Nose – Yheasty, butter caramel, slightly raw, herbal, sour peaches, basil, almonds, quite tangy with tamarind, puckering citrus, almond face oil, the peaches quality became increasingly pronounced from raw to steamed to canned peaches
Douglas Laing’s The Epicurean Lowland Malt Scotch Whisky tells the story of a 1930s Glasgow man, a real cheeky chappy who was ever the life and soul of the party, and a real connoisseur of fine food and drink. A dram we describe as “city born and bred”, The Epicurean is a blend of some of the finest Lowland Malts; a marriage of the best that the East and the West of Scotland have to offer. This small batch bottling is proudly without colouring or chill-filtration and bottled at 46.2% ABV.
Nose – In a tipple of our Small Batch “The Epicurean”, you can bet on a nose that is barley-rich, citric, floral and herbal.
Palate – The mouth-coatingly sweet palate displays crunched sugar, burnt citrus, mixed spices, thyme, peaches and hard candy…
Finish – All charmingly underpinned and enriched in the finish with more of that earlier herbal character, in a gristy style with almonds, cut grass and burnt sugar.
This Lowlands distillery is part of the Girvain complex, owned by William Grant & Sons. Most of the output makes its way to blends however there was a recognition that a single malt expression should also make it to market.
What did our cigar chomping gents think?
Ailsa Bay 48.9%
Nose – Sweet and peat, raw bacon, honey cured ham, black pepper then cinnamon spice, smoked paprika, very sweet
Water? Sweet toffee, butterscotch, no bacon and almost syrupy, even more sweet on the palate, still a bitter long finish
We set it aside to revisit… much more enjoyable however still more on the sweet side, not much variety, could even be described as ‘linear’ with a wintry quality.
Overall we thought not a bad start but not one we would run out to grab another bottle immediately.
So what do we know?
Alisa Bay is purported to find balance between sweet and peat… which they strictly adhere to 21 PPM for the peat then also measure the ‘sweet’ side too with their SPPM – at a level of 11 SPPM. They also use a ‘micro maturation’ process with the new make spirit filled into Hudson Baby Bourbon casks (25-100 Litres vs standard barrels with unto 200 Litres) for 6-9 months for an ‘intense rapid maturation’ then transferred to a mix of virgin and 1st fill American oak casks.
Nose: FRESH WOOD SMOKE WITH NOTES OF SMOULDERING DAMP HEATHER AND AN EXTINGUISHED BONFIRE. FOLLOWING THE SMOKE IS A WAVE OF OAKY SWEETNESS AND HOT BUTTERED TOAST WITH AN INTRIGUING HINT OF CARAMELISED APPLE.
Taste: AN IMMEDIATE PUNCH OF PEAT IS QUICKLY BALANCED BY A BURST OF VANILLA OAKINESS. THE FLAVOUR MEANDERS BETWEEN SMOKE, FRUIT, CREAMY TOFFEE AND BACK AGAIN. WITH EVERY SIP THE COMPLEXITY OF THE WHISKY DEEPENS AS LAYER UPON LAYER OF FLAVOUR IS REVEALED.
Finish: AN INTRIGUING BALANCE OF OAKY SWEETNESS AND PEATY DRYNESS.
Would we agree? Mostly… however complex? Not what we found.
While I can’t definitively confirm, I suspect this particular bottle made its way to us via The Whisky Exchange where it can be purchased for approx £55.55.
It is finally slipping into “winter” (by Indian standards), with the pollution smog haze rarely lifting, and somehow the weather and climatic conditions seem to be influencing whisky preferences… to peat. And no ordinary peat… an exploration of a few whiskies one would not normally have on the top peat picks list from regions not immediately associated with peat. Because why should our familiar friends over in Islay corner the market when other options exist?
As this was a BMC session, we had no pretence of hiding the bottles… instead merrily dove in to our discoveries eyes wide-open!
Our host shared that it began with the BenRiach 25 year peated… and morphed from there… each selected to be peat with a twist. For example, you don’t typically find BenRiach whiskies peated… Then it continued with Loch Lomond – again not normally peated. So why Ledaig you may ask? By their “nature” Ledaig is Tobermoray’s peaty whiskies. Yes indeed. However the “Very Cloudy” Vintage 2008 is known to have a lighter dusting of peat rather than full force peat. And Alisa Bay? Not only is it newer to market as a single malt, it breaks with typical Lowland convention to combine peat with sweet…
Read on over the coming days to see what we found…
What to do when you discover a common thread in standard duty-free offerings? Coin a new term! In our case, none were “nasty” merely “NASpy.” Confused? Read on….
Auchentoshan is known for its lighter whiskies, triple distilled in the Lowlands. Their Heartwood combines ex-bourbon and ex-sherry Olorosso casks.
Auchentoshan Heartland 43%
Nose – Fermented fruit, pear, light honey, melon, pine, warm vanilla, a slight piquant (not spice), pear tart, fresh fruit basket, custard which settled into a soft caramel with basil
Palate – Light on the palate, there like a whisky rinse
Finish – Bitter light burn with wood
Overall quite fruity – particularly pear – sweet, light and a dash of other elements. In short, we found it not unpleasant though entirely innocuous.
Between this and the Highland Park Einar we sampled next, we coined a category of whisky where one could say “You know, it just simply is rather NASPy.” Referring to a generic travel retail breed of No Age Statement palates that aren’t awful but are certainly not awesome either… in other words something that may be acceptable for parties but not a whisky we would deliberately buy.
Here is what the folks over at Auchentoshan have to say on the bottle note:
Released for travel retail, the Auchentoshan Heartwood is made with triple distilled single malt Scotch whisky which has been matured in both Oloroso Sherry casks and bourbon casks, resulting in a very well balanced expression from the Lowland distillery.
Our Single Grain trio evening continued with Strathclyde single grain from Glasgow. Originally built in 1927 on the site of an old cotton mill to produce gin, it has gone on to pump out grain spirit, primarily for blends for its current owner – Chivas Bothers Holdings, part of the Pernod Ricard group.
Strathclyde Single Grain 25 year (Aug 1990/Sep 2016) Refill Barrel DL11335 51.5% Douglas Laing’s Old Particular, 116 bottles
Nose – Unmistakable varnish – full-on, then caramel, banana, light flowers, then nuts like walnut, coconut, dried fruits, shifted into a creamy aroma – like sweet coconut cream, becoming increasingly sweet like butterscotch – loads and loads of butterscotch, then baked banana bread, roasted almonds, a bit of chocolate, then just as earlier it was unquestionably butterscotch, it was sawdust or fresh wood shavings, after airing even more like marshmallows!
Palate – Cinnamon sweet, the 2nd sip was quite bitter and a bit harsh, the settled into mulled wine, while pleasant, nothing remarkable
Finish – Bitter long, with a spice chaser, very dry and closed with nail polish
Water – Don’t. Loses the nose which is by far the best aspect. However it did bring out the most compelling nescafé instant coffee taste!
The nose was the most interesting element of this grain whisky. It was remarkable how it kept evolving – all elements nuanced yet distinctive. Whereas on the palate, it was came across as innocuous, something to accompany with little remarkable on its own.
Our Single Grain trio evening began with a ‘statutory warning’… a not so gentle reminder to free ourselves from expectations of superior single malts and instead consider the humble grain that mostly goes disguised into blends…
And what did we find?
Girvan 8 year (2006/2014) Cask 532398 46% (Berrys’)
Nose – Though only 46%, had an initial ‘hit’ of pure alcohol! Quite grainy, then slowly sweet bananas, some vanilla from the oak wood, lemon drop sweetness peeped out… all the elements were very subtle with the overall scent of light varnish
Palate – First pronouncement was “Well… it isn’t unpleasant” Hmm… Oddly, the 2nd sip was a bit harsher, back to the initial nose of alcohol… as we continued to sip, a bit of coconut could be found..
Finish – Yes… there is a finish… of pepper and spice
Water – Add a few drops or dollop and it pumps up the spice, shifting to quite a bitter quality
After airing – We set it aside and returned after nearly an hour to find it had settled into quite a sweet nose – almost cotton candy like! Whereas the palate and finish remained much the same
Overall… it was interesting to sample a single grain but it wouldn’t be the whisky of choice for any of us. I flipped back to notes from an earlier experience with the Girvan 28 year – clearly age helped yet there was enough to discern some similarities.
Distilled in 2006 and bottled in 2014 unchillfiltered and uncoloured.
”This ex – Bourbon barrel single grain whisky has pronounced fragrances in vanilla, custard creams and some lively citrus. The palate is surprisingly full and oily with waves of coffee cream, spice and juicy lime. To finish there is a delicate spicy prickle.”
While I can’t say for certain, I strongly suspect this bottle was purchased from LeClos, Dubai Airport for $42. We sampled it 31 August 2017 from a closed bottle.
Once upon a time if you had asked me to characterize our Bombay Malt & Cigar club, I would have said it was a set of gentlemen in pursuit of the finer things in life. In terms of their preferences – quality older Scottish single malts would be the ONLY whiskies to make the cut.
Would any of these whiskies be ones any of us would want to run out and buy? No. But was it worth spending a bit of time trying? Absolutely!
For our tasting notes, read on over the next few days…
This session also happened to be our annual partner’s night… A chance for our better halves to enjoy an evening, jointly socializing after the ‘serious business’ of whisky tasting concludes and desultory puffing on cigars with conversation commenced.
One doesn’t often come across an aged grain. So it was such a surprise and treat to have this 28 year old Girvan close our tasting trio. We sampled blind from a freshly opened bottle, having no clue what we were sipping. Here is what we found…
Nose – Nail polish remover, paint, some fruit, furniture polish, reminded one of a Chemistry lab with a bio-chemistry sweet note, staying steady, not evolving beyond an oil and spice, then after tasting the nose transforms – revealing fruits, pudding, opening up in a beautiful way
Palate – Sweet honey water, Parsis toffee green mathai (sweet), then began to open up to reveal a quality almost like an eclair, then a bitter caramel rum ball
Finish – Initially a spicy finish then a sweet, walnut bitter, with a chocolate noughat, held and genuinely very nice
Water – Nope. Don’t. Just enjoy it neat.
There was something quite unique about this whisky. We began to speculate that perhaps it was finished in a white wine cask – perhaps muscatel or sauternes? Perhaps not a single malt at all? Some corn? With such a honey light colour it was hard to pin point. All we knew was it was quite unique with a very distinctive and interesting character.
And the reveal? An aged Lowland grain! Wow!
Girvan goes by the name The Girvan Patent Still referring to their continuous distillation method using Coffey Stills which they credit for creating “a delicious spirit full of a rich intensity.”
Here is what the folks over at Girvan have to say:
Filled to American White Oak our whisky’s soul is forged from wood & mellowed by time. Naturally golden amber in colour – this is Single Grain Whisky at its finest.
Notes of honey, toffee, vanilla & caramelised fruits. It is, quite simply, Deliciously Different single grain whisky.