Springbank 12 year cask strength 54.2%

While I was off gallivanting around North America and UAE, my fellow Mumbaikers were exploring whiskies… This is a guest post by Nikkhil Shirodkar, a member of our original Mumbai whisky club.

  • Nose: This time smoky. Think cured meats, bacon and ham. Lovely notes of orange rind and rose petals. Now some ginger, toffee and leather. Superbly balanced.
  • Palate: Beautiful heather notes with vanilla and menthol. Almost reminded me of the old Highland Park 18. The meaty notes turn into gentle vegetal peat. ​Old books/library​ with leather seating. It kept evolving with lovely sherry notes, roasted apricots and that menthol note again.
  • Finish: Long and warming. A touch of lime, dark chocolate and peat interplay in a magical way! A clear winner.
  • Water: With water the peat smoke gets amplified with pepper notes. Some Pastis? Lovely! Despite the strength, no burn or rough edges. Good mouthfeel.

Reveal: The host teasingly gave away the location to be Campbeltown. From there it was a no-brainer! We were left unimpressed with the Burgundy finish. Maybe as a stand alone whisky it would be a perfectly nice dram but not if it is followed by the vastly superior Springbank 12 year. The host however was of the opinion that the 10 year old – which was the official standard – is superior than the current 12 year old version. It would be interesting to do a comparative tasting.

Official notes:

  • Nose: It’s reminiscent of walking in an autumn forest full of pine and chestnut trees, before returning home to the iodine of a Campbeltown malt and ending with a delicate hint of peat.
  • Palate: A gorgeous richness on the palate which is balanced between citrus marmalade on toast and caramelised toasted marshmallows, not forgetting flavours of vanilla and pepper. It’s a lip licking meaty dram.
  • Finish: A delicious, viscous, smooth liquid with a salty edge. It brings back memories of a ham joint which has been marinated in a rich honey sauce and slow baked in the oven.

This whisky was sampled blind, opened in September 2017 in Mumbai for this tasting. With Springbank, it releases its cask strength avatars by editions which tend to sell out quickly. This edition was released in January 2017 and is no longer available.

PS – You can get Springbank 10 year and 18 year in India! Check out The Vault Fine Spirits.

Whiskies sampled in September 2017 by our original club included:

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Writers Tears 2013 Cask Strength 53%

While I was off jaunting around North America and UAE, my fellow Mumbaikers were exploring whiskies… This is a guest post by Nikkhil, a member of our original Mumbai whisky club.
Pour 1: Writers Tears 2013 Cask Strength 53%
  • Nose: Citrus, lemon/lime hit which quickly faded into some mild honey followed by some baked/toasted cereal grain notes – think Marie biscuit. Then suddenly it turned solventy. The nose kept changing rapidly. Some odd notes of pressure cooker boiled peanuts. Hints of green apple. Overall very temperamental. And the initial citrus hit never returned. 
  • Palate: A swift uppercut! Hot but strangely not raw. Young and rather thin on the palate. We did speculate on this being a high strength bottling. Again just like the nose the heat faded quickly! Very little mouthfeel. Volatile. Bitter cereals, tannic and spirit driven. A very muted development. With water it turned more bitter. Some faint banana and herbal notes. We couldn’t quite place this spirit either in terms of its flavour profile or geography.
  • Finish: There was none! We were all unanimous on that.
Reveal: We were quite surprised (in disbelief) and those in the know of this brand were even more so. One member was disappointed as he had highly recommended it based on his previous encounter with Writers Tears in Glasgow. Another member was equally perplexed as this was high up on his wishlist having been recommended by an Irish whiskey aficionado.There was not a hint of the “pot still” character even though it claims to be a vatting of Irish single malt and Irish pot still.
In my experience Irish whiskies always start spirit driven and solventy and benefit immensely given some time in the glass. Could it be the same with this one? Did we sample it too quickly? Perhaps I should have poured one more, let it rest and then revisited it.
The discussion then turned to provenance or rather the lack of it when it comes to newer Irish whiskey with many NDPs (non distiller producer) sourcing the bulk of their matured stock from Cooleys and Middleton.
Official notes: 
 
  • Nose: Flashes of apple with hints of vanilla and honey over a distinctively Irish Pot Still base
  • Taste: Gently spiced with a burst of ginger and butterscotch with background notes of toasted oak
  • Finish: Long, elegant finish with subtle notes of milk chocolate and almonds

Writers Tears whiskies are a combination of unspecified Irish pot still and Irish single malt, triple distilled and aged in ex-bourbon casks.

This bottle was sampled blind, opened in September 2017 in Mumbai for this tasting. It can be found online at the Celtic Whisky Shop for €150.00.

The 2014 edition all appears to be sold out/discontinued on Master of Malt, however The Whisky Exchange still has the 2015 (2100 bottles at $151)  & 2016 (2640 bottles at $151) available. 

This may be a cask where variation between the years makes a difference. What was stellar one year becomes merely average another year or – gasp! – even a disappointment.

Whiskies sampled in September 2017 by our original club included:

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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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Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%

Our final dram of our monsoon malt evening was my bottle of Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%, bought to join an undisclosed distilleries session.

The story of Vintage Malt Whisky Company‘s  Finlaggan is deliberately unclear. As an independent bottler, Brian Crook‘s team has managed to pull off a feat of balancing quality with price for their brand ‘Finlaggan‘ while shrouding in mystery whether they are from many or a single anonymous distillery. Most speculation favours a single distillery – with names bandied about including Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Caol Ila.

The name Finlaggan comes from a loch on the north side of Islay, just west of Port Askaig and the whiskies under this label are intended to “embody the spirit of Islay” with three core NAS expressions: Old Reserve 40%, Eilean Mor 46% and Cask Strength 58%.

They also bottle Islay Storm, which strikes me as clearly Kilchoman – an opinion shared by another fan of the distillery.

I had the pleasure of sampling the Finlaggan Cask Strength 58% three times with other whisky aficionados and again last night in an impromptu, informal random yet most enjoyable evening at home. While the different tasting notes are all variations on a quite similar theme, together they represent an interesting exploration of an exceptionally affordable, quality dram.

1. The Single Cask – Open bottle

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

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

2. The Bombay Malt & Cigar (BMC) Club – Closed bottle

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

Our guesses? After an initial speculation may perhaps be Caol Ila, Bowmore… settled on Laphroaig. But of an older style.

3. Monsoon malts and more – Open bottle from BMC evening

  • Nose – Light leather, slight iodine, chocolate, roasted sesame seed, so sweet
  • Palate – More smoke than heavy peat, utterly delicious, one to enjoy rolling around your mouth
  • Finish – Lovely long smoky cinnamon finish

Rolling around on our palate, considering all factors… our guess was Lagavulin.

The Vintage Malt Whisky Company has this to say about their Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%:

  • Nose: Lovely pungent peat smoke. Smoky bacon with a touch of old leather
  • Palate: Rich sweet smoke. Iodine, lemon zest with a beautiful mouth coating oiliness. Waves of tarry peat
  • Finish: Peppery peat. Soot and ash. Long and warming

No matter the impression, its a marvellously tasty dram at a most affordable price. Definitely gets full marks for value.

Purchased from The Whisky Exchange in London for £48.95 in 2017.

Other whiskies sampled in our Mumbai monsoon malts evening included:

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Speed Tasting – Midleton Dair Ghaelach 58.2%

And now the last of our “Speed Tasting” drams, in an evening where we sampled blind five different drams with just 2-3 minutes each…

What were my hasty impressions of Dram “E”?

Midleton Dair Ghaelach Batch 1, Tree 9, Bottle 2439 58.2% 

  • Nose – Again such a shift in character from the previous whisky. This one was milky chocolate, creamy, perfume powder, banana with even a dash of coffee
  • Palate – Brash to the point of being almost harsh, spicy with a swagger, then settled into pesto… then sweet spices, even a touch of vanilla
  • Finish – Burn… spicy
  • Character & Complexity – Most variation between the different elements, like a ‘3 in 1’ whisky

This one was quite “hot” and young. It was a bit like a “3 in 1” whisky with its different dimensions.

Midleton distillery produces Jameson, with only a few official bottlings under the Midleton name.  Dair Ghaelach is a single pot still whiskey that was aged initially in refill American oak for between 15 and 22 years and then finished for a year in virgin Irish oak from a single tree.

There are different editions, so what we sampled was different than Jim Murray’s 3rd best whisky in the world for 2016 which was 58.1%, tree not specified. Whereas ours was a different batch from Tree 9 at 58.2%.

However just for kicks, let’s see what Mr Murray had to say about it:

  • Nose (23.5) – A plethora of bourbon-style liquorice and honey – though here, closer to heather honey. Polished oak floors, melt-on-the-nose grain… and so it goes on… and on… and on… An odd hybrid of Kentucky and Irish… but a thoroughbred of course…
  • Taste (25) – That is probably one of the greatest deliveries of the year. Absolutely abounds in pot-still character, both being hard as nails and soft as a virgin’s kiss. But the way it interacts with the ulmo honey/red liquorice/heather-honey-vanilla/embracing grain is something of a once in a lifetime experience. And what’s more, barely a hint of spice throughout…
  • Finish (24) – Just long, gorgeously silky and soft and a delicious furtherance of a spellbinding flavour compounds of before…
  • Balance & overall complexity (24.5) – For heaven’s sake. This is just too ridiculously beautiful… and so unmistakably Irish for all the virgin oak. Truly world class.

What were the other whiskies “Speed Tasted“?

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SMWS “Moonlight night at the beach” 20 year 51.9%

Last in our Bombay Malt & Cigar Scotch Malt Whisky Society evening was “Moonlight night at the beach” where we finally, firmly entered into the land of peat – Islay style!

29.216 “Moonlight night at the beach” 20 year (26 Nov 1996) 51.9%

Islay, Virgin Oak Hogsead 293 bottles

  • Nose – Well hello peat! Then as it settled in, revealed citrus, summer meadow, bitter ash, sweet then sour, chocolate cinnamon, bitter almond,  then back to ash, shifting between sweet and smoke
  • Palate – First hit of ash, the 2nd sip was pure sweet, further sips found it to be quite chewy, curiously soft and became increasingly gorgeous as it opened, nice, heavy and almost oily
  • Finish – Sweet cinnamon, long and satisfying

The whisky was wonderfully complex. Peaty but not in an overly forceful way – clearly a mature dram.

And with water….

  • Nose – Citrus, lemon drops, orange, embers rather than a raging fire, sweetness, spice
  • Palate – Young cigar, bitter, wet…
  • Finish – More linear but still most enjoyable

And as it continued to open up, took on a delicious maple bacon. Mmm…. bacon…

Of all the whiskies we sampled in our SMWS evening, this one was unmistakable – a clear Laphroaig! Not of the current mass market “hit me over the head peat” but a mature, much more nuanced older style  Laphroaig. And yes – our guess was spot on.

Here is what the SMWS folks have to say:

The scent made us all feel very cosy and warm; baked chocolate marshmallow apples, a steaming creamy bowl of porridge and gingery plum cake. To taste, crunchy, chewy and crispy skin salmon crackling at first before sweet flavours arrived in the form of honey cured hickory smoked bacon. With water we made a campfire on the beach out of driftwood under a moonlit sky and ate sugar coated fennel seeds and chocolate covered coffee beans both infused with a gentle sweet peat smoke. Nineteen years in an ex-bourbon hogshead, finished in a virgin oak hogshead with a heavy toast and a medium char.

DRINKING TIP: For a walk on the beach at night

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SMWS “Riding a duck bareback up Mount Etna” 9 year 64.5%

Next in our Bombay Malt & Cigar Scotch Malt Whisky Society evening was “Riding a duck bareback up Mount Etna”. Aside from a wee bit of eye rolling at the name, we settled immediately into sampling…

What did we find?

30.94 “Riding a duck bareback up Mount Etna” 9 year (6 June 2007) 64.5%

Speyside, 1st fill Spanish Oak ex-sherry butt, 666 bottles

  • Nose – Coconut, leather saddle, thick honey, 70% bitter chocolate, plums, chocolate covered acai berries, marshmallow, biscuits, toffee
  • Palate – Sweet cinnamon spice, bursting with character, quite dry almost like a PX or Madeira, roasted salty nuts, rich, creamy with a bit of chocolate
  • Finish – Holds…. bitter, a bit woody with more of the cinnamon spice

This is a BIG bold whisky with tremendous complexity. Remarkable to have so much going on after only 9 years. It was also incredibly smooth and balanced for such a powerful alcohol strength – hard to imagine we were sipping 64.5%?!?

In short – we loved this one! It hit all the right elements for complexity…. even after opening for over a hour, the nose still held its own with big toffee sweetness, nicely rounded on the palate and a finish with staying power.

As for guessing? Names such as Glendronach, Glenrothes and a few others were tossed about. With the reveal, delighted to discover it was indeed a Glenrothes.

Here is what the SMWS folks have to say:

We stood at the foot of the volcano; a towering eminence of tightly packed fruitcake and sticky toffee pudding, and gazed up towards the bellowing clouds of pork crackling infused smoke. Climbing onto the back of a giant duck and gripping the leather reins we began our ascent with the spicy smell of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon becoming heavier as we advanced. The ground shook as figs, dates and roasted chestnuts were blasted high into the sky and rivers of molten toffee passed nearby. Sipping export strength navy rum to steady our nerves we bravely continued further towards the summit passing boulders of macadamia nuts, honeycomb and salted chocolate.

DRINKING TIP: Drink whilst reading Tolkien stories to the devil.

What else did we sample in our SMWS evening?

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SMWS “Totally Tastylicious” 15 year 57.8%

Next in our Bombay Malt & Cigar Scotch Malt Whisky Society evening was “Totally Tastylicious” from Speyside. Naturally it was a full cask strength with the distillery not directly disclosed – known only through its code number.

So did we find it totally tasty??

76.131 “Totally Tastylicious” 15 year (30 Sep 2001) 57.8% 268 bottles

  • Nose – Lots of ripe fruits, figs, citrus lime, mandarin orange, black peppercorns, pine, vanilla and cream, cherries, sweet spices, berries, toffee, egg nog, oak…
  • Palate – Salt water taffy, toffee, coffee and caramel, rich fruits and full-bodied
  • Finish – Spice, nice and long – delicious!
  • Water – Not even tempted to try

The nose was fabulous – it simply kept evolving, shifting and revealing different elements. Initially came across as a juicy sherry, it kept morphing eventually settling into a sweet toffee. And the promise on the nose followed through on the palate – really quite gorgeous which continued to a superb finish.

In short, we found this whisky rather wonderful. And yes… tasty!

Our guess? Perhaps an Aberlour but… when we found out it was Mortlach, made perfect sense!

Here is what the SMWS folks have to say:

The nose had truckloads of wood and fruit – we identified orange boxes, orange muscat, Madeira molasses cake, Demerara and dried fruits (figs, dates) on polished wood. The palate was just Wow! – juicy, chewy, tangy, fruity, woody and winey – wine gums, plum stones, grilled almond-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon – and a vigorous nod towards Calvados; liquorice Imps to finish.

Water enhanced the complexity of the nose – orange chocolates, punch-bowl, empty cigar tubes, herbal hedgerows, sherbet, pomanders… The palate – plum, Kirsch, charred wood, toasted cumin seeds – totally tastylicious.

After 14 years in ex-bourbon wood we moved this to a first-fill French oak hogshead.

DRINKING TIP: This is quite different – something to turn to when you need a change.
What else did we sample in our SMWS evening?

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SMWS “Eastern Promise” 14 year 56.8%

First in our Bombay Malt & Cigar Club Scotch Malt Whisky Society evening was “Eastern Promise”. This whisky was selected as a lighter start to our quartet, something to tease the palate awake… and get us in the mood for further delights.

What did we find?

37.85 “Eastern Promise” 14 year (1 Oct 2002) 56.8%

Speyside, Ex-Bourbon Hogsead, 234 bottles

  • Nose – Apple juice, lots of white fruits like pear, a light perfume, talcum powder, gripe water, soft, pink marshmallows, a bit of light heather.. after time was almost chalky with the aromas nearly disappearing. After more time, a bit of lime cordial…
  • Palate – Spice, lightly malty, liquorice, chalk, perhaps a hint of smoke? Quite thin without much weight
  • Finish – Nothing memorable

There was something oddly ‘closed’ or muted about this whisky… resisting opening up hence leaving the impression there should be more to it but we simply couldn’t access.

So we tried adding water…

  • Nose – Initially brought out a light spice, cooked oats almost like a porridge but slightly sour… perhaps more like rice congee? With a drop or two of soya sauce?
  • Palate – A bit of wet mud, almost like compost – like leaves decomposing in a forest after a heavy rain, again that fleeting hint of smoke but quite faint
  • Finish – Still nothing memorable

We tried leaving it to open up further for nearly an hour… and were rewarded with wet mop aromas, sugar water on the palate and a whiff of smoke. Hmmm…

Nope. Sorry. This one didn’t do it for us.

As for guessing? We made a few lacklustre attempts but nothing with any degree of confidence. Turns out it is from the Cragganmore distillery.

As a starter, it certainly succeeded in calibrating our palates to cask strength whiskies. But as a dram, our quest tends towards more complex, weightier whiskies.

But that’s half the fun of whisky explorations – discovering what appeals to your personal palate and what doesn’t.

Here is what the SMWS folks have to say:

We were transported to a Thai street food market with a never-ending variety of fruits as well as a wide selection of dishes on offer all smelling of exotic spices being cooked right in front of us. The stall we stopped at served barbequed spice-rubbed chicken with a kumquat-lemongrass dressing. We decided to have a plateful of it and the mouthfeel was a delicate balance between sweet and spice with a light smoky finish. After some water we were drawn to aromas of rice noodles, shrimp and scallion rolls which we dipped in a soy and oyster sauce – weird but wonderful!

DRINKING TIP: Open your mind and you open your life
 

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BMC explores a Scotch Malt Whisky Society quartet

Once upon a time there were Bombay, Delhi and Pune chapters of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in India. I’ve certainly come across a few bottles in members homes… and rumour has it there remains stock at Indigo too.

However to have an opportunity to explore over an evening four single cask strength SMWS bottles with our Bombay Malt & Cigar Club? Bring it on!

What all did we sample in our SMWS evening?

The bottles reveal only the region, cask type, alcohol strength and in some cases the age… however for those clever enough to do a simple online search, all is revealed about the distillery codes.

As for what we thought? Tasting notes available by clicking on the links above. I should also note, the sampling order which was spot on in terms of a tasting profile progress from light to sweet to robust and peat!

And our cigar of the evening? An Edward Sahakians private vintage selection 1999. A might fine night it was indeed.

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