Gin gin gin! Rock Rose, Tarquin, Silent Pool

Once upon a time a lad discovered he had a penchant for gin… so he travelled far and wide, collecting a bottle here and there… Sparking an idea to have an evening or two or three to explore his booty properly.

It took a few aborted attempts till we finally managed to get calendars to align… it was a lovely Sunday sundowner in a sultry Mumbai…

And what did we check out? Our plan was to explore four “different” gins with a standard to contrast and settle down for G&Ts…. Somehow that morphed into seven gins.

What also was the most remarkable about our explorations was the different tonics! That will be a topic for another day…

For now… enjoy the first part of our foray into gin territory…

Rock Rose “Scottish Botanicals” 41.5% 2017, Batch 61, Bottle 452

  • Fresh clean, citrus, coriander, cardamon, green peppers, dry with lemon zest… and yes rose but of a wilder variety
  • Orange sweet (sea buckthorn?), more coriander finishing in… could it be fennel? Or something else?
  • Quite the contrast between the nose and palate

From Dunnet Bay Distilleries Ltd, based in Caithness, Dunnet Bay, is one of Britain’s most northerly mainland distilleries and established in 2014. Rock Rose is produced by a wife / husband duo – Claire and Martin Murray – using 18 botanicals, of which 5 are grown locally and distilled in their coper pot “Elizabeth.”

The name was inspired by the “Rhodiola rosea” which grows on the cliffs of Pentland Firth. According to Celtic folklore, the Vikings allegedly harvested wild, exposed cliffs to gather Rhodiola rosea with the thought that it would give them the extra strength to continue on their long arduous journeys. (Dunnet Bay Distillers)

Tarquin Gin 42% Batch 488

  • Sweet subtle perfume, lots of other botanicals, strong coriander, pink peppercorns, cardamon, mild, sweet violet
  • Cardamon, very sweet, orange, dry pine forest, paprika
  • Started soft then took on more spunk and character

From North to Southwest, Tarquin is made at Southwestern Distillery by the coast in North Cornwall. They use Devon violets fresh orange zest – both quite pronounced qualities… and it also had a distinctive pine forest dimension too. (Southwestern Distillery)

Silent Pool 43%

  • Surprisingly briney. very orange and forward,  some detected a bit of olives, brussel sprouts, vegetable cabbage, sea salt, sour kraut… how could that be?
  • Mandarin, sweet, soft, caramel, salt water taffey
  • Orange blossom, spice finish

Silent Pool Gin is produced on the Albury Estate in the Surrey Hills, next to the Silent Pool, a spring-fed lake.The gin features 24 botanicals, including kaffir lime, chamomile, local honey and lavender. (Silent Pool Distillers)

We found it a bit curious and the quite vegetal quality which came out originally wouldn’t be for everyone. But then it settled into a lovely orange sweet gin – with a distinctive character.

Up next Sunday we continue with:

  • Gin Mare 42.7%
  • Queensborough Small Batch Dry Gin 43% (BC, Canada)
  • FEW Gin
  • Tanqueray Ten 47.3%

Other gin experiences:

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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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When Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask didn’t quite hit the mark

Next up in our “revisit” evening was a cask strength single cask whisky from Kavalan, part of their Solist line.

We sampled completely blind, revealing only after much debate and speculation.

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask S090608029A Bottle No 269 of 485 58.6% (Bottled 2017.10.02)

  • Colour – The colour was remarkable – so dark it was more like coffee with a rich ruby hue than whisky!
  • Nose – Pure sherry, coffee, lots of rummy, plummy notes, complex, chocolate, dark fruits, weighty, kept thinking of chocolate covered raisins, sweet spices, caramel toffee
  • Palate – Unexpected. Packs a punch – and not in an entirely good way. Sulfur, rubber – as in burnt rubber tyres, dry bitter, tannic, lentil, neem
  • Finish – Spice sherry
  • Water – Completely changes – much more coherent, the bitterness a bit tamed, the red fruits came out even more

To be honest, we really struggled with this one. It had elements of a few different familiar whiskies but not when put together. And it just didn’t work somehow either. The nose was so incredibly promising but the palate…. frankly seemed “forced”. The colour also had us puzzled – it was so dark to provoke speculation that something was decidedly different.

With the reveal there was surprise! Particularly as we’d just sampled a Kavalan Solist Sherry mere months earlier.

Generally we’ve all had very positive experiences with Kavalan Solist – with the Sherry being their signature rich, complex, robust whisky. However this one simply didn’t hit the mark for us.

This was by no means our only brush with this particular whisky… however that’s the thing about Kavalan Solist Sherry, each cask is unique.

What do the Kavalan folks have to say?

  • Colour – Dark and mouth-watering raisin
  • Nose – Clean and complex with multi-layers of dried fruit, nuttiness and spices with some marzipan and vanilla touches to it as well
  • Palate – Rich, oily and full with pleasant dried fruit and spices that linger on in the mouth plus a hint of fine coffee

Here are a few others sampled over the last year or so….

Here is what else we tried in our “revisit” evening:

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Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 year 43%

First up in our “revisit” evening was a vetted malt from Johnnie Walker. For those not familiar, Green Label is a vatted malt – meaning a blend that uses only malt whisky not grain. The four distilleries used include Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore and Caol Ila.

As usual, we sampled completely blind, discovering only later what we were imbibing.

Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 year 43%

  • Nose – Quite volatile, fresh and spirits, fruity – particularly citrus, fresh wood, very classic style, varnish, curd, youth, fruit, bourbon… after some time became quite muted, soft honey, light vanilla
  • Palate – Brine, spice – unexpectedly spicy – biscuit, a puff of smoke, light, no body, quite linear, flavours fall off very fast
  • Finish – Spice, bitter, wood
  • Water – Some thought better to not add, others found it rounded out the spice

It started off promising but after time the nose disappeared. Even on the palate, one needed to “hold” a generous sip to get the full spice experience. There was the sense of it being somehow “abbreviated.”

One remarked it isn’t such a bad “Starter Dram”…. and the “classic” quality was one we appreciated. There was a lot of speculation, with blend being bantered about as an option and even speculation of grains?

Our host shared he acquired this particular bottle some 6-7 year previously. For most, this was a revisit… albeit after many years as Green Label was for some time discontinued.

Here is what else we tried:

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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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The remarkable Glen Grant 64 year (1949) 40%

No… that is not a typo… that really is 64 years… as in matured for 64 years… with the new make spirit laid to rest in first fill sherry butts in 1949. A piece of whisky history with the clocks turned back.

And I had a chance to sample it completely blind… no clue what I was trying or how exceptionally rare such a dram is.

Glen Grant 64 year (24/11/1949 –  6/6/2014) Cask 2200 + 3185 40%

What did my wee sniff, swish and savour sampling reveal?

  • Nose – Old wood varnish, betel leaf, peach pit, drizzle  of maple syrup, ripe fruits, specifically then shifted into roasted pineapple and a bit of jackfruit, red wine tannins, a bit yeasty, those sweet and sour, tart and tangy Chinese (Li Hing Mui) or Japanese (Umeboshi) dried plums, a hint of old leather
  • Palate – What have I discovered? A bit bitter with elements rarely found like hing, then shifts into raw mango powder or unripe guava, some tamarind, like bhel puri masala, yet no spicy “pepper” heat, continued that sweet element with substance yet truly tangy too, remarkable
  • Finish – After a simply marvellous nose, interesting palate, the finish was surprisingly light… closing with a puff of smoke

Overall it was a mystery – delicate and unique. Surprisingly tangy yet sweet too. Complex yet not heavy. Clearly old yet had fresh elements also. a kaleidoscope of contradictions… that somehow worked together in weird and wonderful ways.

I kept aside just a few drops to revisit after some time and was rewarded with an exceptional bouquet of fruits, flowers then pine.

The last drop drained, I again set the empty glass aside… and returned an hour later to discover the most glorious perfume! Simply wafting out from the glass. Beautiful.

When we learned this was matured in a 1st fill sherry butt, it was such a surprise. The colour was so light whereas previous brushes with older sherry drams were deep and dark – like the Glendronach 39 – 42 year.

It also is a complete marvel that after 64 years it could still achieve the min 40% required for it to be called a whisky!

This certainly goes into the category of “once in a lifetime” and I also have to appreciate the work the Gordon + MacPhail team are doing preserving then releasing rare examples of whisky history to the world.

Here is what the folks over at Gordon & MacPhail have to say:

Without water:

  • Nose – Delicate Sherry aromas mingle with vanilla, rose water, and violet notes. Hints of burnt sugar, prune, and a lingering marzipan edge develops.
  • Palate – White pepper initially with grapefruit and hints of apricot preserve. Ground coffee and toasted almond flavours are complemented by underlying cigar ash.
  • Finish – Long, floral, and smoky.

With water:

  • Nose – Tropical fruits with pineapple and mango aromas. Subtle beeswax polish notes combine with bonfire embers and an orange zest edge.
  • Palate – Ripe banana, raisin, and fresh grapefruit flavours with a delicate hint of violets complemented by a lingering smoky edge.

Other rare vintages sampled over the years:

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Japan Jaunt – Hakushu 43%

After two blends and a Nikka single malt from Miyagikyo distillery, the last in our “Japanese Jaunt” was a single malt from Suntory’s Hakushu distillery.

It was certainly not my 1st experience with Hakushu… Once upon a time the 18 year old was a favourite until it became highly elusive. Then our original tasting group sampled the NAS avatar.… followed by the Whisky Ladies… leaving only our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents to sample… which happened one fine evening in March 2018.

Hakushu NAS 43%

  • Nose – Plunged into a wet forest, light peat, crisp apples, pine needles, fresh bark, aniseed, a bit of spice, pistachios, green sap, very fresh and sweet
  • Palate – Hugs the tongue, very soft and a great mouthfeel, citrus spice, bitter almond with a light spice chaser and a puff of smoke
  • Finish – Bitter sweet finish with more of the aniseed coming to the fore
  • Water – Like the Miyagikyo, absolutely no temptation to add

Overall it was pronounced “very nice” until the topic of its price was raised. Which sparked a debate about whether Japanese whiskies are truly worth the hype.

Whether you think yes or no, the bottom line is our evening was filled with finely crafted whiskies with a range of characters and it was a most enjoyable exploration.

Here’s what the folks at Suntory have to say about their Hakushu distillery:

Straight from the untouched forests, soft and crisp waters and mountains of the Southern Japanese Alps, it is no wonder that Hakushu is a “green and fresh” whisky.Created by the dream for a new type of whisky of Keizo Saji, the second master brender, the unique taste made in distinct

Four seasons in high altitude is praised by the most curious whisky connoisseurs and lovers of gastronomy. Its crisp and vibrant feel, unique in a single malt whisky, enlivens and liberates your senses.

What else did we taste in our “Japan Jaunt“?

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Japan Jaunt – Miyagikyo 45%

After two quite different blends – the Hibiki and All Malt – we shifted gears into single malts starting with the Miyagikyo from Nikka. Miyagikyo is known to be the lighter more nuanced of the two Nikka single malts, a contrast from the robust Yoichi.

Miyagikyo NAS 45%

  • Nose – Floral, citrus – particularly kumquat, spring, cherry blossoms, gooseberry, with a dash of spice peaking behind
  • Palate – Almost fizzy, a lot of white pepper, very sweet, fruity and a bit bitter
  • Finish – Very spicy, long and dry
  • Water – No inclination to add whatsoever

There is a light elegance and feminine quality to this whisky. Which means it is either a style one appreciates or does not.

What was interesting in our Japanese explorations was there was narry an age statement in sight – a sign of the times with whiskies from Japan.

And what do the folks at Nikka have to say about the Miyakgikyo?

This is a single malt from the Miyagikyo distillery, Nikka’s second distillery built in 1969. The founder Masataka Taketsuru chose this site in the mountains of Sendai to contrast with his first distillery, Yoichi, located in the coastal area. Using less peaty malt and distilled in a pot still heated by indirect steam, Miyagikyo single malt has an elegant fruitiness and a distinctive aroma with a strong Sherry cask influence.

What did we taste in our “Japan Jaunt”?

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Japan Jaunt – Nikka’s All Malt 40%

After the Suntory’s Hibiki blend, our Japan jaunt shifted to a vatted / blended malt from Nikka. This particular dram brings together single malt from Yoichi and Miyagikyo pot stills with a Coffey malt whisky. Hence the name “All Malt” as each of its components are malted.

Nikka All Malt 40%

  • Nose – Burnt toffee, sherry like, rich chocolate, burnt caramel custard or a creme brule, hazelnut, dusting of cinnamon, coffee
  • Palate – “Dessert in a glass” Delicious, cigar base, smooth and soft, mellow, Parsi daily milk toffee
  • Finish – Long drawn out… stays
  • Water – Absolutely no temptation to add water

Overall we found it quite satisfying. No pretence – just a solid blend – pure and rich are indeed a good way to describe it. One remarked that it had an almost highland quality.

For an evening with cigars, it more than held its own… an important quality in a good whisky for these gents!

The Nikka All Malt also buck the pricey trend with Japanese whisky – keeping to a below $50 range (depending on where you buy it).

And what else did we sample in our Japan Jaunt?

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Japan Jaunt – Hibiki “Masters Select” 43%

Our Bombay Malt and Cigar gents began as staunchly preferring Scottish Single Malts. And while one could explore for years and years and still be scratching the surface of Scottish expressions, it is nice to veer in a different direction too.

Hence our host’s theme of Japanese whiskies. He admitted that he’s a bit “late” to the Japanese craze and somewhat aghast at the prices for such drams. However curiosity plus a few duty free stops lead to acquiring a quartet of two blends and two single malts, covering a range from Japan’s two most popular whisky companies – Suntory and Nikka.

1st up was Hibiki from Suntory – a blend of their single malts Yamazaki and Hakushu together with their grain Chita. What did the gents think?

Hibiki Japanese Harmony “Master’s Select” NAS 43%

  • Nose – Malty coffee caramel, oranges, elder flower, opens to forest green
  • Palate – Dances along the surface, lightly piquant, different elements, bitter almond
  • Finish – Bitter
  • Water – Rounds out

We set it aside and revisited after finishing our sampling of all four whiskies. What did we find?

  • Soft sweet and slightly salty
  • Fairly innocuous

Overall we pronounced it a “happy” drinking whisky. Not complex, but it doesn’t need to be. A perfect “starter” whisky for those who are new to the world of whisky and curious to try something from Japan. Translation – what we would serve at parties if just happened to have an open bottle and not be terribly upset if it is emptied by the end of the evening.

I’ve had several trysts with Hibiki – its earlier 12 and 17 year incarnations, part of a blind tasting with our original club when the NAS expression 1st launched years ago plus a rather nice chocolate pairing with the Whisky Ladies. Which means this particular expression has graced all three Mumbai based whisky tasting clubs.

I once even attempted to create my own version of Hibiki bringing together a few drops of an older Yamazaki with the Hakushu 18 year and Chita 12 year. While not disastrous, I’m clearly no master blender!

And what else did we sample in our Japanese jaunt?

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