Brush with Bourbon – Black Maple Hill 47.5%

We started off our 1602 Dundas bourbon trio evening with a small batch Kentucky straight bourbon with handmade sour mash and mysterious origins – Black Maple Hill.

Image: K&L Wines, Different bottle

Black Maple Hill Kentucky Straight Bourbon 47.5%

And what did we find?

  • Nose – Treacle, molasses, raisins, black pepper, rich…
  • Palate – Spice, sweet, not at all harsh
  • Finish – There then goes, bitter sweet

Most enjoyable, very drinkable… spunky character… it reminded me of Elijah Craig – in a good way.

I will admit I tasted just a small sample with a friend knowing nothing about the bourbon. I’ll admit again – I’m not really a bourbon drinker, but this certainly was more to my taste than most.

What was amusing is when I dug a little deeper to find out more about Black Maple Hill… guess what… it seems the one we had may possibly have elements from the same folks behind Elijah Craig… whaddya know!

Or is it?? The story isn’t so simple… it was once said to mostly come from the Stizel-Weller distillery and bottled by Julian van Winkle – an insiders secret with quality rare bourbons aged from 11 – 22 years… It then was labelled as aged for 8 years and garnered spill-over hype from the elusive over-priced Pappy… selling for thousands of dollars!

The dark rust label no longer claims an age and while Heaven Hill is credited on sites such as The Whisky Exchange, you won’t find Heaven Hill claiming it as one of its American whiskey brands. Throw into the mix Willett Distillery – which for the most part does not distill its own spirits and has even been known to put out products under fictitious companies… And others from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD) and you have a mystery blend from various unknown sources. Then the new Stein Distillery from Oregon came into picture… leading to a new spin-off Black Maple Hill from Oregon.

Alas my photo from our evening is madingly blurry and indistinct, however it was labelled as Kentucky straight bourbon and given the flavour profile of what we sampled, I’m guessing it shares some of the same bourbon source as Elijah Craig.

And what’s the reasonably reliable story? Read David Driscoll’s tale on K&L Wines in which he reveals:

So here it is – the story of Black Maple Hill.  A Bourbon made somewhere in Kentucky, sold to KBD, blended at their facility, sold to Paul Joseph, slapped with a romantic label, and distributed down the street from K&L in Redwood City.

All that matters? Of the trio we tasted that evening, this was my choice!

Bourbon’s sampled at 1602 Dundas in Toronto in September 2017:

  • Black Maple Hill Kentucky Straight Bourbon 47.5% – This post
  • Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon 40%
  • Elmer T Lee Kentucky Bourbon 45%

Other forays into American whiskies….

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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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BMC Blends – Berry’s Speyside + Islay, Ghosted Reserve 21 year

I’m not going to suggest that the Bombay Malt & Cigar gentlemen are snobs but… they do enjoy the finer things in life. Our sessions began with an unspoken assumption that only Scottish single malts of a certain age and pedigree were worthy of our palates.

However a clear shift has begun… August’s ‘Affordable Adults‘ broke the £100 barrier (as in below). October’s ‘Blind Surprise‘ shook things up more by including an American (Westland Sherry Wood 46%) and Indian (Amrut Bourbon 62.8%) whisky.

However one member remains rather discerning in his whisky preferences. To have him come up with theme of blends? To say it was rather… ahem… uncharacteristic was putting it mildly. Hence why he kept all three bottles carefully covered in champaign covers to keep us fooled until the reveal…

Lest you think these were standard desi cheap blends, rest assured these were ‘proper’ Scottish whiskies… just not single malts.

Berry's Islay, Speyside + Ghosted Reserve 21

Berry’s Islay, Speyside + Ghosted Reserve 21

What did we try?

I had been keeping an eye out for the last one – the novelty of a marriage of three discontinued distilleries Ladyburn, Inverleven and Dumbarton was a lure I was curious to explore. Our host shared this blend was his starting point and rather than add to the mix other well known vatted malt’s like Monkey Shoulder, opted to explore offerings from Berry Brothers & Rudd.

Berry Brothers & Rudd are known as ‘royal retailers‘ and trace their origins to 1698, operating from the same premises in London’s St James’s Street. So while these were blends… the pedigree clearly remained…

And to top it off, the whiskies were paired with $400 cigars… no joke. Me’thinks the perception of ‘upper crust’ remains intact!

Psst – You will simply have to be patient over the next few days to read the tasting notes…

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Compass Box – Great King Street Artist’s Blend

One of the things I appreciate most about La Maison du Whisky is they are happy to share tasting samples. Naturally these are provided by the distilleries / bottlers / blenders to promote their products. However the opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ is something I welcome – especially when accompanied by insights from someone who really knows his stuff.

So when I tasted two new Compass Box offerings, I had a flashback to our Compass Box trilogy evening from August last year. Which means, you are about to join a wander down memory lane…

Tasting Notes from 21 August 2014

Following our standard approach, we tried ‘blind’ different whiskies before unveiling a theme night of three remarkable blends from Compass Box: Great King Street Artist’s Blend, Spice Tree and The Peat Monster.

Great King Street Artisan's Blend

Great King Street Artist’s Blend, 43%

  • Colour – Very pale
  • Nose – Light citrus lemon, yet sweet not tart, fresh peaches, slightly reminiscent of a Glenmorangie but more delicate and nuanced
  • Palate – Spice burn, slightly bitter with a hint of sea salt. When trying to describe the spice note, seemed like a kaccha (raw) spice that hasn’t been bhuno’ed (cooked) sufficiently… One described as ghat (strong spice)
  • Finish – Fairly limited… definitely not a lingerer…
  • Add water? The spice reduced with the fresh sweet lemon coming back full force!

Our blind verdict? A beautiful young teenager… more of a brunch drink that could be a marvelous base to a delicate creative cocktail. With its freshness, perhaps a whisky mohito?

The unveiling – A delight to try such a carefully crafted blended whisky. Named after Compass Box’s headquarter’s street… the Artist’s Blend brings together mostly Lowland Grain Whisky with Northern Highland and Speyside Single Malts. Throw in first-fill American oak and European oak ex-Sherry butts, toasted French oak and we have something interesting.

Footnote

One of the samples I tried in Singapore June 2015 at La Maison du Whisky was the new Compass Box version of Great King Street – Glasgow Blend. Personally the Glasgow Blend is closer to my preferred whisky style with a bit more character – fuller bodied smokey sweet lovely peat. While I didn’t pick up a bottle of it (much cheaper to acquire in the UK where I’m heading soon), it certainly is one I plan to keep an eye out for future purchases.

Other Compass Box treats sampled:

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Jazzy Monkey Shoulder

When I started Whisky Lady, I had a vague notion of creating a separate space for sharing more than just our monthly tasting notes from a private whisky club in Mumbai…

What better than revisiting a bottle conveniently in the cabinet?

The context

The volume of a jazzy funky beat is high, my partner’s rich baritone accompanies the sexy sax as he rehearses his last-minute substitution in a play ‘Bombay Jazz‘ for the Celebrate Bandra Festival. It is a play he normally produces rather than acts in… hence a bit of panic has set in… all the more reason to get into a more relaxed mode.

The weather in Mumbai is decidedly warm, so I was in the mood for something that I wouldn’t cringe at adding a drop or two of cool water or even – gasp! – a small ice-cube.

The choice

While we have sampled Monkey Shoulder in our monthly tasting sessions, I missed writing tasting notes on this blend of three Speyside single malts: Kininvie, Balvenie and Glenfiddich.

The name is inspired by the folks who developed a strain from turning the malting barley by hand – and for their troubles would acquire a ‘monkey shoulder‘. While the photo doesn’t do justice, there are three little monkeys on the upper right side of the bottle representing the three malts that go into the making of this blend.

It is also one of those whiskies that is relatively accessible, not hard on the pocketbook and consistently good. In this case, I picked up a bottle in Singapore on my last trip expecting to use it for the inevitable parties.

As we had a gathering recently, I already had a bottle open. It came from Batch 27, so I felt zero guilt in taking it down from the shelf to re-sample…

Jazzy play & Monkey Shoulder make a good mix!

Jazzy play & Monkey Shoulder make a good mix!

The tasting notes

So… just what did I find in revisiting William Grant’s Monkey Shoulder?

  • Nose: Citrus, sweet honey warmth, light with a hint of vanilla
  • Taste: Mild mannered, mellow and smooth, a dash of cinnamon and a prick of spice
  • Finish: While not a long-term lingerer, a delightful warmth with clove more than cinnamon

The experiment

However I wanted to experiment a little…  and did something I’d normally crinkle my noise at… I added a single small ice-cube

Aside from the relief from a little blessed cool… what did it do to the whisky?

Yes it did bring out a tinge more spice, yet Monkey Shoulder was smooth enough to not be defeated by a mere bit of melting ice… however it did dampen the nose considerably.

So I thought to experiment further… what would happen if I added back a tinge of citrus tartness with a squeeze of half a lime?

What delight! The freshness of the lime brought a new dimension…

Then what about a drop or two of Angostura bitters?

A dancing jig on the nose… citrus, sweet, with the vanilla resurfacing after being lost with the ice cube.

And now… what if I added a splash of cool soda water?

Houston! I do believe we have a cocktail! Yup… I might just offer this to someone else interested in a refreshing bright beverage.

If I had a sprig of mint, may have even thrown that in too…

Conclusion

On a hot sultry night, whisky cocktail and jazz make a combustible combination!

Care to share your opinion of the Monkey Shoulder? Or have a whisky cocktail to suggest? I’m clearly not completely averse to the idea…

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