Random whisky tasting at KODE

When we started our different whisky tasting clubs in Mumbai it was at a time where the offerings readily available beyond whiskies personally brought into the country were rather limited. Fast forward and today it is possible to have a respectable flight… right here in the city… for a price.

That shared, we likely won’t see many single casks entering anytime soon… in part because to import requires donating a “sample” for testing purposes. When a product has only say 100 bottles in the world and to sell at best a handful in a particular state, it becomes impossible to justify such a “donation”.

So while the more unusual limited edition specimens likely won’t show up anytime soon,  the overall range is sufficient for those curious to be inducted into the world of single malts and whiskies in general.

Which is exactly what we sat down to accomplish one fine evening at KODE in Mumbai early April.

My sampling companions and I warned the waiter that we would be requesting different bottles, sniffing then selecting so to be patient with us. And they were.

We began with a clear progression from light to distinctive profiles…

I’d initially thought to start with Compass Box Hedonism as it is such an unusual yet light whisky. They were just out of stock, so shifted instead to a readily accessible “appetizer”:

Our palates now acclimated, our real journey began with:

I then wanted to shift gears to start to discern more subtle complex flavours… It was wishful thinking to hope Glendronach 18 year might be available however did have a choice between the 12, 15 and 21 year... We went with:

  • Scotland – Glendronach – Glendronach 15 year “Revival” 46%*

Then split into the following to cater to the emerging different palate preferences of my sampling companions:

As conversation veered towards talk of casks and the difference between a Scottish single malt and Bourbon, I thought it would be good to do a wee detour to the US to contrast what we sampled so far with Bourbon & Rye:

Then proceeded to compare the nuances between very similar whiskies from Glenmorangie that have different finishes:

  • Scotland – Highland – Glenorangie Lasanta 12 year 46% – Olorosso & PX Sherrry finish
  • Scotland – Highland – Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 12 year 46% – Port finish

And finally we closed with a split between revisiting whiskies that “stood” out for my companions:

*Just in case you were wondering what all the “asterisk” mean… each of these bottles were brought into India thanks to Keshav Prakash with The Vault Fine Spirits. I’m incredibly proud of what Keshav and his team have achieved and have made a huge impact on the range now available in Mumbai. Thank you!

KODE – Freestyle Bar and Kitchen

Ground Floor – 11, Oasis City, Kamala Mills – Entrance #2, Lower Parel,, Mumbai, Lower Parel, Mumbai, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400013. Tel: 077188 82924

PS It may seem like an insane quantity of whisky but keep in mind we were splitting 30 ml singles – focusing more on sniffing, swishing and savouring.

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Islay Iterations – Laphroaig Brodir 48%

Back in 2000 the Coen Brothers released a film called “O Brother, where are thou?” It’s sound track was memorable and one that reflected a place and time… For some reason as I sipped this Laphroaig Brodir, I kept having the “Man of Constant Sorrow” going through my head…

But I digress… on to the whisky… the last of our Islay Iterations that I sampled one fine April evening in Mumbai…

Laphroaig Brodir 48%

  • Nose – Charcoal, very sweet, plummy
  • Palate – Port and peat make a lip smacking combination! Juicy and sweet, some mango and other mixed fruits guides with a peat punch, smooth
  • Finish – Lots of peat with a distinctive port finish

There is no mistaking either the Laphroaig stamp or the port influence on this one… bringing a rich juicy dimension to the peaty Laphroaig… a rather delicious dimension.

What more do we know about this whisky? Here’s the what the Master of Malt folks have to say:

Laphroaig’s Brodir single malt Scotch whisky was originally released to the Travel Retail market. You can probably guess what ‘Brodir’ means in ancient Norse – of course, it’s ‘Brother’.

For this expression, the Islay distillers first matured the whisky in ex-bourbon barrels before transferring it over to casks which previous held Ruby Port. The combination of Laphroaig’s classic coastal peaty gorgeousness with the elegance of the Ruby Port finish make Brodir a very handsome dram indeed.

And the Master of Malt chaps tasting notes:

  • Nose: Fresh honey drizzled over dried tropical fruit, followed by a salty sea breeze.
  • Palate: Quite refreshing and light (for a Laphroaig). Continued fruitiness on the palate, somewhat juicier than the nose might suggest. Smoke pops up a little later.
  • Finish: Rich smoke on the finish grows and grows.

What else did we explore in our Islay Iterations evening?

And just for a little fun.. here is that song that refused to leave me the entire time I sipped the Laphroaig Brodir…

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Islay Iterations – Ileach Cask Strength 58%

After the classic Lagavulin 16 year, the Finlaggan 40%, we moved on to bolder ground with the Ileach Cask Strength 58%. This particular bottle was purchased at a boutique liquor store in Vancouver and brought back from BC to Bombay by one of our Whisky Ladies… to be enjoyed in a special evening focused solely on Islay Iterations – all variations on a theme!

So what did the ladies think of this “Man from Islay”?

Ileach Cask Strength 58%

  • Nose – Piquant, eau de vie, peat but not a heavy peat, light brine, much warmer, wood, sweet, apricot, peach pits, smoke is there but subtle. After some time some bacon… the true peaty character comes out more later, with some sweet grass too
  • Palate – Intense, salt, spice, sour, makes one “pucker” up, mango papad, salted caramel, a bit of a khatta (sour) and meetha (sweet) thing going on…
  • Finish – Cinnamon spice finish, quite clean and surprisingly long
  • Water – Lost everything initially, then its really opened it up beautifully with a fabulous peat sweet, very smooth, some ginger, saffron, salt and a bit of honey

As our banter turned to its character with remarks like “I feel like I’m sleeping in a log cabin” or “It is a ‘non-veg’ kinda dram.”

We kept thinking how one of our Whisky Ladies would have loved this dram! Affectionately known as our “Peaty Lady,” she missed the evening to visit family in her original home of Sweden. Which made it all the more amusing to later learn this particular brand purports to be Sweden’s 2nd best selling single malt! (PS She did manage to try this in an “off book” mini session later).

Ileach is bottled by Highlands and Islands Scotch Whisky, acquired by Vintage Malt Co in 1997. These folks also bottle the Islay Storm whisky…

Here is what they have to say about the Ileach Cask Strength:

  • Nose: Earthy smoky peat and salty ocean Breeze
  • Palate: Pungent peat smoke, chewy sweet malt, pepper, tar and a touch of iodine
  • Finish: Long and warming. Smoky ashes of the peat fire

Naturally the distillery is undisclosed but one rather discerning lady happened to remark that the four bottles – Lagavulin 16 year, Finlaggan Old Reserve plus their Cask Strength and this Ileach all looked remarkable similar in bottle shape. Hmm…

I shared that industry insiders tend to lean towards the theory that all come from exactly the same distillery – meaning we spent most of our evening exploring variations on a very specific theme – Lagavulin!

With this possible element in common, different pieces of the puzzle came together – the nature of the peat being there yet not overwhelming, the slightly briney quality and the unmistakable similarity of cinnamon spice on the finish.

For many, this Ileach was their favourite. A few turned back to the classic Lagavulin 16 year and some moved on to our next dram… a complete contrast with a shift to Laphroaig with its Port finish experiment.

What else did we explore in our Islay Iterations evening?

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Islay Iterations – Finlaggan Old Reserve 40% + 58%

After kicking off our evening with the classic Lagavulin 16 year, the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai turned to an independent bottler with their Finlaggan entry level expression.

Owned by the Vintage Malt Co based on Glasgow, their Finlaggan trio covers increasing strength from their Old Reserve at 40% to their Eileen Mor at 46% to their Cask Strength at 58%.

We just so happened to have two out of three to sample, of which the Old Reserve was an unopened bottle and the Cask Strength had alas oxidized rather considerably since it was 1st opened in May 2017.

The distillery(ies) shrouded in mystery, the only thing clearly admitted is these are single malts from Islay.

So what did the Whisky Ladies think?

Finlaggan Old Reserve 40%

  • Nose – Not quite so much bacon as the Lagavulin 16, more ripe pears, wood, some kaccha guava, fresh grass, honey sweet, cured meats, taking on a faintly metallic quality with brass or copper, then coriander
  • Palate – Raw, light, pleasant, goes down deceptively well, woody, bit spicy, the peat is there but nicely balanced and restrained, that metallic element gave way almost to a medicinal quality yet with a very light touch
  • Finish – Cinnamon spice, buttery coconut oil, star anise, cognac honey

There is a lighter touch to the peat in this Islay – while not complex it is an easy drinking dram – pronounced a good Bombay summer whisky.

Just to compare, here is what the Vintage Malt Co folks have to say:

  • Nose: Earthy smoky peat and salty ocean Breeze
  • Palate: Pungent peat smoke, chewy sweet malt, pepper, tar and a touch of iodine
  • Finish: Long and warming. Smoky ashes of the peat fire

In our tasting progression, we moved on to the Ileach – also from Vintage Malt Co – then the open Finlaggan Cask Strength. Here is where tragedy struck… where once upon a time this was a marvellous malt, spending nearly a year in the bottle in the heat of Mumbai did it no favours. A not so gentle reminder that for enjoyable whiskies… just share and enjoy!

Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%

  • Nose – Very sweet, salty, grassy, milk
  • Palate – Spicy smoke
  • Finish – Cinnamon spice, burnt coconut

It had lost so many elements that made it both interesting and appealing. You can read what I’d thought from a few previous tastings here or check out what the Vintage Malt Co folks have to say:

  • Nose: Lovely pungent peat smoke. Smoky bacon with a touch of old leather
  • Palate: Rich sweet smoke. Iodine, lemon zest with a beautiful mouth coating oiliness. Waves of tarry peat
  • Finish: Peppery peat. Soot and ash. Long and warming

I couldn’t help but wonder if the Eileen Mor 46% might just be the “sweet spot” in the middle – bottled at what some call the “connoisseurs” strength – enough to bring out the full character yet balanced with sufficient water to make it eminently shippable. Perhaps one of these days I’ll have the opportunity to try it.

What else did we explore in our “Islay Iterations” evening?

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Islay Iterations – Lagavulin 16 year 43%

The last time the Whisky Ladies enjoyed this Lagavulin 16 year was over two years ago – paired with chocolate, brought by the exact same lady.

No surprise then when it came time for her to host, this perennial favourite anchored the evening, reminding us of why year and year you can simply count on this favourite standard to deliver. In a time of compromises, sometimes distracting marketing iterations, there is something so comforting to return to a “classic.”

Lagavulin 16 year 43%

  • Nose – A few remarked how there was more bacon than we remembered, lots of the lovely honey sweet elements we expect, a slightly floral hint though also quite punchy, the peat is there but subtle and after airing for some time it took on a wonderful full vanilla caramel custard quality
  • Palate – Wow! Just what we wanted! Peat, smooth and smokey not in the least bit heavy, has its complexity but doesn’t make you over-think. Slightly briney salt edge, spice dancing on the tongue, particularly black pepper and cloves, a bit oily… and much like the aroma, let it sit for some time and even on the palate you will be rewarded with warm French vanilla
  • Finish – Woody, slightly bitter closing on a cinnamon spice
  • Water – One lady immediately remarked how it was like Iodex from a medicine shop – in her opinion killing it completely. Whereas after some time, it made it even smoother on the palate, sweeter though had a sense of being a tad “diluted”

Most prefer it neat though on shared  how this is one dram that can “stand up” to an ice cube, chilling it down to a more enjoyable temperature in the Mumbai heat.

Overall, we were delighted to revisit an old familiar friend and kept coming back to its classic style as we wove our way through independent bottlers Islay offerings…

What did we explore in our “Islay Iterations” evening?

If you are curious about other Lagavulin explorations, check out:

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Islay Iterations – Lagavulin, Finlaggan, Ileach and Laphroaig

The Whisky Ladies decided to go on a wee Islay exploration. But this was no ordinary exploration… we focused on select Islay iterations…

It began innocently enough with our host sharing she had her favourite Lagavulin 16 year tucked away for her session.. followed by another Whisky Lady picking up an Islay independent bottle from an undisclosed distillery… which I just happened to have an open cask strength version of… followed by another Whisky Lady picking another Islay – again undisclosed distillery… Added to the mix was a contrast of a Laphroaig with a port finish that then somehow sparked unearthing another Laphroaig expression.

Which translates into an initial plan to try 3 bottles that morphed into a set of 6!

What did we sample in our Islay Iterations?

  • The classic Lagavulin 16 year 43%
  • Then our 1st undisclosed distillery independent bottler Finalaggan Old Reserve 40%
  • Followed by our 2nd independent bottler with a more powerful cask strength Ileach 58%
  • And just for good measure, added an open Finlaggan 58% to the mix
  • With a shift from Lagavulin to Laphroaig with the port cask finish Brodir 48%
  • Some ladies continued on with the Laphroaig Select Cask… whereas I must admit my sipping and sampling of the initial set was more than enough for me!

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Kilchoman US Tour 2017

Last in our trilogy of familiar friends revisited was a whisky from Kilchoman… We sampled blind and truly struggled with this one. We should have guessed it… we really should have… but were flummoxed.

What did we find?

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength “Kilchoman 2017 Tour” 60%, Bottle 642/840

  • Colour – A light gold
  • Nose – Peat, sweet, bacon sizzling on a pan, super sweet, tangy citrus, marmite, very fruity, confectionary, marzipan, icing sugar, cinnamon candy then shifted character to reveal sacred ash, tamarind, jaggery then earthy, mineral, oily briney
  • Palate – Surprisingly soft initially then strong, spiced cinnamon, ashy
  • Finish – Aligned with the palate… cinnamon spice
  • Water – Nicely balanced, very oily, chocolate

We couldn’t quite determine was the distillery… We ran through all the usual suspects and dismissed as didn’t quite match our recollections of the “signature” peat style. There was no doubt this was a most enjoyable dram.

And the reveal? Kilchoman?! Remarkable!

And no ordinary Kilchoman. It was picked up by our host in the US during the Kilchoman 2017 US Tour lead by Anthony Willis.

We all puzzled a bit as the whisky didn’t display what we would consider typical characteristics of Machir Bay or the cask strength Kicholman’s we’ve sampled in the past.

Bottom line, did we like it? Yes!

For one, he simply had to go back home to compare the recent impression with the standard Machir Bay. He later reported back that indeed – the sacred ash quality that we discovered does have hint in the original – just one that hadn’t “registered” quite as strongly before. Proving that our memories and ways of storing different drams into different categories can be a bit blurrier than we think!

Other Kilchoman sampled over the years…

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Revisiting Johnnie Walker’s Green Label, Kavalan Solist Sherry, Kilchoman

One of the things I really appreciate about our original Mumbai tasting club is that our default is to sample blind. What the means is even something we thought we knew, we have an opportunity to rediscover.

Which was exactly our hosts theme – to revisit whiskies we all know – or at least we thought we did!

Here is what we tried:

With a bonus of Amrut’s Fever Club Con-Fusion Batch No 1, 46%

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Whisky Lady – March 2018

It is time for a malty monthly round-up! Where all the sessions marched in order, one after the other wish a special bonus evening with Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula.

So where did we begin?

The Whisky Ladies took a “Trans Tasman Trip” to New Zealand and Tasmania, Australia with:

  • Willowbank 10 year Doublewood 40%*
  • Willowbank 22 year (1989) Barrel No 58 52.8%*
  • Hellyer’s Road Pinot Noire 46.2%*
  • Sullivan’s Cove Double Cask (2008/2015) 40%*
  • Crazy Uncle Moonshine 43%*
  • Plus a bonus birthday dram of Bowmore 1989 “BBQ Mango Salsa” 46% (Wymess)*

Followed the very next evening by the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents exploring whiskies from Japan:

  • Hibiki Japanese Harmony “Master’s Select” NAS 43%*
  • Nikka All Malt 40%*
  • Miyagikyo NAS 45%*
  • Hakushu “Distiller’s Reserve” NAS 43%*

Our original club did a revisit with:

  • Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 year 43%
  • Kavalan Solist Sherry S090608029A 58.6%
  • Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength 60%
  • Plus a bonus of Amrut’s Fever Club Con-Fusion 46%

Evenings with Krishna Nakula, India’s Malt Maniac are always a pleasure. This time we ambled through…

March also was a month to catch-up on a few earlier tasting experiences… beginning with our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents  Compass Box Quartet!

And more fleeting impressions from Whisky Live Singapore 2017:

*Tasting notes coming soon…

Curious to know more? Check out recent Whisky Lady’s monthly missives:

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Whisky Live’s Collectors Room – Caol Ila 1969 and Yamazaki 12 year

Whisky Live’s Collector’s Room was such a terrific experience at the Singapore 2016 event. I couldn’t wait to see what treasures would be available to purchase a small dram…

However it was quite the scaled back version… no delightful fully separate “Collector’s Room“. Instead it was a simple bar area with a row of whiskies on offer. Those we considered started at SGD80 a glass… we decided to try two and share… it was not an easy decision.

My companion settled on:

Yamazaki 12 year (1996/2009) Cask No AX70012 Sherry Butt 60% (Whisky Live Japan 10 year anniversary edition)

  • Nose – Sherry explosion… one even said headache inducing
  • Palate – Almost overwhelming, woody, spice, all the dark fruits, black cherry, phenomenal
  • Finish – What a fabulous finish!
  • Water – Opens it up further, bringing balance

It was truly intense, dense, rich and almost on the edge of being too… everything! Remarkable, unforgettable and worth trying… once.

Whereas I leaned towards a certain sentimentality – a whisky from the same year I was born! It was a rare 1980s Caol Ila bottled by Gordon & MacPhail.

Caol Ila 16 year (1969) 40%

  • Nose – Peat, sour, overripe fruit, a bit of varnish, old and musty, then these darker qualities dissipated to be replace instead by vanilla, bananas, an almost briney quality that then became quite sweet
  • Palate – Spice, peat, sweet and much softer than anticipated from the nose
  • Finish – Long peat, sweet and spicy finish

We remarked on how very different it was from the Caol Ila style of today.

It was last seen on auction for approx £510.00.

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