Explorers – Shackleton, Tobermory, Highland Park Thor

One of the reasons we love tasting blind is we can explore a whisky without being influenced by previous experience with the distillery or marketing paraphernalia. For our February 2018 session, this came in handy… as the theme of the evening ending up being the whisky packaging!

What all did we try?

  • Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Shackleton “The Journey” 47.3%
  • Tobermory 15 years 46.3%
  • Highland Park’s Valhalla Series “Thor” 16 year 52.1%

Did I mention the marketing? Just wait to see the booklets, photos, special boxes and more!

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Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach 46.3%

Bunnahabhain is known as the un-peated Islay dram… which makes their Ceòbanach a bit of a departure.

Knowing this limited edition expression was new to the market, one of our Whisky Ladies decided it was just the right twist to bring to our “Contributors Choice” evening.

Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach 46.3%

  • Nose – Perfumey peat, sweet, way more peat than had anticipated, creamy, slightly astringent until it settled down, almost salty
  • Palate – Bacon, bloody mary, spice kick, quite direct, black pepper, citrus and bitter yet smooth and almost oily
  • Finish – Long finish, not heavy, spicy and sweet with a dash of salt too

This was one of those drams that is hard to go back to anything else after such peat. It certainly wasn’t “clobber over the head” peat but it wasn’t a push-over either.

Here is what the folks at Bunnahabhain have to say:

Ceobanach [pronounced kyaw-bin-och] means ‘Smoky Mist’ and harks back to a simpler time; when island life depended on peat for warmth and trade, a time when smoke from the open fires mingled with the salty sea air, to create a ‘Smoky Mist’ you could almost taste.

Bunnahabhain Ceobanach has an unusually rich character; from the sweetness of the Bourbon casks, to the intense Islay malt peatiness, not to mention the characteristic sea air influence from more than 10 years maturing on the coast.

  • Colour – Lemon gold
  • Nose – Intensely pungent depths of sweet oak, seaweed, smoke and elegant light tar with mild antiseptic
  • Palate – Exceptionally balanced malt sweetness, then tangy yet mellow vanilla, white pepper, bitter orange and salt
  • Finish – Lingering oatcake saltiness and sweet peppered smoke

For the ladies in the mood for peat, this one hit its mark.

So what did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Contributor’s Choice” evening?

Here are a few more Bunnahabhain’s sampled over the last couple of years…

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Glenmorangie 19 year 43%

Duty free releases can sometimes surprise you… They can be terribly average, a marketing dumping ground to see what sticks. They can also be a rather fine example of the best a distillery has to offer… or an interesting experiment in a new direction.

For this age statement Glenmorangie, I have to admit I was expecting it to take a rather “classic” take on the Glenmorangie style, an evolution from The Original like the classy 18 year rather than shifting into heavy play of finishes like with Amontillado Sherry Casks with The Tayne.

When it showed up fresh from London to Mumbai at the hands of a welcome visiting Whisky Lady as her contribution to the evening, curiosity was indeed sparked!

Glenmorangie 19 year 43%

  • Nose – Surprising sea salt, perfume, restrained, nuanced, honey, with a hint of rancio, a bit musty, old cheese, damp after the rains, then keeps getting sweeter and fresher revealing a soft citrus
  • Palate – Very peppery at first, citrusy, intense and so unexpected after the aromas, oily, bittersweet
  • Finish – Sea salt, iodine, metallic
  • Water – A few drops really opens it up and brings out more of the typical Glenmorangie 10 floral honey aromas, the peppers on the palate into balance and rounds it out beautifully

Quite subtle with some lovely  notes… And a surprising saltiness for a Genmorangie.

How it blossomed with a bit of water surprised most of us who thought at 43% should be zero need to add. We had a debate on its impact on the finish – with some finding it made it even saltier and others thought sweetened it.

But the best way to have it? With sea salt dark chocolate caramel. Which we just happened to have from the US, courtesy our contributor who brought the Glenmorangie.

What do the folks at Glenmorangie have to say?

  • Aroma – This bright sparkling golden whisky is fresh and zesty on the nose with suggestions of mint and eucalyptus, intensifying into candy, peaches and vanilla. A drop of water releases floral notes and honey.
  • Taste – A complex and creamy balance of vanilla, tangy oranges, apricots, apples, butter candy and a hint of menthol.
  • Finish – In the aftertaste, there is a strong suggestion of mint toffee alongside oak tannin and Glenmorangie’s celebrated lingering, bittersweet citrus fruit.

So what else did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Contributor’s Choice” evening?

Other Glenmorangie’s sampled over the years include:

And a few Glenmorangie evenings too:

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The Glenrothes Manse Reserve 43%

The whisky that ruled our Whisky LadiesContributors Choice” evening was The Glenrothes … A speyside distillery known for its rich, complex vintages. For some of our whisky ladies this was an introduction, for others a welcome opportunity to revisit a favoured dram.

The Glenrothes Manse Reserve 43%

  • Nose – Caramel, toffee, vanilla, coffee, honey suckle, buttery, sticky bun, gingerbread
  • Palate – Treacle, oily, bread pudding with vanilla sauce, rum raisins with panache, pumpkin pie
  • Finish – Burnt candy orange, allspice

Soooo yummy! Grounded, complex and complete.

After such a super sweet nose, it was so welcome to have more depth on the palate. Like coming full cycle. Clear balance between maturing in ex-Bourbon and Sherry casks.

Their description of “Autumnal fruits, alluring spice” is spot on.

It was a clear favourite with the Whisky Ladies.

And what do the folks at The Glenrothes have to say? Read on…

  • Bouquet: Autumn orchard, custard cream biscuits, fleeting but recurrent floral notes.
  • Palete: Fresh, uplifting, bottled pears, soft alluring spices
  • Finish: Medium length. Refreshingly fruity with uplifting spices

So what did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Contributor’s Choice” evening?

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Whisky Ladies Contributor’s Choice – Mars Iwai, Glenrothes, Glenmorangie, Bunnahabhain

You would think having one Whisky Ladies session in January would be sufficient… and we certainly had a merry evening combined with the gents to explore Douglas Laing blends with a bonus!

However we decided to skip our February session in favour of a late January one to welcome back for an evening a member who now resides in the US.

We went completely random in whisky choices… only knowing who would be bringing a contribution… nothing else.

So what did we sample in our “Contributor’s Choice” evening?

Photo: Rashmi Dhawani

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Wolfburn’s Morven, Aurora and Original

Whisky Live is a great opportunity to try whiskies you are curious about but wouldn’t necessarily buy…. a chance to ‘speed taste‘ with a simple sniff, swish and spit.

Wolfburn is a newer distillery, promising for its sweet minerally new make spirit. These were at best fleeting impressions as I stopped by the Wolfburn booth towards the end of my sampling explorations… at that stage where you have nearly had enough.

Wolfburn Northland 46% – ex-Bourbon

  • Nose – Quite oaky, raw cereal,
  • Palate – Young but… sweet, lightly floral, slightly nutty
  • Finish – Spice and is there just a bit of peat too?

Wolfburn Aurora 46% – ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry

  • Nose – Sweet yet restrained, pineapple or melon, yoghurt
  • Palate – Barely there… Sweet spice… a sense of being raw yet very sweet
  • Finish – Spice

Wolfburn Morven 46% – Peat

  • Nose – Young, organic, oaky
  • Palate – Light peat, an odd quality, some spice
  • Finish – Burn

To be honest, it didn’t work for me… however it was just a wee brush…

All said, it was good to zip through this trio… reinforces a preference to wait a few more years to see what Wolfburn does with a bit more time.

Other brushes with Wolfburn?

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Sansibar’s Glentauchers, Spicely Sweet + Smokey Peated

At Whisky Live Singapore 2017, the Sansibar booth was manned by a local bartender who was so passionate about what the folks at Sansibar are doing, it was positively infectious.

Thanks to La Maison du Whisky, I’d already encountered the Islay Malt 8 year and brought it back for a special undisclosed distilleries evening.

Now, as it was at Whisky Live, it means my impressions were fleeting… however enough to cement an opinion that Sansibar is worth continuing to keep an eye on!

Glentauchers 8 year 48.2%

  • Nose – Soft, sweet, lightly elegant
  • Palate – Not just sweetness and light, a bit bitter, toffee, butterscotch raisin
  • Finish – Bitter nuts

Overall this is a light desert in a bottle.

Spicily Sweet 48% – Blended Small Batch, Batch #1 “Sunset”

  • Nose – Very fruity, aaaah… yum!
  • Palate – Smooth, sweet, soft fruits, light spice
  • Finish – Here is where the spice peeps out even more

My initial thought was this is a summer dram – sun soaked fruits – with a name that perfectly personifies its name “spicily sweet”! It was so enjoyable that I thought folks back in Mumbai might enjoy it too. And sure enough, “Sunset” closed an evening exploring independent blends

Smokey Peated 48% – Blended Small Batch, Batch #1 “Signal Fire”

  • Nose – Bacon, wood fire, fruit behind the smoke like pineapple and other tropical fruits
  • Palate – Holy toledo peat! Turbo charged peat yet not in the least harsh, more fruits
  • Finish – Captive ash. No messing with it peat. Bit of a pepper chaser

I thought of the Sansibar Islay Malt 8 year cask strength which brought an elegance to peat. By contrast the “Signal Fire” was unabashed peat.

Quite interesting to try this trio and I planned to return to continue sampling… however all the other whiskies I had hoped to try were polished off. Clearly others found the offerings also appealing.

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Compass Box Enlightenment + Oak Cross

Compass Box just does blends to a different standard. These are no run of the mill drams. Their quirky sometimes stunning packaging is as appealing as what is contained in the bottles too.

At Whisky Live in Singapore (November 2017), I skipped all the whiskies sampled not so long ago with the Whisky Ladies to instead focus on lightly sniff, swish and spit my way through two.

Enlightenment 46%

  • Nose – Fruity, malty, cereals, bit of pepper, crisp fruits, teasing vanilla
  • Palate – Sweet light spice that grows, bright, citrus
  • Finish – There… with more spice

Overall it is exceedingly nice and eminently drinkable.

And what do the folks over at Compass Box have to say?

Inspired by the writers, philosophers and scientists of the Age of Enlightenment, this blend of fruity fragrant Highland Single Malt Scotch Whiskies is bursting with aromas of fresh orchard fruit, vanilla, soft spice and pear.

Oak Cross 43%

  • Nose – Light oak, malty with a bit of fruit
  • Palate – So smooth with a woody spice, clove
  • Finish – More oomph than expected, warm and stays

In many ways Oak Cross is a great name for this whisky…. it has solid oak crossed with a nice spice. It absolutely works!

And the Compass Box folks insight?

We begin by sourcing whiskies from three single malt distilleries; one for its ethereal fruity character, one for its enchanting perfume and one that lends a complex and substantial structure to the blend.

All are aged in American oak casks before we place a portion into innovative hybrid casks featuring heavily toasted new French oak heads. These give the whisky an added richness and spice-like complexity. By carefully blending back the French oak-aged whisky with its American oak-aged forebear, we are able to create a refined, rich, but well-mannered malt whisky, with fruity aspects that will remind you of baked apple or pears, complemented by a rich, toasty oak character.

More Compass Box experiences:

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Whisky Live Singapore 2017

So here we are in February 2018… and I’m only now getting around to sharing observations from November 2017 Whisky Live Singapore….  Why the delay?

Because I found it really hard to put into words that after such a terrific experience at Whisky Live Singapore 2016, the 2017 edition simply wasn’t for me. Which seems exceedingly churlish to admit when the organizers were kind enough to extend a day pass.

However rather than dwell on disappointments, let me focus on the key benefit of attending any Whisky Live anywhere in the world – the whisky!

There definitely were highlights and I captured a few fleeting notes on my sniff, swish (and mostly spit) experiences… And before you gasp in dismay about not savouring and swallowing, I firmly adopt a “Survival Guide” approach to explore to the max and over-indulge to the min.

There is a price to such a “speed dating” method. Notes cannot be complete and lack in-depth insights. Instead, they are just quick surface impressions… like a teaser… merely giving a sense of what might come… if only…

So with that caveat in mind, welcome to explore Whisky Live Singapore 2017:

Whisky Live Singapore’s Collector’s Room picks for 2017:

  • Caol Ila 16 year (1969) 40%
  • Yamazaki 12 year (1996/2009) 60% (Whisky Live Japan 10 year anniversary edition)

Tasting notes to follow in the coming months… so stay tuned!

And what did I walk away with? You may be surprised:

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Trying to give Smokehead a chance….

So we tried Smokehead once before – the Rock edition. To say that it didn’t impress the Whisky Ladies is putting it mildly. While we are always curious to try different things and no strangers to peat, ashtray is generally not our preferred style.

However when approached by the folks over at Ian MacLeod distillery suggesting their standard Smokehead is more accessible than the Rock edition, I didn’t have the heart to refuse their rather sincere representative, though did warn him our tasting would be unbiased and honest.

The little Smokehead mini sat patiently waiting for many months until finally one evening it was time to try a range of peat whiskies. Thus was born the evening of minis of a peaty persuasion – Peat Chimney 12 year 40%Big Peat 46%Longrow 46%BenRiach Peated Quarter Cask 46%Ledaig 10 year 46.3%. Smokehead came along for the ride but the others politely but firmly declined.

What to do with our poor rebuffed Smokehead sample? Try try try again… finally a fateful evening occurred when Smokehead finally was cracked open.

Smokehead 40%

  • Nose – Sweet smoky “breathable” want pulled port, braised steak craving, cinnamon, sweet BBQ rub
  • Palate – Watered down, then ash tray, came out as oddly flat
  • Finish – Queer finish, almost off

Our conclusion “All talk, no action”… in other words the nose was more promising than the palate.

Full disclosure – this sample was provided by the folks at Ian McLeod.

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