Peaty Mini – Big Peat 46%

Next up in our peaty minis evening after the Wemyss Peat Chimney, we explored a blend from Douglas Laing.

Big Peat 46% (Douglas Laing)

  • Nose – Began with quite a sharp peat that then disappeared quickly. Baked banana or a banoffee cream pie then also settled into a surprisingly restrained fermented apple, quite sweet.
  • Palate – A delicious peat heat, black pepper, green peppercorns, liquorice root, quite fresh
  • Finish – Peat spice, sweet liquorice, changes to red chilli, cinnamon spice

What we enjoyed most about this whisky was how it kept changing. While consistently accessible – in a good way. There was overall a fresh lightness to its approach – unquestionably peat but one with a delightful ‘freshness’ and spirit.

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

Douglas Laing’s Big Peat is a feisty Islay character with a sweet side. This is a small batch bottling, without colouring or chill-filtration and only contains Islay Malt Whiskies, including Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and (even the now closed) Port Ellen to name but a few!

And their tasting notes?

Opens fresh, salty and clean on the nose, developing to sweet malt dried over peat. On the palate, detect ashes, sweet tar, beaches and smoking chimneys. The finish is long and lingering, replicating the palate with salty, tangy liquorice, smoke, bonfire ashes and a phenolic quality.

We sampled from a closed mini bottle in October 2017. While I can’t recall the exact price, think it was around £5 or so… a full bottle will set you back approximately $55. An exceedingly reasonable price for a most enjoyable dram.

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

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Minis of a peaty persuasion

It has been some time since the collection of minis were attacked! The collection came out with the intent to focus on whiskies of a peatier persuasion…

And what did we select?

What was remarkable was the range of peats we discovered…

After all this, we rewarded ourselves with a Machir Bay – no tasting notes, just pure unadulterated enjoyment!!

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“Super Nikka Whisky”

After spending time exploring the Nikka “From the Barrel” at our Whisky Ladies “Diwali Drams” evening, we compared it with a revival of an earlier incarnation of their standard “Super Nikka Whisky”.

What did our Whisky Ladies think?

Super Nikka Revival Whisky 43% (Limited Edition for Europe, 2015)

  • Nose – Candy floss, that Hallowe’en candy corn of brightly coloured kernels of yellow, orange and white tips, caramel nuttiness, a sweet almond paste, cola that has gone flat, then from somewhere an unlit charcoal, slightly musty, a hint of chocolate? A dash of pine?
  • Palate – Deceptively sweet, well rounded, light smoke to counter balance the sweet, was there a hint of sea salt too? Regardless of the different elements, they all merged together harmoniously
  • Finish – Lovely finish, cinnamon sweet though a bit abrupt – here then gone.
  • Water – Interestingly, this is the one we tried with water… it nicely reduces the sweetness, adds a dash of spice like a spice guava, making it overall even more enjoyable

And what do the folks over at Nikka have to say about Super Nikka?

One of Nikka’s classic brands, the Super Nikka was introduced to the market in 1962. Its luxuriant aroma, gentle hints of peat and scent of vanilla and chocolate are all in harmony, and its flavor is smooth, rounded and well-balanced.

Believe it or not, a fellow whisky aficionado in Mumbai has one of the original’s from the 1960s… I’m sensing we just may need to track down one of the ‘new’ avatars and do a comparison one of these days…

And the results of our “head to head”?

The Nikka Super Whisky was the most popular – for its sociable character in keeping with the mood of the evening. And yet there is no doubt the “From the Barrel” is a fine dram that demands attention.

And yes… I was caught blathering on about context being everything in choice… whisky preferences for me, at least, are highly mood, setting and company dependent. What I love in one context I may not care for in another and vis-a-versa. But that is another tale for another day…

The “Super Nikka” we sampled had recently been opened and tasted at our October 2017 Mumbai session, last seen on Master of Malt for $55 (sold out).

Whiskies sampled in our Diwali Drams evening included:

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Nikka’s “From the Barrel”

Last in the Whisky Ladies “Diwali Drams” evening was a “head to head” comparison between two Nikka blends – their cask strength “From the Barrel” and a revival of an earlier incarnation of their standard “Super Nikka Whisky”.

Most would know that Nikka, the company, uses “Nikka” as the brand name for their range of whisky blends which are either:

Both our whiskies fall into the “blend” category… What did our Whisky Ladies think?

Nikka From the Barrel 51.4%

  • Nose – Coconut, like sweet honey nectar, fruits like pears, a bit of acetone, then coriander (or cilantro or… there was a debate on the different varieties!). After a sip, the nose gained some oil and nuts, then shifted into marshmallow and candied nuts.
  • Palate – We found it was like melted caramel, dense and buttery like a maple butter tart, some sweet raisins too… quite thick on the palate
  • Finish – Last and last and lasts.

Some absolutely loved it! Appreciating how it is bursting with character, a complex drink, one where a little goes a long way.

Words like “Fabulous!” and “Mmmm” could be heard. The finish in particular was described as a “Fabulous, fantastic finish!” And exclaims of how well it could pair with certain food too.

And yet for some, this was almost too much… in its sweet aromas, its dense concentration of flavours and long finish.

What do the folks at Nikka have to say about “From the Barrel”?

This is a blend of multiple types of malt and grain that Nikka reserves. Nikka From the Barrel was created to deliver full flavors and richness of whisky “from barrels” which only blenders can sniff and taste. As the whisky contains so many characteristic components at a higher alcohol of 51.4%, it is essential to let the liquid “marriage” in used casks for 3-6 months for it to stabilize and harmonize. The concept of the unique short squared bottle is “a small lump of whisky”, which perfectly visualizes the rich and strong taste of the whisky inside.

PS – There may be added colour i.e. caramel.

So then how did it stack up against the “Super Nikka”? Read on soon….

The Nikka “From the Barrel” is a 50 cl bottle, sometimes found in duty free for around $50-75 and was opened during our session.

Whiskies sampled in our Diwali Drams evening included:

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“Happy Whiskies” Bhutan’s K5 vs Misty Peak

Next in the Whisky LadiesDiwali Drams” evening was a trip to a remarkable land – Bhutan where one of our intrepid whisky ladies recently traveled. She brought back for our sampling explorations two whisky blends – K5 and Misty Peaks.

We’ll admit it took a bit of time to re-calibrate our palates and expectations to blends of blends, watered down to 40%. However let’s be honest, we’ve all had our fair share of Indian blends and once we shifted gears from the Hakushu single malt to desi whiskies, found elements to commend.

K5 is is blended and bottled by Gelephu Distillery – part of the Bhutanese Army Welfare Project, of which some of the funds from sales go to help veterans of their armed services.

Here is what they have to say about Bhutan and the reason this blend is called “K5”:

The Kingdom of Bhutan is known for its peaceful, harmonious way of life. So it’s no surprise that these qualities – balance, beauty – are equally present in the nation’s preeminent whisky. Blended and bottled by hand in the foothills of the Himalayas, K5 Himalayan Whisky is a special blend created in honor of the coronation of the 5th King of Bhutan’s ascension to the throne. 

They go on to explain the blend uses:

  • 8 and 12 years old blended malt Scotch whiskies mixed with
  • Triple distilled grain spirits, made from the Bhutan’s organic rice and corn grains, then
  • Diluted with natural Himalayan virgin spring water

A few further details can be found on K5’s Spirit of Bhutan website.

And what did the ladies think?

K5 Himalayan Whisky 40%

  • Nose – 1st whiff came across as a bit sharp, then turned quite nondescript, if a tad too sweet… As we recalibrate expectations to a  A light dash of sherry sweet spice, some toffee
  • Palate – Caramelised sugar sweet syrup, perhaps the tiniest whiff of malt or peat?
  • Finish – Simply smooth

Overall we found it light, like an appetizer whisky… the kind that prompts a “happy face” reaction.

Compared with other Indian blends in a similar or higher price range, it had no harshness and instead a quite amiable quality. Talk turned to cocktails – those with a light touch on other flavours to allow K5 to skip along in harmony – or perhaps a whisky caprioska.

Don’t expect a high faluting fancy blend here, just something easy to quaff and approachable.

We then moved on to the next Bhutanese offering…

Like K5, Misty Peak is blended and bottled by Gelephu Distillery. Outside of Bhutan, Misty Peak can be tracked down in Singapore through Bhutan Premium Liquor. What do they say about it?

The Misty Peak Whisky was produced in the year 2015. This bottle was produced to reflect the pristine character of the timeless Majestic Mountains of Bhutan.

Misty Peak is made of selected blend of 8 years old and 12 years old blended Scotch malt whisky. It is then admixed in with a carefully selected Scotch grain whisky. Just like the K5, it is the infused with the natural spring Himalayan waters for that delicate finish. This blend gives the whisky its unique characteristics of different spices and hints of honey with light touch of pettiness that ends off with a sweet lingering bite to the palate.

And what did the Whisky Ladies find?

Misty Peak 40%

  • Nose – Caramel spice
  • Palate – Light oil and very watery
  • Finish – The best quality – a tingly spice finish, a bit bitter… almost like a light swish of mouthwash

Overall we found it went straight from nose to finish, the taste on the palate there but nondescript. And yet, we still thought it would stand up better in cocktails than K5.

As we compared the two, most began to veer towards preference to the K5 over the Misty Peak. And yet both were easy to drink, with no harshness, quite mild.

Talk turned to the “happiness quotient” found in Bhutan and how it was admirably expressed in both whiskies.

These whiskies were purchased in Bhutan and sampled from recently opened bottles in October 2017, Mumbai.

Whiskies sampled in our Diwali Drams evening included:

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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?

Whisky Ladies Drams (Photo: Nikoulina Berg)

Just click on the whisky links above to read more about 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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Wine makers making whisky? Sula’s Eclipse 42.8%

I’ll start off with a caveat… I’m not terribly familiar with Indian blended whiskies. Sure I may know the standards names, but their flavour profile? Why people enjoy what they do? Completely utterly inadequately explored!

So when a bottle of Sula‘s experiment into artisan spirits and more specifically Indian blended whiskies just so happened to be available for sample, thought why not?

Eclipse Premium Whisky 42.8%

  • Nose – Decidedly ‘winey’, with a musty quality and quite nondescript nose
  • Palate – Very weak and watered down seeming, yet easy on the palate… one even went so far as to call it ’rounded’ whereas another called it a ‘weak Long Island iced tea’. For some there was a bit of a funky quality. Most were able to discern a bit of bitter Nescafe style instant coffee and walnut
  • Finish – Was there one? It honestly didn’t register

Overall none of our tasting group would voluntarily go out to buy it. But then again, none of this club would ordinarily buy an Indian blended whisky either.

What do we know about it? Apparently it is a blend of 62% grain spirit, 10% malt Scotch, 20% grape spirit and 8% peated malt spirit. Which would seem to tip it more into the category of a hybrid than whisky per se.

And what do the folks at Sula have to say?

Whisky with a twist. Smooth twist and a hint of sweetness aged in French Limousin oak cask, first double distilled grape spirit, “cognac cask aged” from the House of Sula.

I wonder if the twist refers to its absurd top. You kinda twist/pop it up to pour then somehow get it back to its original position. Supposedly this helps make it tamper proof as we also know spurious liquor is rampant in India.

And what would a bottle of Eclipse set you back? Well the Indian MRP is from INR 750 to INR 1,540 (approximately $12-25), depending on which state in India you buy it.

Interested in reading about more Indian whiskies? Go to the India section, with one other blend tasted – Amrut’s MaQintosh.

What else did we sample in our Single Grain Trio with Indian Whiskies Duo evening?

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The Exceptional Grain + Blended Malt

It is pretty ballsy to call yourself “exceptional” but the folks over at Craft Distillers aren’t shy about who they are and what they are doing. And you can’t fault Don Sutcliffe, managing director of Craft Distillers, a 35 year veteran of distilled spirits with Willie Phillips, 23 years managing director of The Macallan for being confident they know their stuff.

So what a treat to try two of their early offerings as part of our monsoon malts & more evening in Mumbai.

The Exceptional Blended Grain Scotch Whisky 43%

  • Nose – Again, like the Borders, clearly grain but not at all harsh, a bit dusty, sweet, mono-aromatic, a little green freshness, then aniseed, light spice
  • Palate – Very soft, light coffee, almost sparkly, quite lovely
  • Finish – Cinnamon candy, lasts

Overall on the palate it kept shifting, sweet, then reveals more, slowly unfurling. This is no harsh grain to go into blending, instead it is nuanced, soft and subtle. In short – most enjoyable.

Here’s what The Exceptional team have to say:

A blend of remarkable aged grain whiskies, including a barrel of 30-year-old from the Carsebridge Distillery, long since closed. Blended by Willie Phillips, formerly of The Macallan; finished in first-fill sherry casks. Subtle, elegant, authentically individual, with great structure. (750ML/43%abv) $100.  

The Exceptional Blend Small Batch Scotch Whisky 43%

  • Nose – Biscuits, lemon cream, almost like Jim Jams, then a slightly sour quality on the nose before returning to sweet
  • Palate – Quite thin on the palate, spice, zesty and very sweet
  • Finish – There but.. sweet, edging towards almost being too sweet

Overall next to the remarkably good grain, we were not quite so enthusiastic. This doesn’t mean it is a bad dram – far from it. However is it truly exceptional? Something so exquisite you would remember it above all others? Hmm…

The most remarkable element are the aromas which are most pleasing and in harmony, even as they shift between different dimensions. However the palate, while exceedingly nice, missed depth and complexity. At least for us with our wee sample.

Here’s what The Exceptional team have to say:

Mature grain whiskey from North British, Strathclyde, and Cameron Bridge distilleries blended with selected barrels of aged, malt whisky from 11 distilleries, including a 30-year-old Macallan. Deep and layered complexity. Superb whisky. (750ML/43%abv)  $120

Overall, there was no doubt the grain was our favourite and genuinely stood out. The blended malt was exceedingly good but not quite what we at least would call exceptional – a pity for the range of whiskies that went into its making.

Yet it was completely worth the experience and I’m looking forward to future opportunities to see where these gents go with their experiments.

Other whiskies sampled in our Mumbai monsoon malts evening included:

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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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