfully Michael from Paul John distilleries was able to oblige our interest – literally hand delivering this single cask a mere two days before our evening!

France – Kornog Taouarc’h Pempved 14 BC 46%

  • Kornog’s whisky from Bretagne will forever be known in our group for the comment “How did you go from being a perfect gentlemen to getting my bra off like that?” (WL on Kornog Taourac’h Trived 10 BC 46%)
  • Alas the Trived 10 BC was no longer available so we took a gamble on the newer Pempved 14 BC

TaiwanKavalan Solist Sherry Cask S090102020 57.1%

  • There was no doubt a Kavalan was going to make the cut…
  • By a very wide margin, the Solist Sherry Cask topped the charts with the most votes from all our Whisky Ladies tasting experiences. So… it simply HAD to be our ‘showstopper’ of the evening!

Somehow not one Scottish whisky made it into the list. Not a single one. It wasn’t deliberate. It was simply how the votes panned out.

But that says something about how the whisky world is going…

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European Tour – Kornog Taourac’h Trived 10 BC 46%

A year ago during a remarkable tasting evening at The Auld Alliance in Singapore, I first encountered Glann ar Mor‘s peated Kornog from Bretagne, France.

Raving about the distinctive character of the special cask strength Kornog bottled exclusively for The Auld Alliance, I put the word out to our traveling Whisky Ladies to track down another Kornog.

Sure enough, one of our lovely lasses special ordered a Kornog Taouarc’h Trived 10 BC in the UK that wandered its way home to India.

It featured as the 3rd whisky in our June 2016 European Tour

Teerenpeli, Kornog, Danica

Kornog Taourac’h Trived 10 BC 46%

  • Nose – Banana split! Fruity, caramel, vanilla, smoke, chocolate, nutmeg
  • Palate – Peat, bacon, buttery
  • Finish – Chocolate chaser, sweet syrupy with a bacon edge

Think banana split with bacon sprinkles! Sounds strange but is actually quite delicious. The overall impression was of smokey caramel in the most delectable way. With peat hardly discernible on the nose it grew more pronounced on the palate and blossomed in the finish.

It had the most remarkable way of going from a fabulous fruity nose to dancing briefly along the palate to flounce immediately into a wonderful finish.

This Kornog lived up to my hope of a completely distinctive character – in many ways it is rather roguishly reflective of what one thinks of about Brittany. One of our Whisky Ladies lived many years in France and without a doubt, this was her favourite whisky of our tour!

Best quote of the evening?

“How did you go from being a perfect gentlemen to getting my bra off like that?”

While there are few reviews of this Kornog and no official online tasting notes from the distillery, Jim Murray rated the Kornog Taouarc’h Trived 12 BC at a whopping 95. Even if you are not fan of Mr Murray, we would agree this particular Kornog is worth giving a go!

Other whiskies sampled during our European tour included:

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Whisky Ladies European Tour – Teerenpeli, Danica, Kornog + Slyrs

In the wake of the Brexit vote, the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai decided to go on a European whisky tour featuring:

2016-06-28 European Tour

The Teerenpeli Finnish whisky was a recent acquisition from my trip to London – recommended by the folks over at the Whisky Exchange and a rather fine addition to our evening.

The Brauntstein Danica‘s was snagged as the only Danish whisky available at Copenhagen airport!

The Kornog from France has been eagerly awaited! Special request ordered by one of our whisky lady’s prompted by my curiosity after sampling a cask strength version.

A complete bonus on announcing June’s theme was the addition of a 4th European whisky from Bavaria, Germany. I mean, who else in Mumbai other than a “Whisky Lady” just so happens to have a bottle of Slyrs 51 sitting in their whisky cabinet??

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