Drinks by the Drams – The Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar 2018

Now I must admit, for a few years I have coveted advent calendars… imagining exploring a bounteous array of unique whiskies.

As luck would have it, one of our Whisky Ladies of Mumbai was gifted a box – enthusiastically ordered from England for her sampling pleasure in India. A lovely thought… except those giving the generous gift had absolutely no clue the customs conundrum that would ensue… requiring all sorts of hoops and hassles with the recipient of the gift having to shell out more cash than the gift itself!

Perseverance and sheer stubbornness prevailed and this lovely box did indeed make its way into her hands.

After all the effort, what happened next?

Our lovely Whisky Lady decided to move to London! And gift her whisky women friends of Mumbai her advent calendar to enjoy, remembering our eventful evenings together!

Now given each ‘dram’ is a mere 3 cl each, our normal format where we all share and discuss the same whisky simply isn’t possible. Instead I had plans to pair up ladies to sample sets of four whiskies, jotting down tasting notes and leaving just a hint of their ‘top’ choice for others to sniff!

And then what happened?

You may have already guessed it! I’ve taken up a job in Germany. So this gift to the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai has now been handed over….

So while I will no longer have a chance to explore and enjoy, I’m completely confident it will be a brilliant experience.

Drinks by the Dram – The Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar 2018

What will the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai have an opportunity to try?

Mostly Blends

  1. Fettercairn 12 Year Old 40% – Launched in 2018, an earlier brush with a cask strength TBWC version was very positive!
  2. Scallywag 46%Douglas Laing‘s Speyside vatted malt blend of Mortlach, Macallan and Glenrothes.
  3. Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 Year Old 43% – Those in the know appreciate this is a vatted malt (or blended malt) rather than a standard blend… which translates into no grain. It is one I’ve previously sampled
  4. The Naked Grouse 40% – Part of the Famous Grouse range, it is a blend of whisky from Highland Park and Macallan, aged in first fill sherry casks

Islay and Peaty

  1. Bunnahabhain 11 Year, Batch 9 49.5% – Another from That Boutique-y Whisky Company
  2. Caol Ila (2004/2016) Moscatel Cask Finish 43% – Another Distiller’s Edition, experimenting with sweet Moscatel
  3. Balvenie Peat Week 14 Year (2003 Vintage) 48.3% – From a week dedicated to peat, their 2nd edition
  4. Kilchoman 2012 Wine Finish (Cask 405) 56.9% – Bottled exclusively for Drinks by the Drams

Mystery distilleries

  1. Crabbie 8 Year Old 46% – Before John Crabbie revive their distillery, they have released 8 and 30 year ‘mystery malts’
  2. The Exceptional Blend 1st Edition 43% – A first fill Oloroso finished blended whisky from Sutcliffe & Son with North British, Strathclyde, Cameronbridge, Glenfarclas, Ben Nevis, Allt-á-Bhainne, Auchroisk, Glenallachie, Westport, Speyside, Macallan and more. Previously sampled.
  3. Lost Distilleries Blend Batch 11 52.3% – Imagine blending together near mythical closed distilleries? That’s what the folks at The Blended Whisky Company did bringing together drops of Caperdonich, Rosebank, Imperial, Mosstowie, Glen Mhor, Glenisla, Glenlochy, Craigduff, Port Ellen and Brora, along with grain whisky from Port Dundas
  4. The XL Blend, Batch 1 46.2% – We know next to nothing about this except that The Blended Whisky Company produced it and the XL refers to 40 ie it is a blend of 40 year + whiskies. Originally retailing at £457.46, it is currently sold out

The Glens

  1. Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera 40% – Not so simple process first matured in American bourbon, Portuguese sherry and virgin oak, then married in a Solera vat.
  2. Glengoyne 12 Year Old 43% – Distinctive for its complete lack of peat
  3. Glen Scotia Double Cask 46% – I’ve been increasingly drawn to Campbeltown drams, and quite enjoyed a previous sample which features PX Sherry and Bourbon casks
  4. Glenfarclas 12 Year Old 58.7% – Bottled exclusively for Drinks By The Dram

“D” Distillery Drams

  1. Dewar’s 12 Year Old – The Ancestor 40% – Called ‘Double Aged’ as it follows its initial maturation and blending with another 6 months ‘marrying’ together further maturing in oak casks
  2. Dalwhinnie (2002/2017) Oloroso Cask Finish 43% – Distiller’s Edition, likely 15 year
  3. Dailuaine 15 Year Old Batch 2 47.5% – From That Boutique-y Whisky Company, previously sampled
  4. Dailuaine 4 Year (2012/2017) 46% – Bottled by Càrn Mòr for their Strictly Limited range, matured in two ex-bourbon casks

A mix of regions, styles and strengths!

  1. Loch Lomond 12 Year Old 46% – Inchmurrin, Inchmoan or Loch Lomond, this distillery has a range of styles… some peaty, some not… in this case using a trio of bourbon casks, refill casks and recharged casks.
  2. Bruichladdich Scottish Barley – The Classic Laddie 50% – It remains a classic, official bottle, year not specified
  3. Isle Of Jura Seven Wood 42% – Just as the name says, this whisky was matured in seven woods – American white oak, limousin, tronçais, allier, vosges, bertranges and jupilles
  4. Tamdhu Batch Strength (Batch 3) 58.3% – Matured in sherry casks

    PS – If someone was to now try and import such a box into India, there is next to no chance of success as the rules have changed yet again.

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    Whisky Tales – Mackinlay’s Shackleton “Crannog” 3 year

    Some whiskies you try and you are just dying to share what you discovered. Others, like this one, are less about the whisky and more about the story… living expedition adventures vicariously through film, letters, maps and more.

    And what did our Whisky Ladies think?

    Shackleton “The Journey” 47.3%

    • Nose – Sweet and sour, paradoxically of both land with grassy notes and sea with the brine of ocean spray. There was a sharpness too. Vanilla biscuits… then became increasingly sour
    • Palate – Spice, a touch harsh initially, bitter
    • Finish – Not much, but does it need to be with this whisky style?
    • Water – Much punchier… from no where peat comes out, has much more character and yes, indeed that is a finish too!

    As a whisky, it was interesting but nothing that made us go wow!

    As a story, we delved deep into the memorabilia, sparking lively discussions and attempts to read scribbles of yore.

    We particularly had a giggle at the Indian connect – Vijay Mallya – from back in the day when he was a billionaire claiming the title of the “King of good times” before his rather spectacular fall and fugitive avatar. Along with Whyte & Mackay, he acquired the surviving 3 bottles, flew them back in his private jet and set in motion the reconstruction which led to the whisky we enjoyed.

    You can read more in an earlier tasting of this whisky here: Going on an expedition! Shackleton’s The Journey.

    More whiskies with stories to tell:

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    Whisky Tales – Gerston Vintage (2013) Batch 1, 46%

    Before we dove into our journey of discovery, our Whisky Lady shared the tale of two distilleries… enthusiastically outlining their background, differences and styles.

    Gerston One (1796-1882) – A small farm to house scale Swanson family owned distillery that produced small quantity but high quality spirit that appealed to customers from London to Brazil and – most interesting for us in Bombay – in India as well.

    Gerston Two (1886-1914) – Couldn’t be more of a contrast! Industrial scale, 10 times the capacity of the original, innovative and modern yet never quite captured the success of its predecessor.

    The folks over at Lost Distillery took it upon themselves to reconstruct as close as they could to the original style…

    And what did our Whisky Ladies think?

    Gerston Vintage (2013) Batch 1, 46% Bottle 0838/1000

    • Colour – Vivid
    • Nose – Wow! Quite pronounced… then it started to settle down… Lot of saline, moss, reminded us a bit of compost, apples, then the peat crept in, caramel, still quite vegetable, hot floral, herbal
    • Palate – Multi sweet peat, cinnamon, slightly fruity
    • Finish – Salty spicy tingle, mineral
    • Water – Makes it milder, dampens the nose, however remains strong on the palate

    One to just relax and enjoy… Not so complicated but nonetheless interesting.

    What do the folks over at Lost Distillery have to say?

    • Appearance: Pale amber.
    • Aroma: A relatively closed nose; clean and fresh, with traces of linen and herbal fabric freshener. Laura Ashley? After a while a light, spicy prickle emerges, topping a fruity/doughy note: apple dumpling, made with suet and dusted with nutmeg. 
      With a drop of water the paper note advances, joined by warm leatherette and a trace of steam.
    • Taste: Smooth texture, sweet taste and a surprising amount of smoke in the finish – more coal smoke/steam engine than peat smoke. An unusual, antique taste, which holds up well with a drop of water, although the smoky element is reduced.
    • Comment: Interesting and vaguely ‘old fashioned’, especially without water.

    I scored this whisky for another Whisky Lady from Dubai’s Le Clos Whisky Store for AED 360. It was certainly interesting and a great addition to our trio of whiskies with stories to tell:

    Lost Distillery whiskies:

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    Compass Box – Whisky de Table 40%

    We closed with a Compass Box blend created specifically for La Maison du Whisky – something to capture an easy drinking experience like having a chilled glass of white wine with dinner.

    Naturally our host followed the serving suggested serving instructions to chill the bottle… first in the fridge and then a bit of time in the freezer to ensure the whisky was properly cooled before sampling.

    And then we sampled blind before the reveal…

    Whisky de Table 40%

    • Colour – More like a pale white wine than whisky
    • Nose – Intense bubblegum fruit, dates, raisins, strawberry confectionary, lots of musk melon… the after the 1st sip, rose, wine fruit and sweet
    • Palate – Wow! The peat was so pronounced! Then it settled into a lovely honey – a balance of peat and sweet in perfect harmony.
    • Finish – Pure peat

    It was such a contrast between the aromas and palate. Yet still such a people pleaser – easy to settle back and quaff.

    What do the folks at Compass Box have to say? We suspect we tried the 2017 Whisky de Table No. 2:

    The second edition of our Scotch whisky made to be shared and enjoyed like a traditional Vin de Table. The effusive distillery characters leap from the glass, unobscured by the heavier effects of maturation, providing a drink that is full of energy, versatile and beguiling. Serve chilled straight from the fridge like you would a white wine. This batch was made for the French market and released exclusively through La Maison du Whisky.

    I found it quite different than my experience with the 1st edition. In case you are curious? Here are notes from my earlier brushes with this whisky:

    Before Whisky de Table we tried :

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    Compass Box – The Double Single 46%

    Consider what you get mixing together a single malt with a single of grain? Well… if you have the exceptional blending prowess of the team at Compass Box, you would bring to the world of whisky The Double Single.

    We sampled completely blind… served from a freshly opened bottle at room temperature. What did we think?

    The Double Single 40%

    • Nose – Quite a contrast – very fruity and nuts, red plums, red berries, star anise, sour berry pulao, starch, tangy, even a bit of lavender, leafy, something beyond grape but not yet a raisin… all before the 1st sip!
      • After 1st sip – sweet lime, slightly funky wood, grape kool-aid…
      • After more time shifted into stewed apples
    • Palate – A lovely chilli spice and more, cloves, peppers, quite robust with loads of personality and a citrus twist
    • Finish – Smoke and wood char, spice… long and lingering

    While there was absolutely no need to add water… we did… simply curious. And…? The water did wonders! 

    • Nose – Fruit and vanilla cream, oranges, yum!
    • Palate – A lovely meetha paan, all flavours sharpen, cutting the spice a tad, enabling a whole kaleidoscope of flavours to emerge, particularly aniseed
    • Finish – Still long and lingering with a light spice, aniseed remains

    Above all, we were impressed by the incredible balance between the different elements. 

    For those of us who have had The Double Single before, it didn’t disappoint. For those who hadn’t, just another reminder that Compass Box knows their stuff.

    Curious what the folks at Compass Box have to say? Just check out what we thought when sampled early 2018  The Double Single.

    Our latest Compass Box trio evening also included:

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    Compass Box – Hedonism Quindecimus 46%

    Up first in our latest exploration of Compass Box was Hedonism… But no ordinary edition… this was Quindecimus – their 15th anniversary special limited edition. It has an absolutely lush gorgeous label that simply screams nuance, complexity with a vintage feminine vibe.

    Our host did his homework and knew this blended grain would take some coaxing and time to unfold… so he poured our glasses a half hour before we sat to start tasting.

    We sampled it completely blind… and what did we think?

    Hedonism Quindecimus 5689 46%

    • Nose – Started with soft caramel, light butterscotch, lemon, a bit astringent, sticky glue, wet grass, touch of kumquat, vanilla, sandalwood, a medicinal hint…
      • After the 1st sip some hazelnut, sweet grass joined, honey came increasingly to the fore, bread pudding and custard, with loads of butterscotch
      • Even more time and it took on such a lovely desert with cream and that fabulous butterscotch again
    • Palate – Citrus sweet… on the next sip there was chilli joining the sweet
    • Finish – Oddly flat and a bitter
    • Water – A mixed response – found it made it even more flat and left a bit awkward finish, others thought it added more character, with sweet and sour on the palate and a strong coconut quality

    We set it aside and moved on to the other whiskies of the evening….

    When we returned to it it, it was pure butterscotch, coconut on the aromas… however the palate and finish simply didn’t live up to the promise of the aromas.

    With the reveal our host admitted after so much effort to to track this down, have it shipped to the US then bring to India it was a bit of a disappointment. I’ll also admit to having mixed experience with Hedonism – certainly interesting but not also bang on the mark, for me at least.

    What do the folks at Compass Box have to say?

    Fifteenth Anniversary Limited Edition release of 5,689 bottles. Bottled in February 2015.

    Flavour Descriptors The combination of grain whiskies from different distilleries and of varying ages has created extraordinary complexity and juxtapositions of flavour. Indulgent yet lively, unctuous yet light, you will find a deep, sweet caramel coconut succulence combining with exultant tropical fruits.

    Recommendations Drink this whisky as any true Hedonist would – however you like it, whenever you feel like it and in whatever quantity you deem appropriate. We particularly enjoy Quindecimus paired with sweet desserts or Highland fudge.

    The blended grains are a combination of North British, Port Dundas, Dumbarton and a mystery blend aged more than 32 years.

    After Hedonism, we continued on with :

    And just in case you are curious? Here are notes from the earlier brushes with a different version of Compass Box’s Hedonism:

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    Compass Box Trilogy – Hedonism, Double Single, Whisky de Table

    By now it is quite clear we are no stranger to Compass Box and the way they have transformed what the whisky world thinks of blends.

    What was on the menu this evening?

    We sampled completely blind with each carefully served to bring out the most of each unique whisky:

    Just be patient over the next few days to learn more bout what we discovered!

    Check out a few other Mumbai evenings devoted to exploring Compass Box:

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    Minis – BenRiach 22 year Moscatel 46% (SMSW)

    BenRiach is one of those distilleries that rose, fell and rose again… and one that we’ve quite enjoyed during our various explorations. However this was a first with a Moscatel finish.

    What did we think?

    BenRiach 22 year Moscatel 46% (Single Malt Scotch Whisky)

    • Colour – Burnished copper
    • Nose – Fruit bursting forth, nuts, chocolats, juicy sultanas, sweet dry wood, amazing nose, cinnamon, nutmeg, like a pie or a tart, black peppercorn, keeps shifting between sweet and tart and spice… all before the 1st sip!
    • Palate – Wow! Soft then explodes, rich, sweet, dry tannins.. such a wonderful balance. with sweet spices, oranges
    • Finish – Spice – long and lingers wonderfully, loads happening, so sweet and delicious
    • Water – In one glass we added water whereas in the other we did not.The one with water was beautifully balanced. And yet we equally enjoyed it absolutely neat.

    This whisky simply enveloped us in a great big whisky hug… yet shifting and changing, retaining brilliant balance between the different elements.

    Like the others, we set it aside and revisited it after sampling the full quintet of minis. What did we find in the revisit?

    Absolutely fabulous! Fruity with an outstanding finish.

    What they have to say

    This whisky was originally matured in American bourbon barrels before being finished in Moscatel wine casks from Portugal and Spain. During this second period of maturation, the spirit subtly interacts with the oak wood and takes on new flavours and aromas from the Moscatel wine cask. The 22 year old is non chill filtered, natural in colour and bottled at 46% abv.

    Our Sales Director Alistair Walker said: “Moscatel is a sweet fortified wine, hailing from Portugal and Spain, which adds a buttery-soft, spicy and fruity dimension to the whisky. The result is a superlative malt in the classic BenRiach style. It is lusciously rich, velvety and full-flavoured, delivering superb dried fruit and honeyed sweetness, like a good apple crumble.”

    • Colour – Rich gold mahogany.
    • Nose – A full, sumptuous nose consisting of dark orange marmalade, rich fig syrup and sweet dates. A dusting of cocoa and cinnamon followed by a gentle hint of garden mint adds a luxurious character.
    • Palate – Rich, velvety dark chocolate fondant topped with glazed maraschino cherries develops to plum cordial and spiced honey. The long finish is rounded with a gentle, earthy balance of nutmeg, stewed barley and old vintage leather.
    • Finish – A rich body laden with dark Mediterranean fruits and a complementary balance of warm spices and delicate oak characters.

    What else did we try in our minis evening?

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    Minis – Glenrothes (1992) Lustau Sherry 55.3%

    We all have certain distilleries we know and love. And others that past experiences influence perceptions – understandably. For my tasting companion, Glenrothes has been more of a disappointment than reward. Whereas for me – I’ve had more positives than negatives.

    Glenrothes (1992/2016) Cask 1 Lustau Sherry Finish 55.3%

    • Colour – Gold
    • Nose – Sour, sweet, sweet leather, fibrous, malt mash, tarter, rubharbh.. After 1st sip, musty, talcum… the 2nd sip salty sour plums…
    • Palate – Full flavoured, we loved the tartness, chewy, evolving salt and sour, sherry yum
    • Finish – Dry, tart, then a flat burn
    • Water – Brushfire then spice and plums, less sour, more orange oils, with a spicy fruit finish

    We initially thought this is a great early evening dram! Most enjoyable and a good contrast to the Edradours and BenRiachs we earlier sampled.

    So we set it aside, returning to find it slightly pungent, shifting between sweet, sour, chaat masala with delicious mixed berries.

    What do the folks at Master of Malt have to say?

    A delicious release from the Glenrothes Wine Merchant’s Collection range (each of which has been finished in different types of cask from top producers). This whisky was finished in a cask that was previously home to tasty Lustau Sherry! A release of 648 bottles.

    Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

    • Nose: Sticky toffee pudding, raisins and plums.
    • Palate: Citrus begins to develop on the palate (perhaps lemon drizzle cake). Soon joined by dark chocolate.
    • Finish: White grapes, orange peels.

    While it is now sold out, it went for approximately $200.

    We also sampled these four more drams in our minis evening?

    Curious about other Glenrothes experiences?

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    Minis – BenRiach 12 year 43%

    Next up in our minis evening was a discontinued BenRiach

    BenRiach 12 year 43%

    • Nose – Freshly chopped wood, sap… bit of varnish? Wood shavings – predominantly pine, fresh balsa wood, very dry… then honey starts to seep in, shifts to crisp granny smith apples, cured hide, tart, bamboo sawdust. After the 1st sip the aromas shifted – became much sweeter, fruits, flowers even a perfume, red velvet cupcake, orange and clove oil, Christmas pudding
    • Palate – Honey water, spice and smoke, tobacco leaf, the apple from the nose was baked into a pie with a dash of spice
    • Finish – Short to medium, starts sharp, sweet, creamy and tapers off… into a feeling of a finish

    We enjoyed this one more and more as it opened up. While it was sweet, the bite of piquant elements adds a certain something. It somehow reminded us of adding a bit of black salt on guava to bring out the sweet.

    We set it aside to continue exploring other minis then returned after some time. We continued to enjoy its sweet wood and bamboo shoots aromas. And on the palate? Lovely… like tender palm, then apples and pears with spice.

    While now archived, the BenRiach folks have this to say about this 12 year old:

    This SMOOTH single malt has an elegant full taste and aroma that captures FRUITY, floral and OAK WOOD NOTES, with fascinating overtones of honey, vanilla and SPICE.

    • Colour – Mid-amber, hints of gold.
    • Nose – Honey, vanilla, floral, fruity with well balanced wood overtones.
    • Taste – Rounded medium to full bodied, rich honey, vanilla with hints of cream, spice and chocolate.

    So what else did we try in our minis evening?

    Not enough BenRiach? Check out some of these:

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