September Samplings – Writers Tears, Springbank Burgundy + 12 year Cask Strength

It has been a long time since I missed one of our original club’s whisky tasting evenings. It is because of this dedicated group that I even started writing about whisky – initially just to chronicle our monthly tastings. However it simply could not be helped…

Stepping into the breech was a newer member who volunteered to document the impressions and discussions. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to Nikkhil Shirodkar.

Nikkhil heads Broadcast Technology & Operations at 9X Media – India’s largest music network.

His passion for whisky is infectious and his quest to know more impressive. Nikkhil’s whisky preferences lean towards the well balanced and nuanced styles. He is a big fan of Compass Box, Highland Park and old style whiskies like Mortlach and Lochside. On the Irish side he is a big fan of Midleton and Redbreast.

He also just so happens to be the 1st man to write a guest post for Whisky Lady in India… with tasting notes about all three whiskies sampled in September by our original club:

Check out the links above to read what Nikkhil has to say!

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Whisky Lady – September 2017

Everyday Asia

September’s Whisky Lady tastings was a mixed month as one club didn’t meet and another did but it was a rare session I missed due to travel! Naturally I augmented with other experiences and shared the final set of tasting notes from our remarkable July which had seven different sessions!

The gents from the Bombay Malt & Cigar club met late August with an unusual selection of three Single Grains and two Indian whiskies:

Our whisky ladies had a lovely Sunday sundowner with this quartet:

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Whisky samples storage…

I’m exceedingly grateful when whisky samples wind their way to me. Usually it is via friends and family. Occasionally it comes from the #whiskyfabric of fellow whisky explorers not otherwise known live and in person.

However, I’ve learned the storage container makes a BIG difference in keeping the quality of the sample… particularly if you don’t plan to try it immediately.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned the hard way, in hopes it will help you avoid whisky tragedies!!

Odour/taste contamination

  • Never, ever store in a bottle that held anything pungent. Best is to use fresh, clean, new bottles.
  • Where that isn’t possible, use an empty whisky miniature bottle that has been thoroughly cleaned and properly dried.

Avoid jars with rubber…

  • My aunt and uncle generously shared samples in properly cleaned baby food jars. It seemed like a good idea however as these were large, we transferred them into mini jam jars. 
  • Do yourself a favour – don’t ever do what we did!! Something terrible happened… in Mumbai conditions, the rubber odours ooze into the whisky, rust spots even appeared on the lids?!
  • Any whisky in such sub-optimal storage used to transport should be either consumed as soon as you reach your destination or immediately transferred.

Tops matter too!

  • Just as you don’t want contamination from rubber, plastic too can give off unwanted aromas, negatively impacting your lovely whisky… I even found one type that seemed promising, but the plastic had a tendency to crack!?
  • Similarly those lovely old mini whisky bottles you think you can re-use? Be vigilant! One tiny sign of rust in the cap and it is a “no go”!!!

If buying new, which is best for you?

  • Yes… I know buying new bottles can be surprisingly expensive, but get the right style and it is completely worth it!
  • I’ve been reasonably happy with three types of bottles for storing samples…
    • 60 ml – If you plan to share with 2-3 folks, this is a good bet. Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula tends to opt for these…
    • 50 ml – The standard whisky miniature style works well to share with 1 or 2 others… There is a reason it has a narrow long top – it helps reduce that pesky oxidation.
    • 20 ml – If just for you to sniff, sip and savour solo or you have limited space, you’d be surprised how much you can get from these bottles. All of our Nordic samples came in such a tiny but powerful packages.

All labels/pens are not created equally!

  • So you you’ve put the whisky in its new container, then what?? Sticky labels can be a handy way to slap on a new moniker… however be sure it is of a higher quality as I’ve had a few disintegrate if a bit of liquid accidentally comes on it.
  • As for the pen? Permanent marker please! Or at a minimum, a permanent pen. I’ve had a few mystery malts thanks to the ink blurring beyond comprehension.

Size matters

  • Finally, while I’ve been focused on smaller samples, what about those large 700 ml or 1 L bottles? Do you leave them alone or do something?
  • The trick with storing whisky is to minimize the oxidation, so keep a few nice empty whisky bottles in various smaller sizes like 180 ml, 200 ml, 375 ml, 500 ml…
  • Depending on how long you plan to store, it can be smart to transfer your whisky into the clean old bottle that best fits the quantity remaining… and don’t forget to label the bottle!

Naturally I’m sure most folks will say the simplest solution is just to drink the stuff! You aren’t wrong.

Another solution for a freshly opened bottle is to take some of those sample bottles, fill, label and share, then either use a vacu vin or transfer the balance into a smaller bottle if you plan to store for some time.

Because as good as it is to get whisky, it is nice to give back too!

Interested in more random whisky tips? Check out a few here:

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Highland Park Einar 40%

Einar is part of Highland Park’s warrior series – created for duty free with a figure from Orkney’s Viking history.

Highland Park Einar 40%

  • Nose – Peat?? Sweet but not overly sweet, grain, fairly reticent with soft vanilla, hint of smoke
  • Palate – Soft peaty, very accessible, lures you in
  • Finish – Increasing peat then dissipates
  • Water – Adding water makes it taste less like water, with a spicier palate

Overall it was easy to drink, enough sweet and light peat to be Highland Park, but for us, it clearly fell into the category of Duty Free No Age Statement (NAS) palate or, to use our newly coined term, was quite NASPy.

Here is what the folks over at Highland Park have to say:

The joint Earl of Orkney from 1014, EINAR was a bold and ruthless warrior and ruler, renowned for venturing on long and daring voyages and clearly distinguishable by his mighty axe.

Matured in Sherry seasoned American and European oak casks, the warm flavours of zesty dried orange peel and vanilla pods sweetly unfold in each dram of EINAR.

And Highland Park’s tasting notes:

  • Appearance: Rich golden, clear and bright
  • Nose: Pineapple, spicy, wood smoke, dried peel and golden syrup
  • Palate: Initially smoky and vanilla, citrus peel develops 
  • Finish: Vanilla sweetness and lingering smokiness

Curious about other Highland Park whiskies sampled?

I sampled it initially from a freshly opened bottle in a social context in August, then later with friends in September 2017 from a mini sample taken from the same bottle.

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Auchentoshan Heartwood 43%

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.

No other tasting notes… so for your amusement, I suggest you check out what the Whisky Wafflers have to say about Auchentoshan’s Heatwood.

I sampled it initially from a freshly opened bottle in a social context in August, then later from a mini sample with friends in September 2017.

Curious about other Auchentoshan whiskies sampled?

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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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Vacu vin for Whisky?

I’d like to let you into a little secret, there is a reasonably reliable way to reduce oxidation….

It is a trick borrowed from the world of wine, intended for use over short periods of time.

The principle is simple – a vacuum pump extracts air from the open bottle to re-seal with a rubber stopper. A “click” sound tells you when you have reached the optimum vacuum level. The vacuum slows down the oxidation process which makes it possible to enjoy your wine again at a later date.

Case in point? That gorgeous Laphroaig 21 year commemorating the opening of Heathrow’s Terminal 5…

It may have been opened 1.5 years, yet when we re-cracked open the bottle after our Dream Drams with Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula, it gave us a most rewarding gift – a burst of delicious aromas of sweet ham, bacon glazed with maple syrup, black forest ham, tobacco on the palate and a lovely long finish.

After this “proof of concept” many of those attending the evening went out an ordered vacu vin‘s in hope of preserving the quality of their precious drams, reducing the effects of oxidation.

Including one more from our Dream Drams evening, the Aultmore 5 year whose cork cracked!

PS – I got my vacu vin through Amazon… and no this isn’t a paid plug!!!

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