Origins and palate preferences?

While most of my posts are filled with tasting notes of various whiskies explored, I must disclose the observations are typically an amalgam of several palates as the drams are shared and discussed as part of whisky clubs of informal sessions with friends.

I value the different reactions to what we try and recognize our perceptions of a whisky’s aroma and taste is inextricably linked to associated memories of distinctive yet familiar smells and flavours.

Hence you will often find my tasting notes peppered with references that are both common to say North America and equally India. This is simply a part of the duality of my life – hailing originally from Canada but living long term in India. Our cultural and culinary context influences our interpretation of a whisky.

For the most part, palate preferences are specific to an individual. Some love deep dark rich sherry drams, others long for the curl of peat, some prefer fruity and others saltier fare… for many, like me, preferences are context and mood dependent. My preferences have also shifted significantly over the years as I’ve gained exposure into different styles and the extraordinary range the world of whisky has to offer.

So why then was I so surprised at our last Whisky Ladies session? Where there was a very clear distinction between the reaction of those whose origins are outside of India vs those whose origins are within?

It was our first and only time where there was such a divide – sure we have different reactions and different opinions. That’s a huge part of the fun of tasting together! But not so diametrically opposed along lines of origins.

And what was the controversial whisky that provoked such a reaction? The Aultmore 5 year 66.8% Master of Malt which was first sampled as part of an exception evening of “Dream Drams” with India’s Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula.

The notes I took did not reflect the full story:

  • Nose – Sherry, chocolate, nutty, figs, dates, banana bread with nuts and sultanas
  • Palate – For some it was smooth, bursting with rich Christmas cake for others a complete brushfire – of pure fire
  • Finish – Very dry, long, cinnamon and cloves spice… for others just numbing like going for dental surgery
  • Water – Helped make it a bit more accessible

So what was the distinction? Well… those originally from India found it just too much alcohol and simply didn’t care for it at all… in short found it nearly undrinkable.

And those originally from outside India who have adopted India as home? Could go past the high alcohol strength to find interesting elements… in short found it drinkable. While perhaps not a 1st choice, certainly not a last one.

It was awkward to have such a peculiar palate divide and strange to have origins so firmly come into play.

However, our best discovery of the evening? The cask strength Aultmore goes brilliantly with our host’s home made banana bread! Just as we discovered those notes in the whisky, like magic – out came one of the best banana breads I’ve had in literally years!

Good baking and whisky – fabulous combination! And a great close to our sampling session.

What else did we taste in our Whisky Ladies “Worthy Whiskies” Sunday Sundowner?

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Worthy Whiskies – Arran Amarone Cask Finish 50%

As Whisky Ladies, we have started to explore cask finishes beyond the standard with a cognac cask Port Charlotte 2007 CC:01 8 years and Brenne Estate Cask 40%, pinot noire with AWA Pinot Noire 42%, rum with Mackmyra, port with Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask.

This was our first foray with an Amarone cask finish. Amarone is rich Italian dry red wine made from partially dried grapes of the Corvina (45–95%), Rondinella (5–30%) and other red grape varieties (up to 25%). In Italian, the name Amarone literally means “the Great Bitter” as this helped distinguish it from the Recioto produced in the same region, which is sweeter in taste.

And what does finishing Arran whisky in ex Amarone casks do? Some pretty marvellous things…

Arran Amarone Cask Finish 50%

  • Nose – Light sweet cherry, a lovely sweet not candy sweet, restrained and nuanced, nothing dominant yet overall delicious
  • Palate – Yum! Starts with an interesting fresh layer, almost like sweet paan, or a Turkish Delight, some mint, a spice tingle here too yet with a light touch, super smooth and very easy to simply keep sipping
  • Finish – Subdued, cilantro, a light sweet finish

Normally we don’t remark much on colour however in this case we couldn’t help but observe how attractive this whisky is with its pink rose hue.

It was also absolutely perfect for a Sunday Sundowner – refreshing and delightful, sophisticated and utterly enjoyable. In short – it was dangerously drinkable. For many, this was the by far the preferred whisky of the evening… as it was just a perfect pick for the setting watching the sunset dip beyond the horizon of the Arabian sea.

It also very much falls into the category of whiskies that are not impossible to track down and reasonably affordable. While I’m not sure where our Whisky Lady picked it up in the UK, it is available from both Master of Malt & The Whisky Exchange for approximately $60. Believe it or not, I first spotted and coveted it in Winnipeg, Canada at the local liquor store!

What else did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Worthy Whiskies” Sunday Sundowner?

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Worthy Whiskies – Mortlach 49%

Our Whisky Ladies September 2017 Sunday Sundowner began with a Mortlach. Til date, most Mortlach’s I’ve sampled were independent bottles such as the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s 76.131 “Totally Tastylicious” or two Gordon & MacPhail offerings – the 15 year  and 37 year. All of these were simply superb!

However this was my very first official bottling – picked up by one of our Whisky Ladies from Duty  Free. What did we find?

Mortlach NAS 49%

  • Nose – Restrained, very sweet and fruity with some floral elements like lavender and herbs, reminds one of early summer, some honey, wildflower and yet you need to work at it to catch all the nuances, the range of aromas do not come easily
  • Palate – Surprising after such a subtle nose, it initially hits with alcohol on the palate, then continues in the fruity vein with apricot. The next sip was quite woody on the edge of being harsh. Further sips did not reveal anything significant.
  • Finish – A smokey finish with spice and again apricots
  • Water – Helps mellow it down – bringing out honey raisins on the nose and, after it settles down, reduces the punchy brashness of the palate, revealing a spicy bitter dimension

This is one that absolutely smell sweeter and more nuanced than it tastes. It also falls into the category of NAS fare (since dubbed “NASPy“) which has nothing specifically very wrong, but also limited distinguishing features to make you stand up and pay attention.

If I was to be perfectly honest – it disappointed.

Simply as it is quite different than earlier Mortlach’s sampled which truly did live up to labels like “Totally Tastylicious” or the full-bodied, meaty and multi-layered Gordon & MacPhails.

So what do the Mortlach folks have to say on the box about this whisky?

A clear amber colour introduces complex aromas of ripe red apple and berry fruit underpinned by a supply savouriness. Which all evolves as a rich ice cream sweetness, with creamy vanilla on the intense palate fresh blueberries and black cherries soon meet sweet, smooth honey. Then savoury spices and late wood. The finish is long and richly rounded.

This Mortlach was opened in September 2017 fresh for the Ladies to sample and was last spotted at an airport sporting a $120 price tag for a 50cl bottle. More than a tad high for what it delivered…

What else did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Worthy Whiskies” Sunday Sundowner?

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Worthy Whiskies – Mortlach, Arran Amarone, Lochside, Aultmore

We’ve had several attempts to hold a Whisky Ladies evening in Versova so when I suddenly found out I would be traveling to North America and it happened to be the same night, I simply had to ensure it was a flight after our session rather than reschedule yet again!

And it was completely worth it. Having a chance to overlook the Arabian sea as the sun set is indeed a lovely backdrop to sampling whiskies in wonderful company.

Particularly when this was a “Worthy Whiskies” session which brought together:

Tasting this time had a bit of a twist – the Lochside and Aultmore were previously sampled with another set of fellow whisky aficionados. The Whisky Ladies reaction to the Lochside was very much in synch, so I combined the tasting notes. Whereas the response to the Aultmore was curiously divided… prompting a completely different post

Just click on the links and read on… reactions and opinions welcome!

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Dream Drams – Aultmore 5 year (2007) 66.8%

Master of Malt for years has been my ‘go to’ online source when searching for just a little bit more about a particular whisky – including an idea of price!

However until our rare malts session with Malt Maniac Krish Nakula, I had never had a Master of Malt bottling… to have it be a young 5 year old Aultmore… at a mind boggling strength of 66.8%? Very intrigued…

Aultmore 5 year (12 March 2007/May 2012) 66.8% 1st fill sherry oak puncheon, Bottle 021 of 628 (Master of Malt)

  • Nose – Nutmeg, egg nog or Dutch Advocaat liquer, spicy buttermilk like chaas, quite herbaceous, spicy, creamy, avocado, phenolic like walking into a chemist’s shop, then all spice, a Bengali panch phoran of cumin, fennel, fenugreek, black mustard seeds and kalonji (nigella), then shifts into delightful sherry notes of rum raisins, stewed plums
  • Palate – Spice, honey cinnamon, no doubt this was high alcohol but not dauntingly so, mince pie, thick honey, treacle, marmalade, chillies
  • Finish – Very dry, has a bit of a burn, extreme clove on the finish, then a debate between black liquorice and fennel, then again the nutmeg

I must admit, on the 1st sip, three tasters grabbed for water… when adding water to the whisky, we found:

  • Nose – Lots of sweet notes, pepper spice, almost like spiced rum
  • Palate – It needed the water! Breath through sweet spice… again it was almost rum like
  • Finish – Remains dry yet more accessible

Overall we found the complexity and range of elements remarkable for such a young dram – particularly given its high strength.

Krishna kindly gifted this bottle to me so that the Whisky Ladies could try it in an upcoming session. As I prepared to write this post, I was tempted to do a small pour to revisit… and gave in… All elements were consistent with what we found earlier, with the sherry quality even more pronounced.

What I hadn’t observed in the 1st round was how much this reminds me of the powerful and flavourful Hampden 2010 Jamaican single rum…. at 68.5%, there are few spirits out there quite so high in alcohol that are still eminently drinkable. Or so I thought… turns out some of the Whisky Ladies had a different opinion!

While the Aultmore 2007 is no longer available, the folks over at Master of Malt have a 2009 version for $71.

This isn’t the first time we’ve bottled a 5 year old Aultmore for our Single Cask Series, nor is it the first time that whisky from this distillery has shown so well at such a relatively young age. No coincidence there. Distilled in May 2009 and bottled in April 2015, this bottling says “age ain’t nothing but a number”. Other numbers include 65.4, the natural cask strength abv, and 122, the number of bottles produced.

PS – Alas this Aultmore was the victim of a cracked cork… which meant a perfect candidate for an anti-oxidation trick.

Other whiskies savoured in our “Dream Drams” evening:

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Dream Drams – Mosstowie 35 year (1979) 48.1%

Our Dream Drams evening in Mumbai with Malt Maniac’s Krishna Nakula, continued with this Mosstowie 35 year from Signatory Vintage‘s mature cask strength series.

Krishna shared the distinctive feature of this whisky is it was produced using Lomond stills.

Founded in 1964, it was “closed” in 1981 with the Lomond stills removed from the Miltonduff Distillery. These stills were built in the 1960s with the idea of using the 3 adjustable rectifier plates to play around with “the position and temperature of the plates the reflux of the ‘boiling’ whisky could be controlled. The angle of the ‘lyne arm’ at the top of the still could be modified as well to influence the character of the whisky further.” (Malt Madness) The thinking was this would produce exactly what blenders needed and hence would be in demand.

However this innovation fell into disfavour as the maintenance and cleaning was very labour intensive. And more importantly, the demand from blenders did not come close to expectations… Hence while the distillery Miltonduff remains, you won’t find much Mosstowie single malt these days.

What did we find?

Mosstowie 35 year (30 November 1979/15 May 2015), Bourbon Barrel Cask Mo 25756, 48.1% (Signatory Vintage Cask Strength) 171 Bottles

  • Nose – We were greeted initially with sweet varnish, then as that subsided, citrus creamy spice took over, some star anise, lots of oriental spices, sour cherry, cork, fermented sour dough starter, desiccated coconut, kopra, nuts… there was a ‘bourbonesque’ quality, with old wood furniture… one even suggested smelly socks!
  • Palate – Lovely coating, wonderful mouth feel, a dash of salt and almost too much honey, yet settled into something both enjoyable and sufficiently complex to be interesting
  • Finish – Dry, again a bit salty, very sweet, a bit of beeswax, muted but very much there
  • Water – We found it dampened the nose, sweetened it even more, made it less multi-dimensional, only advantage was it gave the finish a nice spicy pick-up

We concluded this whisky had a very interesting complexity. A wee sample bottle of this made it home and was revisited a few weeks later. If anything, it was even more exceptional.

Tasting notes by the chaps at Master of Malt:

  • Nose: Oily toffee, marmalade, vanilla, ginger and cocoa.
  • Palate: Smoky wood spices and honeycomb with touches of menthol and kumquat.
  • Finish: Malty and warming.

This bottle was purchased at The Whisky Exchange in London in 2016 and is no longer available through them. However it was last seen on WhiskyBase.com for € 429.50.

What else did we sample?

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Dream Drams – Mortlach 1976 43% (Gordon + MacPhail)

Our Dream Drams evening started with this mighty Mortlach – a mere 37 year old from Gordon & MacPhail.

Mortlach 37 year (1976/2013) 43% G&MP

What did we think? Initially the following…

  • Nose – Beautifully restrained, old style with lovely cereals, wet leaf, sultanas, black pepper
  • Palate – Meaty – dare I say beefy? Full-bodied, bacon, soya, oily, fabulous feel on the tongue, hint of peppers and spice
  • Finish – Drops off quite quickly, then comes back… it is very much there but quite subdued with a hint of coriander

What made this whisky really worth paying attention to was the way each sip gave something different. As we kept chatting it revealed different dimensions… as it opened up, its character shifted…

  • Nose – Cloves, mint, basil… increasingly herbal
  • Palate – Lovely on the palate, still chewy with a dash of spice
  • Finish – Astounding! We almost wondered if this was the same whisky! Why? The finish was absolutely fabulous. A long gorgeous pleasing finish

The more time we spent, the more we enjoyed. It was well-balanced, with many layers… Returning after some time, brought a lovely powdered vanilla and sugar to the nose, simply delicious on the palate and that truly fabulous finish. Perhaps even with the slightest hint of coal fired smoke?

Overall its character was complex yet surprisingly light.

Talk turned to how for whiskies with such long maturation, being in a 2nd fill cask becomes an advantage as it slowly imparts character… however the balance in this case was achieved, the results were superb.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt have to say:

  • Nose: Sultanas, vanilla and cracked black pepper.
  • Palate: The sultanas become raisins and the black pepper becomes smokier finally there is a nutty quality that emerges with water.
  • Finish: The finish is fruity with notes of figs and dates with a little ground pepper to round it off.
  • Overall: A vibrant and fruity Mortlach.

Mortlach 1976 Bottling Note

Mortlach was where William Grant of Glenfiddich and Balvenie fame started his career in whisky. To this day it remains a firm favourite of many whisky fans so it is no wonder that Gordon and MacPhail had to bottle this one.

Our “Dream Drams” evening with Krishna Nakula included:

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Exploring Aged Grain Whiskies – Girvan, Strathclyde + Invergordon

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.

Fast forward to find we’ve come a long way… we’ve explored a Westland trio from the US, undisclosed distilleries, blends, bar night fare, proving these gents aren’t so stuffy after all!

So when our August 2017 session featured a trio of single grains followed by a duo of Indian whiskies… we knew we may not be in for the BEST whiskies but we were game to try some DIFFERENT drams.

Single Grain Trio:

Indian whiskies duo:

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.

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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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Bowmore 16 year “The Prestonfield” Vintage 1972 43%

The more we explore the remarkable range of whiskies out there, the more we push into sometimes quite rare territory. Even expensive territory. And yet even highly acclaimed and coveted drams can sometimes lose their lustre. Old + rare + pricy doesn’t always = mind blowingly brilliant!

And every once in a while it is good to have that reminder.

After the truly dangerously drinkable and most enjoyable Bowmore 12 year distilled in the 1970s, we were primed to be transported to celestial levels with “The Prestonfield” vintage 1972 aka Bowmore 16 year.

Yet what did we find…..?

Bowmore 16 year “The Prestonfield” Vintage 1972 (28 Feb 1972-1988), Sherry Wood, CS No 1036 – 1039, Bottle no 9861, 43%

  • Nose – Phenoylic, like walking into an old Scottish hotel with the scents of an old rug, worn leather chair and the fire burning (promising but unidimensional)
  • Palate – Sooth – like sacred ash mixed with camphor, a weird peculiar ‘queerness’ like carbolic soap
  • Finish – Limited with an almost tallow or lard-like quality

So here is the thing. The nose was promising once past the carbolic acid, an initial sip was sooty yet bland, then had a strongly ‘off’ quality. I’ll admit. I made a face. Both times I sipped. Even a bit on the 3rd when I was braced for it and ready for something decidedly different. Something like the tallow from animal fat used to make candles, that had gone slightly rancid. The most complimentary description I could think of was raw bitter chokecherries.

I had to admit it didn’t work for me and tried to understand why Prestonfield whiskies are so highly rated if this was an example. What about that strange, frankly to me quite awful tasting quality, that makes it be deemed ‘good’? Just because its rare? Costs a lot? Sorry. Doesn’t cut it for me.

Speculation turned to whether this bottle could have gone off – yet there was no rust on the cap and the miniature was opened just before we tasted. So…?

Who knows. Perhaps something had indeed gone wrong between when initially bottled and our opening… after all, nearly 30 years had passed. Or perhaps there was some small drop of something else that got into the bottle when originally filled that turned it queer over the years. Or even still, it could be that much more discerning palates than mine found something remarkable in what to me was unusual to the extent of being not enjoyable.

Do I regret trying it? Absolutely not! Would I be tempted to try again? Perhaps… just to see if something happened to this particular miniature that was not representative of the original whisky. But not enough to put a lot of effort into tracking it down.

This 5 ml bottle was purchased by Krishna Nakula for £35. On Whisky-OnlineAuctions.com, the last available miniature’s bid closed at £45 in February 2015.

What do we know about Prestonfield whiskies? Here’s what La Maison du Whisky shares:

The Prestonfield range of whiskies is without doubt one of the most well-known among connoisseurs, and yet few people are aware of its origins. Created in the 1980s by the Symington brothers, the famous label with the drawing of the Prestonfield Hotel is now available exclusively through La Maison du Whisky. The whiskies selected for this range have always been some of the best but, from 2000, the decision was made to bottle them all at cask strength from a single cask. Almost exclusively single malts, these whiskies are extremely sought after, and often appear at the major auctions.

What else did we sample in our Krishna Collection from July 2017?

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