Speed Tasting Whisky

One fine monsoon weekend, a few folks decided to get together for a lighthearted whisky activity.

Keshav Prakash, of The Vault Fine Spirits, took complete charge and decided we would play a whisky game in 3 parts:

  1. Individual rating
  2. Discussion with comparisons and speculating
  3. Reveal and revisit

In front of us were 5 drams, pre-poured and covered. The rules were simple:

  • Label our rating sheets with our initials and corresponding whisky letter “A… B… C…” as per our table mat
  • Sample each whisky then rate out of 5 on its nose, palate, finish and overall character & complexity
  • Individual activity only – strictly no speaking, comparing impressions or ratings
  • 15 minutes only start to finish then pencils down! Just like in an exam…
  • Beyond that no rules – could get up and walk around, write down more than just the score, whatever worked to achieve a complete rating within the allotted time!

The clock started, the covers came off and the whisky speed dating began…

Part 1 – Speed tasting and rating 

Now… I must confess… I could not rate without documenting my impressions. Long ago I made a conscious decision to not numerically ‘rate’ whisky. So I have never ‘trained’ myself or had the ‘discipline’ of putting hard numbers next to the different elements.

So I pulled out my handy whisky tasting notebook and busily began to scribble random thoughts. That helped sharpen focus and give me enough to then make a split second assessment of each.

Part 2 – Comparing, discussing and guessing

The first question was – are all of these whiskies? Yes.

Then whether some were bourbon, most thought two were ryes… With our votes on which could possibly be which.

Talk turned to some of the different characters – one reminded of cognac cask matured whiskies. Another had peat. We took a stab at guessing some were not Scottish…

Then we shared our individual top rated dram with the overall “winner” the 4th whisky (D) as it had the most character with both sherry and peaty elements.

Photo: Keshav Prakash

Part 3 – Revealing…

This is where the real fun began… three were Jim Murray’s 2016 Whisky Bible winners, one was an Irish grain and the winner? A house blend made by accident more than design!

What a surprise and what a treat!

Click on the links above to ready my hastily scribbled notes compared with Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible or official tasting notes, where applicable.

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Whisky Ladies Compass Box Eve – Peat Monster 46%

At last! Our final Whisky Ladies Compass Box Quintet whisky of the evening!

We started with Spice Tree Extravaganza, then the lightly peated Great King Street Experimental Batch, shifted gears completely to the blended grain Hedonism before being bowled over by the majestic Flaming Heart!

No easy feat to follow, Peat Monster boldly entered the fray!

Compass Box Peat Monster 46%

  • Nose “Did I just singe my eyelashes?” Punchy, pepper, much spicer than the Flaming Heart, malty sweet embers, coffee
  • Palate – Sweet, campfires burning, spicy yet not harsh, smoky, malty, lightly fruity
  • Finish – Smoky embers, cinnamon sweet spice
  • Water – This was the 1st dram of the night where a few drops of water really helped open it up, dampening the fires, bringing out a wider range in the spice elements, black liquorice, basil and more… a kaleidoscope of flavours to the back of the mouth and throat

After the gorgeous complexity of Flaming Heart, Peat Monster was a return to a dramatic dram that gets right to the point. Nothing fundamentally wrong with that – in fact at times that is exactly what you are in the mood for! No nonsense, this is what it is and enjoy!

For some, previous memories of Peat Monster was of a well-balanced, rich peaty dram that didn’t demand a single drop of water. Yet this one did. With a few drops transforming it, achieving the accessibility and drinkability we remembered. Interesting…

Here’s what the folks at Compass Box have to say:

You will find a spectrum of seaside and medicinal peatiness, along with kipper-like smokiness, all surrounding a core of fruity malt whisky character. THE PEAT MONSTER is a whisky for those who love intensity, flavour and freshness, balance and drinkability. A whisky for those who appreciate the blending of seemingly dissonant elements to create something sublime.

For the whisky geeks, I’ve included Compass Box’s info graphic, outlining the break-up between Laphroaig, Ledaig, Caol Ila, Ardmore with a 1% dash of Highland malt (Clynelish, Teaninich, Duilaine) with a warning that with each batch variation will occur.

Our Compass Box evening included:

Psst… this wasn’t my first brush with Peat Monster… you can read more about my earlier experience here.

This whisky was purchased by one of our Whisky Ladies and sampled from an unopened bottle in July 2017. It is also available in India through The Vault Fine Spirits.

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Whisky Ladies Compass Box Eve – Flaming Heart 48.9%

Our Whisky Ladies Compass Box evening moved on to Flaming Heart with a “smouldering, spicy, complex” profile from whisky aged in new French Oak blended with peaty Islay single malt.

What did the ladies find? In short – wow!

Compass Box Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Limited Edition (July 2015) 48.9%

  • Nose – Greeted by sweet smoke, surprisingly light and fresh, candied peat, leafy, a bit dusty almost musty, black pepper and also green capsicum, intense without being too much so. As it aired more, revealed vanilla, sea salt and seaweed, mossy, gaining in richness and aromas, even a faintly metallic quality. As even more time passed, it revealed further dimensions from star anise to dried fruits and tight berries to an almost herbal quality…
  • Palate – Rich, very unique, oily, heavy, peppery cinnamon or perhaps even a red chilli dark chocolate, gorgeous rich fruits, bitter, toasty, later even leather joined the flavours, an exceedingly tasty dram with a marvellous rich mouthfeel
  • Finish – Woody, dry, fruit spice, feels like it doesn’t end…

One of our ladies nailed it “I’ve been transported!” For her it was straight to Scotland. For others, it was a walk along a beach with the spray and scent of seaweed. Or striding alone along a wind swept cliff. Or coming home to an old leather chair, settling in with a dusty library of beloved books.

This is a ‘weighty whisky’ of substance. A big whisky. With lots of smoke and gorgeous complexity. So much personality and character.

Talk turned to whether it could be described as “Wuthering Heights” like until another quipped “No… this is Game of Thrones” for its complexity, its depth and range… its different personalities… its distinct stages with Acts 1, 2 and 3. This whisky is the stuff of the Iron Islands, sex and dragons.

Here is what the folks over at Compass Box have to say about their 15th Anniversary edition:

First released in 2006, Flaming Heart was the first whisky to combine the rich, complex spice of Scotch aged in new French oak with the evocative peat-fired smoke of Islay malt. It created a genre-defying style that was smouldering, spicy, complex – and so popular that we’ve re-released it four more times in the years that followed.

A unique interplay between spice, sweet and smoke characteristics. Sweet fruits and wood-smoke on the nose. Fat and full-bodied on the palate with a spicy sweetness and a brooding complexity that is rich, sweet and addictively decadent.

And for the whisky geeks, here is their infographic on its composition:

Our Compass Box evening included:

This whisky was purchased at Le Clos at Dubai International Airport for AED 375 and sampled from an unopened bottle in July 2017. 

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Whisky Ladies Compass Box Eve – Hedonism 43%

At our Whisky Ladies Compass Box evening shifted gears completely… Having just sampled Spice Tree Extravaganza and the lightly peaty Great King Street Experimental Batch, we realized before launching into the decidedly peaty Flaming Heart and Peat Monster, it might be a good idea to recalibrate our palates with the unique Hedonism.

Compass Box Hedonism 43%

  • Nose – Exquisite! Subtle, nuanced, fresh oranges, exceedingly fresh and fragrant
  • Palate – Piña colada with that mix of coconut cream and pineapple, sweet light spice, silky smooth, vanilla custard
  • Finish – Starts with a great finish then “Oh you are gone, but was nice while it lasted!”

There was an immediate flashback to the Nikka Coffey Grain with its coconut, pinneapple, yet obviously a much more nuanced variant… for some it was absolutely delicious and for others, just not their style. Which seems to be the case with grain whiskies.

It was a complete departure from the earlier drams and an excellent example of the range of unique blends Compass Box produces.

Here’s what the folks at Compass Box have to say:

The inspiration behind our whisky HEDONISM is just that – pleasure, enjoyment, a celebration of that ideal marriage between distilled spirit and high quality oak maturation. The aromas and flavours hint of vanilla, caramel, a delicate fruitiness, accented by flashes of coconut in the finish. This is a whisky that will appeal to both the ardent whisky enthusiast and newcomers to whisky alike.

Our Compass Box evening included:

Psst… this wasn’t my first rodeo with Hedonism… you can read more about my earlier experiences here. I was delighted to sample a more recent incarnation.

This whisky was purchased by one of our Whisky Ladies and sampled from an open, nearly full bottle in July 2017.

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Whisky Ladies Compass Box Eve – Great King Street Experimental Batch 43%

Our Whisky Ladies Compass Box evening kicked off with Spice Tree Extravaganza followed by Great King Street – Experimental Batch. A few of us were familiar with the Artist’s Blend and Glasgow variants, yet all were new to this one…

Compass Box Great King Street Experimental Batch TR-06 (03 Sept 2013) 43% Bottle 1534 of 3815, 500 ml

  • Nose – Light smoke, very sweet, honey, vanilla custard, as it opened a hint of mosambi peel or its fragrant zest
  • Palate – Smooth, fabulous mouth feel, quite unctuous, not heavy, instead almost gentle yet full flavoured, delicately balanced between sweet, light spice and smoke with descriptions like “mouth-watering” and “lip smacking”
  • Finish – Spice and smoke curling and swirling about for a long time, closing with peppers and a faint almost bitter citrus peel

This was a terrific start to our evening, with a whisky that is quite accessible, one to sit, savour and enjoy, becoming sweeter and smoother with each sip.

We discussed how it falls between the flavour profile of Artist’s Blend and Glasgow Blend, veering more towards the Artist end of the spectrum. For one, the standard Artist’s Blend remains a favourite, for others this one simply hit its mark and was a lovely start to our Compass Box evening!

Here is what the Compass Box folks have to say about this whisky:

“Complex, smoky and aromatic with notes of seaweed, mint, salt spray and an underlying dried fruit sweetness.” 

This 500ml bottle was purchased at Le Clos at Dubai International Airport in June 2017 for AED 115, sampled from an unopened bottle in July 2017.

Our Compass Box evening included:

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Whisky Ladies Compass Box Eve – Spice Tree Extravaganza 46%

Our Whisky Ladies Compass Box evening kicked off with Spice Tree Extravaganza. Issued on the tenth anniversary of the original Spice Tree bottling being banned, the blend:

“draws its inspiration from The Spice Tree but reinterprets it through the use of older components and a significant portion of sherry-cask aged malt whisky. The Spice Tree’s trademark spice character is retained but set within a richer, more elegant frame with a new depth of flavour and complexity.”

And what did the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai think?

Compass Box Spice Tree Extravaganza 46% (Bottled Aug 2016)

  • Nose – Vanilla, sweet spices, rich and almost rum-like, very sweet, dried apricots, stewed spiced apple or an apple crumble with lots of cinnamon
  • Palate – Spiced cider or wine with cinnamon, allspice, ginger and cloves, with all the hallmarks of Thanksgiving – a little pumpkin pie, light roasted nuts, slightly bitter, yet also buttery too with a great mouthfeel
  • Finish – Nice long flavourful finish, chased by delicious spices

Initially harsh for some, however this was the 1st dram of the evening, and one we readily settled into. Once past the 1st sip, it had the most amazing warm spice burn that actually became more not less pronounced over time – remarkable!

We found it quite balanced for a ‘spicy’ whisky, with the most beautiful aromas… ‘festive’ in its character and one decidedly for a cooler evening. And yet, with all its sweet spices swirly about, it was much more autumn than Christmas in character – the sherry dimensions not overly pronounced, an accent not pushing to the fore… In keeping with a more mature sherry malt than brash young sherry bomb.

In short, it was a rather marvellous malt to commence our Compass Box explorations…

Here is what the Compass Box folks have to say about Extravaganza:

Decadent and playful on the nose, you will find notes of sherry wine, dark berries and the fragrant sweetness of traditional sweet shops.

On the palate there is juicy red fruit, a dark brown sugar richness, the trademark Spice Tree ginger and clove spice character and an endlessly long, spicy, substantial finish.

Recommendations This is an excessive, rich, dare we say extravagant whisky. The perfect drink with which to mark one of our more infamous anniversaries. Drink it any way you like – there are no rules that can’t be broken.

For more information, check out Compass Box’s info graphic on this whisky:

Our Compass Box evening included:

Psst… this wasn’t my first tryst with Compass Box’s Spice Tree… you can read more about my earlier experience here with its standard avatar.

This whisky was bought from Singapore Changi Airport Duty Free for SGD179 and sampled from an unopened bottle in July 2017.

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Whisky Ladies Explore a Compass Box Quintet

Most of our Whisky Ladies are no strangers to the often remarkable Compass Box blends. As a group, we’ve sampled the delightful Asyla, Great King Street – Artists Blend and the unique Hedonism. Independently, some of us have tasted many more…

For some time now, we’ve wanted to enjoy a focused session exploring Compass Box offerings… and found our chance on a monsoon evening in July 2017!

It began as a trio, yet morphed into a quintet – oh my! And no ordinary set either… no siree! We found ourselves exploring several limited edition avatars too..

Here is what we tried a Compass Box quintet of:

As always, the distinctive designs, superb craftsmanship and unique take on different whisky profiles was impressive. What a treat to try these together!

Related Compass Box posts:

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

Monsoon malts and more…

I love this part of monsoon – the temperature dips, the rains have a wildness and for a bit of time, we have just the right conditions to curl up indoors and enjoy a good dram.

So one fine Friday night, I and two whisky affianados found ourselves free to explore a few interesting whiskies… just because.

What all did we sample?

  • Eddu Silver 40% – Buckwheat whisky from Bretagne, France 
  • R & B Distillers – New entrant bottling interesting whiskies
    • Borders Single Grain 51.7%
    • Raasay “While We Wait” 46%
  • The Exceptional – Craft Distillers Sutcliffe and Ex Macallan’s Willie Phillips new baby
    • Blended Grain Scotch Whisky 43%
    • Blend Small Batch Scotch Whisky 43%
  • Highland Park 12 year 40% – An echo of an 18 year favourite
  • Finlaggan Cask Strength 58% – A most enjoyable mystery Islay

Oh yeah, and an absolutely undrinkable chilli rice-whiskey from Laos… Plus an impromptu chilled cocktail playing around with the Eddu’s unique qualities.

Tasting notes coming in the next few weeks… or so…

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Lost Distillery 2 – Jericho, Gersten, Lossit, Auchnagie

Whisky Live Singapore 2016 featured many a fine dram! Plus discovering new experiments in the world of whisky.

The Lost Distillery Company set out to create “modern interpretations of lost whisky legends.” My 1st sampling set began with the lightest style profile from the “Classic Range” with Auchnagie, Towiemore then Stratheden, gradually gaining momentum towards more robust profiles.

I continued my explorations with three more whisky distillery recreations of days gone by from the Classic range (all bottled at 43%) then closed on one from their Archivist range (bottled at 46%)…

2016-11-13-lost-distillery-jericho

Jericho Distillery (1824-1913) Classic 43%

  • Nose – Sherry bomb! All those Christmas plum cake elements with an overlay of sweet perfume
  • Palate – Full sherry, lots of rum raisins
  • Finish – Dry sherry

2016-11-13-lost-distillery-gerston

Gerston Distillery (1796-1882 & 1886-1914) Classic 43%

  • Nose – Briny spice, maritime character, windswept freshness
  • Palate – Toffee, rum caramel, edge of peat
  • Finish – Carries on with smokey elements

I don’t know why, but this whisky reminded me of Kolkata – India’s early British colonial capital. It was a nice surprise… Do also check out the Whisky Lassie review.

2016-11-13-lost-distillery-lossit

Lossit Distillery (1817-1867) Classic 43%

  • Nose – Lots of smokey peat, salt more than sweet peat, softer bacon, pear drop
  • Palate – A contrast with a softer more delicate creamy profile, hint of pepper
  • Finish – Mellowed out completely

What a contrast – quite pronounced peat on the nose, yet was much more soft and creamy on the palate then a mild finish…

2016-11-13-lost-distillery-auchnagie-series-1

Just when I thought my sampling as over… out came another Auchnagie at 46% from batch 2/11, bottle no 709, part of their “Archivist” range.

  • Nose – Soft fruits and spice with a slightly tart citrus twist
  • Palate – Then rich, sweet, round full body… in short, delicious!

I sampled seven Lost Distillery whiskies, all ‘speed dating‘ sampling rather than a ‘proper’ sessions, however still gave a sense of quite distinctive styles. Enough to conclude these folks are certainly expanding the horizons of what is possible. The passion and enthusiasm of the team was palpable and I was delighted to have a chance of making their passing acquaintance and wish them well!

Lost Distillery whiskies sampled at Whisky Live Singapore:

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When an International Scotch Day celebration is NOT about the whisky

From time to time, our Whisky Clubs are invited to events… Let’s just say it is convenient to extend an invite to one and get a bunch of whisky aficionados – particularly if it is a rollicking group of “Whisky Ladies.”

And that is how we found ourselves at Diageo’s International Scotch Day… Yet given what we assumed would be the whiskies on offer, our interest was more the multimedia artist’s ‘odes’ to the water of life, live music and good company.

In short, it is known as the evening the “Whisky Ladies” became the “Bitchy Ladies!”

Why?

Just peruse some of our Tasting Sessions or Ladies Corner and it easy to see we are an adventuresome bunch, exploring a wide range of whiskies sharing frank, fun and sometimes brutally honest opinions about what we sample.

Which means the bar is set pretty high to impress these ladies. We strolled in, traipsing after actress Freida Pinto and headed straight for the bar.

We knew the stuff on offer would not make our normal “cut” yet we still gamely did a tasting round of the whiskies available – Johnie Walker, Black and White, Black Dog and Vat 69. I’m too polite to reproduce what was said. 🙂

1st you.. then you.. like this not that!

Cocktails was clearly the way to go! However the “Old Fashioned” approach also didn’t make the “cut” either so one Whisky Lady took charge telling the poor beleaguered bartender how to go about it!

Getting an Old Fashioned right?

The food? From a fabulous chef yet with pairings that seemed a tad random and mostly got quizzical curious reactions.

And the Art? “Not so finely disguised advertising” was one comment, however it was fun playing around with the “Black & White” exhibit.

Black + White Whisky Lady?

Lest we seem like complete ingrates, what finely pleased these picky ladies? Oh the music, merriment and mischief we caused!! In the end, we had a mighty fine evening!

PS – It was interesting to read the somewhat “random” quality we found was echoed in other cities..

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