North Star Discovery – Glenrothes, Ardmore + Islay

There is something so fabulous about being truly surprised.

Which is why our original Mumbai tasting group keeps to its habit of tasting blind. Sometimes we reveal each whisky immediately after tasting, other times we wait until we have sampled all three whiskies.

In this case, it was after tasting all three drams and what a reveal! Why?

As it introduced North Star Spirits, a new independent bottler based in Glasgow. Starting in just 2016, we understand it is a “one man” operation by Iain Croucher, earlier part of A.D. Ratraay group.

Interestingly, he has a distribution relationship in Germany with Sansibar – which is another independent bottler that caught my attention recently for its ability to spot good casks for relatively reasonable rates.

My photos do not do justice to their packaging which is …

What did we sample?

  • North Star’s Cask Series 001 – Glenrothes 20 year (Oct 1996/Oct 2016) 54.6% 1 of 252 bottles
  • North Star’s Cask Series 001 – Ardmore Peat 8 year (June 2008 / Oct 2016) 57.1% 1 of 198 bottles
  • North Star’s Cask Series 002 – Islay 8 year (June 2008 / May 2017) 58.3% 1 of 230 bottles

Unfortunately North Star bottles have already captivated attention that it is best to pre-order online as they seem to be snapped up quickly!


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Whisky Lady – June 2018

June was quite full with all three tasting groups holding their regular sessions plus a few interesting visitors with:

With our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents, we shifted gears to have an evening dedicated to open bottles – a complete mixed bag of what was lying around. Which in our case meant a merry trip through:

For the Whisky Ladies, it was a night of Highland Hijinks!

And our original group? We were introduced to a remarkable new independent bottler – North Star with a terrific trio of:

  • North Star’s Cask Series 001 – Glenrothes 20 year (Oct 1996/Oct 2016) 54.6% 1 of 252 bottles*
  • North Star’s Cask Series 001 – Ardmore Peat 8 year (June 2008 / Oct 2016) 57.1% 1 of 198 bottles*
  • North Star’s Cask Series 002 – Caol Ila 8 year (June 2008 / May 2017) 58.3% 1 of 230 bottles*

Last month, I took our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents on a European Exploration and caught up with all the tasting notes which had a clear divide between ones we quite enjoyed…. and those we decidedly did not!

The thumbs “down” category included:

And in the thumbs “up” category?

In addition to our normal tasting evenings, we were fortunate to have not one but two IBHL sessions in April and May respectively with:

Evenings with Krishna Nakula, India’s Malt Maniac are always a pleasure. This time we ambled through a rather remarkable range of whiskies…

*Tasting notes coming soon…

Curious to know more? Check out recent Whisky Lady’s monthly missives:

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Whisky Live’s Collectors Room – Caol Ila 1969 and Yamazaki 12 year

Whisky Live’s Collector’s Room was such a terrific experience at the Singapore 2016 event. I couldn’t wait to see what treasures would be available to purchase a small dram…

However it was quite the scaled back version… no delightful fully separate “Collector’s Room“. Instead it was a simple bar area with a row of whiskies on offer. Those we considered started at SGD80 a glass… we decided to try two and share… it was not an easy decision.

My companion settled on:

Yamazaki 12 year (1996/2009) Cask No AX70012 Sherry Butt 60% (Whisky Live Japan 10 year anniversary edition)

  • Nose – Sherry explosion… one even said headache inducing
  • Palate – Almost overwhelming, woody, spice, all the dark fruits, black cherry, phenomenal
  • Finish – What a fabulous finish!
  • Water – Opens it up further, bringing balance

It was truly intense, dense, rich and almost on the edge of being too… everything! Remarkable, unforgettable and worth trying… once.

Whereas I leaned towards a certain sentimentality – a whisky from the same year I was born! It was a rare 1980s Caol Ila bottled by Gordon & MacPhail.

Caol Ila 16 year (1969) 40%

  • Nose – Peat, sour, overripe fruit, a bit of varnish, old and musty, then these darker qualities dissipated to be replace instead by vanilla, bananas, an almost briney quality that then became quite sweet
  • Palate – Spice, peat, sweet and much softer than anticipated from the nose
  • Finish – Long peat, sweet and spicy finish

We remarked on how very different it was from the Caol Ila style of today.

It was last seen on auction for approx £510.00.

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Peaty Mini – Big Peat 46%

Next up in our peaty minis evening after the Wemyss Peat Chimney, we explored a blend from Douglas Laing.

Big Peat 46% (Douglas Laing)

  • Nose – Began with quite a sharp peat that then disappeared quickly. Baked banana or a banoffee cream pie then also settled into a surprisingly restrained fermented apple, quite sweet.
  • Palate – A delicious peat heat, black pepper, green peppercorns, liquorice root, quite fresh
  • Finish – Peat spice, sweet liquorice, changes to red chilli, cinnamon spice

What we enjoyed most about this whisky was how it kept changing. While consistently accessible – in a good way. There was overall a fresh lightness to its approach – unquestionably peat but one with a delightful ‘freshness’ and spirit.

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

Douglas Laing’s Big Peat is a feisty Islay character with a sweet side. This is a small batch bottling, without colouring or chill-filtration and only contains Islay Malt Whiskies, including Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and (even the now closed) Port Ellen to name but a few!

And their tasting notes?

Opens fresh, salty and clean on the nose, developing to sweet malt dried over peat. On the palate, detect ashes, sweet tar, beaches and smoking chimneys. The finish is long and lingering, replicating the palate with salty, tangy liquorice, smoke, bonfire ashes and a phenolic quality.

We sampled from a closed mini bottle in October 2017. While I can’t recall the exact price, think it was around £5 or so… a full bottle will set you back approximately $55. An exceedingly reasonable price for a most enjoyable dram.

And what else did we sample in our merry mini malts evening?

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Cadenhead’s Caol Ila 36 year (1980) 52.3%

After the Glen Garioch, we seemed more in the mood to return to the Islays and a peatier dram. Particularly if it happened to be a Caol Ila 36 year, bottled by Cadenhead’s! Who wouldn’t be tempted? And what did we find?

Caol Ila 36 year (1980 – July 2016) Bourbon Hogshead, 52.3% (Cadenhead’s) 210 bottle

  • Nose – Paint shop, fevicole adhesive, creamy, muted, original bitter hing (asefetodi) , ritaful (soap nut), burnt orange peel, echo of peat. As it opened up, it revealed a sweet spice
  • Palate – Lots of vegetables, from an echo of peat, it grew into a proper peat and soooooo sweet and smooth
  • Finish – Green capsicum then a long cinnamon spice

And Krishna’s reaction? “OMG! This is beautiful for a winter day.”

This is definitely a whisky that benefits from time to open as it became more brilliant as it aired. For me, the nose was the most rewarding element. Perhaps not for everyone. And certainly not for everyone’s pocketbook but worth settling down with if you get a chance.

This whisky last appeared on Scotch Whisky Auctions in Nov 2016 for a winning bid of £280.00. 

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

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Undisclosed Distilleries – Again!

A few months back I shared a trio of whiskies with our original tasting group – each did not disclose the distillery.

My original intention was to immediately share the same whiskies with our Bombay Malt & Cigar group… we had a wait a few extra months and by the time the evening arrived, I managed to add a 4th undisclosed distillery bottle to the mix – what fun!

And challenged the gentlemen to attempt to guess the possible distillery…

Wilson & Morgan “Highland Heart” Sherry (2006/2015) 43%

We began with the delicious sherry delight…

  • Nose – Sherry, berries, bannoffee cream pie, lots of cherries, delicious orange marmalade, prune, dark chocolate
  • Palate – Malty, biscuits, Ghanna bitter chocolate
  • Finish – Beautiful, long, round finish
  • Water – Opens up more but not required

We found it warm, fruity, luxurious and utterly delicious… there is a rich robustness to this whisky which belies its mere 43%.

And the guesses? From Glenrothes, to Glendronach to Aberlour… none suspected Macallan.

Sansibar Islay 8 year (2007/2015) 52.2%

We moved on to Islay…

  • Nose – Sea breeze Islay, sweeter honey notes, some iodine, peat and then peppermint
  • Palate – Cinnamon spice, chewy, velvet and smoke
  • Finish – A lovely finish, peat, bitter cinnamon that ends on sweet
  • Water – Had a bit of a debate – yes or no – with a complete divide on whether we preferred with or without water. Some found it made it sharp and sour whereas others thought it tamed it into sweet submission.

Interestingly, while the Wilson & Morgan seemed stronger and richer than 43% the Sansibar didn’t give a hint of being cask strength.

And the guesses? It was more a process of elimination… everything it was not and only a ‘maybe’ Ardbeg… firmly in the ‘Well it isn’t…’ category was Lagavulin. Oops!

Port Askaig 19 year 50.4%

  • Nose – Wow! Sweet stewed fruits, pears, with a restrained peat, wet rag, white sugar cane as it opened revealed hazelnuts and cream
  • Palate – Oily resin, smooth as silk with a subtle smoke
  • Finish – Sour bitter sweet
  • Water – With a few drops simply made is spicier. With a generous dollop brought out a perfume smoke. Again – opinions were divided between preferring with water and those who thought it best absolutely without a drop

It has a simple yet interesting nose, a complex palate, with a sweet finish.

And the guessing game? Perhaps Bunnahabain, Bruichladdich… certainly not Caol Ila!

Finlaggan Cask Strength 58% 

  • Nose – Pudding, overripe bannoffee pie, coconut, Jamaican sugar cane, lemon curd, nutmeg, spice, dry leaves and hay, vegetable
  • Palate – Peppery peat,
  • Finish – Smokey bitter ash chased by cinnamon sweet
  • Water – It softened the whisky considerably, bringing out juicy fruits – particularly peaches

Final guesses? After an initial speculation may perhaps be Caol Ila, Bowmore… settled on Laphroaig.

If you are curious, check out what I found originally:

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Whisky Archives – Cracking open the cabinet…

Another from the tasting archives… this time from Sept 2011. Rediscovering these notes brought a flood memories of my previous Mumbai flat… that had a fabulous cabinet in which all my whisky was stashed… now replaced in our current home by a larger storage space waaaaay up high in our kitchen pantry.

We broke with tradition and merrily abandoned all pretense of blind tastings… instead settled down for a sampling of various bottles. It became a  popularity contest between different regions and geographies as small pegs of multiple whiskies were sniffed, swirled, swallowed, savoured and yes – much discussed!

Samplings from earlier sessions - all quaffed at one occasion!

Speyside‘s dominated the evening with:

  • Aberlour’s cask strength Abu’nadh batch 32 (sampled earlier) and batch 31 were compared. Batch 31 was a clear winner and a hit of the evening! Bold yet with an extraordinary warm finish… with layers to discover and enjoy.
  • Aberlour 10 year held its own with slight smokiness and butter, however was overshadowed by it’s cask strength cousin.
  • Cragganmore 12 year was softer on the palate and a nice contrast to the Abelours
  • Glenrothes 12 year (also sampled earlier) gained appreciation for its smooth fruity aroma, sherry note and oak, medium slightly spicy finish.

Islay‘s were represented by a few familiar friends:

  • Bunnahabhain 12 year 40% is a regular favourite with several folks
  • Caol Ila is also well-known and after the last drop of one bottle was polished off, another was opened… Need one say more?
  • Lagavulin 16 year was also a familiar friend but neglected with all the other options…

Highland

  • Dalwhinnie from the highest distillery in Scotland was a delightful gentler ‘everyday’ favourite

Japan

  • Suntory’s Hakushu 18 year…. In a class of its own with hints of forest, moss, nuanced, with a divine finish – simply exquisite. It remains one of my favourites!

Canada

  • Crown Royal from Gimli, Manitoba (my home province) certainly added a different element with rye, however alas outclassed by single malt companions

Naturally what’s expressed here is only one interpretation based on snippets of conversation and personal bias. Would love to hear others opinions on any of these whiskies…

Slainthe!

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“The Whisky Guessing Game” at The Single Cask, Singapore

Having an opportunity to ‘try something different‘ seems to be the hallmark of most whisky aficionados journey. What better way than through bottlers not disclosing the distillery… here follows the tasting notes and speculation from an anonymous Islay whisky flight experienced at The Single Cask in Singapore.

Cask Islay 46%

  • Nose – Citrus smoke, sweet brine
  • Palate – Ash, peat, oily, sense of being a bit sticky, doesn’t travel well
  • Finish – Bitter… makes you want water!

Cask Islay is a small batch release from A.D. Rattray and you can read what they have to say here.

Islay Storm 40%

  • Nose – Softer than the Cask Islay, fresh grass, fruity apples, cereals, barley oat porridge, followed by a nice sweetness
  • Palate – While it didn’t have much body, there was a fresh green dimension and actually quite interesting, warming into vanilla custard with smoke, sweet peat, sea salt, eminently enjoyable
  • Finish – Very nice finish, surprisingly long

The folks behind this bottle is The Vantage Malt Whisky Company and you can read what they have to say about Islay Storm here.

Dun Bheagan Islay 43%

  • Nose – Briney citrus, tannins
  • Palate – Bit of spice, some body, the peat was actually quite balanced
  • Finish – Sweet spice with cinnamon

IanMacLeod Distillers created the Dun Bheagan collection to feature a range of single casks.

Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%

  • Nose – Tar, asphalt, leather, grass, flowers, quite sweet yet also oddly quite shy and mute
  • Palate – Sharp leather, warm balanced evolution
  • Finish – Sweet spice liquor

It may sounds like a contradiction but it was oddly muted and shy – can’t help but suspect the bottle was open too long with oxidation taking its toll.

Again, the folks behind this marvellous dram are The Vantage Malt Whisky Company, with more details about their Finlaggan range available here.

All were interesting. All would be quite affordable in the UK and not pocket destroying in Singapore. I kept coming back to the Islay Storm, whereas my companion was particularly partial to the Finlaggan.

And our guesses?

  • Cask Islay 46% Our guess? Caol Ila
  • Islay Storm 40%? Zero doubt it was Kilchoman… by a mile! And interesting to try at 40%. Sipping it also sparked my companion’s memories of his 1st visit to the distillery
  • Dun Bheagan Islay 43% Most likely a Lagavulin
  • Finlaggan Cask Strength 58% Probably a Laphroaig

If anyone can prove or disprove any of our speculations – would love to hear!

So there we have it… a wee whisky flight and a most enjoyable evening in Singapore.

The Single Cask is located at 01-25 Chijmes Caldwell House, 30 Victoria Street, Singapore 187996 / info@thesinglecask.sg / +65 6837 0953.

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Undisclosed Distillery – Port Askaig 19 year 50.4%

I first sampled this Port Askaig as a sniff, swish and spit “speed date” at Whisky Live Singapore.

I was both impressed and intrigued, knowing it was impossible to get a full feel for this whisky, the Port Askaig 19 year made the cut to come home to Bombay for collective sampling pleasure!

port-askaig-19

Port Askaig 19 year 50.4%

Here is what our original underground group had to say:

  • Nose – Jasmin, then a whole array of flowers, perfumes, hay, lightly toasted sesame seeds, quite restrained overall
  • Palate – Delicious! Balance, nice warm spice, light peat, mellowed, nuanced musk
  • Finish – Long beautiful finish – quite refined
  • Water – Brought out honey and cumin spice
  • Revisit – A huge bouquet of flowers on the nose – one said “like what you give your spouse for a special anniversary.” Followed by lots of hay, that beautifully balanced mellow delicious whisky and long enjoyable finish…

One put it perfectly “This is why we love Scottish whisky!” A fine example of what whisky can and should be! One to sip and savour, sufficiently complex to keep it interesting, quite elegant in its way.

For those who are curious, it is a well known industry secret that Caol Ila is the distillery of this TWE bottling!

port-askaig-19-year

Here is what they have to say about Port Askaig 19 year:

This 19 year old cask-strength edition bursts with fabulously flinty, lemony, seashells-on-the-seashore flavours. This is a truly elemental whisky, perfect for sipping from hip flasks during cold winter walks.

And here is what Billy A over at The Whisky Exchange have to say:

  • Nose: Crisp, stony smoke hides a layer of muddy peat. There are hints of flowers and a thick and spicy middle, reminding me of sponge-cake batter.
  • Palate: A syrupy sweet start is quickly overtaken by flinty smoke and charcoal dust, sherbert fountains, lemons and a hint of violet.
  • Finish: Long and lingering, with sappy wood and sherbet lemons giving way to wood ash in a cast iron stove. After that there’s a lingering green leafiness – fruit leaves?
  • Water: Dirties up the nose with heavily smoked bacon and adds more sweet and sour fruit to the body – lemons, limes and berries galore. The finish loses some of its its ashy bitterness, becoming softer and sweeter.

The trio of whiskies sampled in our undisclosed distillery evening included:

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Undisclosed Distillery Drams – Sansibar, Port Askaig + W+M Highland Heart

While in the grand scheme of things entering our 6th year of monthly whisky meetings may not seem like much, for our original Mumbai whisky club, it is still a marvellous milestone.

The sincerity, dedication and creativity we bring to our sessions just keeps evolving. We put effort into planning our sessions, often collecting whiskies well in advance – as in a year or two.

In 2015, I went fully Japanese sharing bottles purchased a year earlier in Tokyo.

For my 2016 session, I went with Signatory Session theme.

So what to do for my 2017 session?

I put a cheeky twist on our most sacred of traditions – blind tasting. How, you may ask, could there be a twist to something like that? Either you can see the bottle or not.

In this case, we could see the bottles but still not know what distillery we were sampling!

What did I select?

I then added a further sneaky twist to the mix – sharing the exact same bottles in a completely different setting, different company which added a different dimension to the whisky impressions… You can read about the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents reactions here: Undisclosed Distilleries… Again!

wm-sansibar-port-askaig

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