Random whisky tasting at KODE

When we started our different whisky tasting clubs in Mumbai it was at a time where the offerings readily available beyond whiskies personally brought into the country were rather limited. Fast forward and today it is possible to have a respectable flight… right here in the city… for a price.

That shared, we likely won’t see many single casks entering anytime soon… in part because to import requires donating a “sample” for testing purposes. When a product has only say 100 bottles in the world and to sell at best a handful in a particular state, it becomes impossible to justify such a “donation”.

So while the more unusual limited edition specimens likely won’t show up anytime soon,  the overall range is sufficient for those curious to be inducted into the world of single malts and whiskies in general.

Which is exactly what we sat down to accomplish one fine evening at KODE in Mumbai early April.

My sampling companions and I warned the waiter that we would be requesting different bottles, sniffing then selecting so to be patient with us. And they were.

We began with a clear progression from light to distinctive profiles…

I’d initially thought to start with Compass Box Hedonism as it is such an unusual yet light whisky. They were just out of stock, so shifted instead to a readily accessible “appetizer”:

Our palates now acclimated, our real journey began with:

I then wanted to shift gears to start to discern more subtle complex flavours… It was wishful thinking to hope Glendronach 18 year might be available however did have a choice between the 12, 15 and 21 year... We went with:

  • Scotland – Glendronach – Glendronach 15 year “Revival” 46%*

Then split into the following to cater to the emerging different palate preferences of my sampling companions:

As conversation veered towards talk of casks and the difference between a Scottish single malt and Bourbon, I thought it would be good to do a wee detour to the US to contrast what we sampled so far with Bourbon & Rye:

Then proceeded to compare the nuances between very similar whiskies from Glenmorangie that have different finishes:

  • Scotland – Highland – Glenorangie Lasanta 12 year 46% – Olorosso & PX Sherrry finish
  • Scotland – Highland – Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 12 year 46% – Port finish

And finally we closed with a split between revisiting whiskies that “stood” out for my companions:

*Just in case you were wondering what all the “asterisk” mean… each of these bottles were brought into India thanks to Keshav Prakash with The Vault Fine Spirits. I’m incredibly proud of what Keshav and his team have achieved and have made a huge impact on the range now available in Mumbai. Thank you!

KODE – Freestyle Bar and Kitchen

Ground Floor – 11, Oasis City, Kamala Mills – Entrance #2, Lower Parel,, Mumbai, Lower Parel, Mumbai, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400013. Tel: 077188 82924

PS It may seem like an insane quantity of whisky but keep in mind we were splitting 30 ml singles – focusing more on sniffing, swishing and savouring.

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Bourbons in Bombay – The mighty Stagg Jr 64.75%

Last of our explorations of American drams was another bourbon from Buffalo Trace… from Blanton’s we turned our attention to the mighty Stagg Jr.

What did we think?

Stagg Jr 129.5 proof / 64.75%

  • Nose – Fresh wood, sawdust, cherry, pepper spice, raisins, buttery, vanilla ice cream fruit cake, then back to cayenne, a citrus twist, strong sherry like qualities
  • Palate – Whoo boya! A full on bourbon, very sugary, nice mouthfeel, quite concentrated, a big boy bourbon
  • Finish – Long finish

First swig and one exclaimed “Me on the horse I rode in…” It was full on cowboy action.

We thought it might go rather well with ice… so out came the big balls. It did indeed work well, taming that bad boy to something rather drinkable with the citrus quality coming out even more.

And what do the folks over at Buffalo Trace have to say?

George T. Stagg built the most dominant American distillery of the 19th century, during a time known as the Gilded Age of Bourbon. Uncut and unfiltered, this robust bourbon whiskey ages for nearly a decade and boasts the bold character that is reminiscent of the man himself.

Rich, sweet, chocolate and brown sugar flavors mingle in perfect balance with the bold rye spiciness. The boundless finish lingers with hints of cherries, cloves and smokiness.

What all did we sample in our American whiskey night?

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Bourbons in Bombay – Back to our old friend Blanton’s 46.5%

We shifted from single malt back to Bourbon with the reliable Blanton’s… it was by no means most of our first brush with Blanton’s… a few shared when in doubt, it is always safe to reach out for this bourbon. From Buffalo Trace, Blanton’s is a traditional bourbon made of corn, rye and barley… from warehouse H.

What did we think?

Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon 93 Proof Dumped 5-25-17, Barrel No 424, Ruch No 47

  • Nose – Lemon tart, honey sweet, a hint of tobacco or sweet grass, light leather
  • Palate – Lovely sweetness, new American oak, caramel with a bit of orange marmalade
  • Finish – Soft subtle finish, walnut bitterness

Such an enjoyable easy drinking bourbon. The 1st hit wakes you up but is not even the least bit harsh. This was an easy pick to settle down for the night with a cigar…

And what do the folks over at Buffalo Trace have to say?

  • Nose – A deep, satisfying nose of nutmeg and spices.
  • Palate – Powerful dry vanilla notes in harmony with hints of honey amid strong caramel and corn.
  • Finish – A medium finish composed of returning corn and nutmeg flavors.

What all did we sample in our mostly Bourbon night?

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Bourbons in Bombay – Jefferson’s Very Small Batch 41.15%

We kicked off our explorations of American drams with a Kentucky Straight Bourbon… In truth, Jefferson’s is a bourbon brand rather than a distillery per se… though the parent company Castle Brands did acquire a stake in the Kentucky Artisan Distillery.

But let’s not get hung up on details and pedigree… What did we think?

Jefferson’s Very Small Batch Bourbon 41.15%

  • Nose – Clear stamp of bourbon, then sour, citrus, lots of new wood, caramel, pine, varnish, musty, dry, paint thinner, acetone… then mellows into a light custard
  • Palate – Soft, a bit watery, and while not complex has some character, a bit bitter… as it sits starts to shift more into a light citrus honey
  • Finish – Soft after taste remains but not something you could describe as a finish

One remarked it could be described as a ‘ladies bourbon’… Speaking as a lady, not sure this would be my style of whisky at all! But I digress…

We set it aside for some time and revisit… it was like gripe water! Sweet and sour, cereals, ripe bananas, sour green apples and pears, then a nutty bitter close, softening into sweetness again. Not brilliant but not bad either.

And what do the folks over at Jefferson’s have to say?

Jefferson’s Bourbon is made in very small batches. Actually, ridiculously small batches. We take up to four different Kentucky straight bourbon whiskies of different ages and marry them together. Doing this, we get a lot of complexity and balance while maintaining the consistency needed in a bourbon (one of the blends comprising of at least 55% of the total). We wanted to make it big enough for the connoisseur, yet approachable for people just getting into the premium bourbon field.

Would we agree? It certainly is approachable…

While I can’t confirm, I suspect this bottle was purchased in the US of A… generally available for around $30. Which makes it mighty good value for money.

What all did we sample in our mostly Bourbons night?

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BMC’s Bourbon – Jefferson’s, St George, Blanton’s, Stagg

Our Bombay Malt & Cigar (BMC) gents are definitely going beyond the borders of Scottish Single Malts… the latest in this flirting with other drams was an evening devoted to bourbon… with an American single malt whiskey thrown in for good measure!

So what did we sample?

You can also find more North American whiskies in the “US & Canada” page!

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Brush with Bourbon – Elmer T Lee 45%

Last in our trio of bourbon’s at 1602 Dundas was a dram from Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky who produce Blanton’s, W. L. Weller, E. H. Taylor and Buffalo Trace among others. Elmer T Lee is named after their Master Distiller Emeritus Elmer T. Lee.

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon 45%

Image: LCBO

And what did we find?

  • Nose – Sweet mash, fruity cinnamon spice, over ripe fruits
  • Palate – Grape, raisins, bitter dry oaky, spicy
  • Finish – Slow bitter finish

Elmer T Lee has the clear and unmistakable stamp of Kentucky Bourbon character – lots of fruit, spice, bold and impossible to ignore.

While we split a 30 ml shot, a 750 ml bottle can be purchased at a Toronto LCBO for CND 54.95. Here what they have to say…

LCBO’s Tasting & Serving Notes

Complex and addictive. Scents of cinnamon, hazelnuts, and dried fruit precede big flavors: cinnamon spice, raisinated and plummy, like Madeira or Sherry. Long finish, with a bit of a bite. Score – 97. (Kara Newman, Wine Enthusiast, Sept. 2010).

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

Other forays into American whiskies from Buffalo Trace:

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Brush with Bourbon – Basil Hayden’s 40%

Next in our brush with Bourbon informal flight at 1602 Dundas was a bourbon from the Jim Beam stable – part of their small batch bourbons such as Knob Creek. Styled after the mash created by its namesake Basil Hayden, it uses double the rye of a standard Kentucky bourbons.

Image: Beam Suntory

Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon 40%

And what did we find?

  • Nose – Resin, herbal, oats, cereals, sweet, honey, woody, treacle
  • Palate – Initial ‘yeowch’, then acclimatized to it, revealing some spices
  • Finish – There but..

What is fabulous about the world of whisky is the range of styles – something for everyone! However I’ve learned that my palate preferences veer away from both bourbon and rye… Which meant this whisky had a double strike against it as it both is very clearly a bourbon with a higher rye quotient.

What I enjoyed most was the nose – I could keep sniffing it and finding more elements. For me, the kick would be a brilliant dimension in certain cocktails – one where the interesting elements in the nose are given full room to shine with the rye spiciness and character on the palate punching up the drink.

Here’s what the folks over at the LCBO have to say:

The recipe for this classic Bourbon dates back to 1796. Amber in colour; on the nose are notes of dried apricot, caramel, custard, green peppercorn and hay; on the palate it is medium-bodied and warming, with flavours of white pepper, burnt sugar, dried white flowers and vanilla that finishes with a lingering herbal spice.

This bottle was released in February 26, 2015, made in Kentucky, USA by Beam Global Spirits and Wines with a style described as medium & spicy.

While we split a 30 ml shot, it can be purchased at Toronto LCBO for CND $53.95.

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

Other forays into American whiskies from the Beam Suntory family:

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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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1602 Dundas in Toronto – A Brush with Bourbon

When I travel, I enjoy seeking out whisky watering holes… from a collector’s paradise like The Auld Alliance in Singapore to the unabashedly curious range of Winnipeg’s Whisky Bar at Toad in the Hole.

Naturally my latest trip to Toronto (September 2017) had to include a chance to explore… in this case 1602 Dundas – a local joint conveniently found mere walking distance from where I was staying.

Well known for its cocktails, it has a most respectable range for a neighbourhood haunt – a mere 300 whiskies – all served in a chilled out, no pretence vibe where you can kick back, relax, enjoy a drink, discussion and throw in some whisky discoveries too.

After a short chat, knew we were in good hands with the lovely lady barkeep. As I perused the shelves, decided to plunge into waters I don’t normally tred – bourbon.

Image: Yelp Amanda C

Our wee brush with bourbons explored:

This was followed by a cocktail which was exceedingly well made and far too easy to drink.

And while I’m still not a huge bourbon fan… but I do love what ex-bourbon casks do to help the world of whisky!

Where can you find it?

  • 1602 Dundas is located at 1602 Dundas West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M6K 1T8. 
  • Tel: 416 823 0661 – Currently open only evenings 6 PM – 2 AM
  • Or check out their map…

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Whisky Cocktail Hour?

While my jaunt around the globe hasn’t quite finished, my quick zip through a few interesting cocktails is a ‘wrap’!

In case you missed any, here is a quick list:

  • Old Fashioned – Bourbon, bitters, sugar with a twist of orange
  • Manhattan – Bourbon, vermouth + bitters
  • Mint Julep – Bourbon, simple syrup, bitters + mint
  • The Ginger Baker – Tennessee whisky, ginger, lime + pineapple juice, orgeat syrup with a slice of pineapple
  • Spiced Boulevardier – Infused bourbon, vermouth, campari with a twist of orange or almonds

These cocktails all came courtesy of a session with DISCUS in May 2017, Mumbai.

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