Dynamic Duo 1 – Benromach vs Cragganmore

It has been nearly three years since I first traveled to Berlin – one of those “live wire” global cities that has a palpable pulse of its own. A fellow whisky explorer let me know he was coming from London for the weekend so it made a perfect excuse to pop over for the weekend.

We went to the very well stocked Union Jack whisky bar! Turns out we were lucky to go on a Saturday – one of the two days in a week they are now open.

We were very well taken care of with carefully thought through choices. Our mandate was clear… we wanted to explore – two at a time til the grand finale of something utterly indulgent and extremely rare.

We wanted to start with an “appetizer” duolll something to ease into the evening. Our guide recommended

The thinking was to match to interesting yet ‘lighter’ options to whet our appetites. Particularly with the Cragganmore, we were assured this Distillers Edition is like none other and well worth trying. As for Benromach, we’ve enjoyed many a solid dram from this distillery.

So what did we think?

Cragganmore Distillers Edition (2008/2020) D6572 40%

  • Nose – Dried fruit, light spice with a woody musty malty aroma, mixed with the sweetness was a salty sour caramel. As it opened up further, it revealed orange marmalade with a citrus twist… and with even more time honeysuckle and a touch of hay
  • Palate – A nice spice, more whisky marmalade, woodiness…even resin, sweet spices of clove and black pepper, oily
  • Finish – More of that light spice, dry in a way that prompts you to ‘pucker up’ chased by oak and a touch of sweetness

It had a nice understated quality…. as for the marmalade? It was a distinctly “whisky” marmalade… which worked rather well. There was also much more body than the aromas would have suggested.

Overall it was an enjoyable start and much more interesting that we expected – particularly at a mere 40%.

Benromach 15 year 43%

  • Nose – Citrus oranges and calvados then a bit “woodsy” and beeswax polish, a dash of ginger and then…. after the 1st sip – wow peat?! Like having sweet roasted marshmallows crisped on a campfire, then sour cherries and a hint of sherry
  • Palate – Silky smooth with a lovely peat, elegant and balanced with toffee sweetness and fruity, hint of chocolate
  • Finish – A lovely long finish, truly lovely

Carrying on from the Cragganmore to the Benromach was a good choice! It was like shifting into an antique – it was like opening a lovely 1930 Art Deco cupboard to discover a special treat.

What else do we know? It was matured in 1st fill bourbon and sherry casks. An official bottling that is currently still available.

What do the folks at Benromach have to say?

  • Colour – dark amber
  • Aroma – Aromas of sweet toffee leading to notes of cracked black pepper and peat smoke. Rich forest fruits develop with dark chocolate and dried banana.
  • Palate – Creamy and sweet with ripe apples and an undertone of charred oak. Dark chocolate develops and leads to toasted malt and orange peel with a subtle hint of smoke.
  • Finish – Medium creamy finish with soft smoke and dried fruit

No doubt for us – the Benromach was the winner! What a treat!

If you were curious to try, they are both still available with the Cragganmore currently retailing for approx EUR 53 and the Benromach 15 for approx EUR 70.

As for what next? We had a few more to come…

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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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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…


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


  • 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!


  • 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…


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Whisky Archives – Food Pairing with Cragganmore, Talisker, Lagavulin, Springbank 18 year

Another from our archives, this time a special pairing of food and whisky from Dec 2013.

For the last tasting of 2013, we celebrated with a special whisky-food pairing. Tasting notes were provided to the chef in advance and he was given full license to indulge his creative culinary talents to craft morsels to be complimented by the selected whiskies.

Our approach was to first sniff, swill and sample the whisky then to sip further with food. The idea was to savour both together and distil the flavours. Only after we ate and drank our fill of each course was the whisky revealed. The key was – could the whisky both stand ‘on its own’ and did it enhance the flavours of the food?

Good to the last dram! (Photo: Carissa Hickling)

1st whisky – Cragganmore 12 year, 40%

  • Nose – It was like sniffing an entire fruit basket, banana, citrus, caramel – unmistakably bourbon cask
  • Taste – Leathery with distinct woodiness, slightly smoky
  • Finish – Smooth, warm, mild

Paired with a beetroot crêpe roll filed with two cheeses, a peppery surprise and sprig of parsley.

  • Pairing pronouncement? Complimented fabulously! The chef shared that the tasting notes he received made the whisky sound rather insipid. So he opted for softer flavours with just a bit of pepper kick.
  • Whisky verdict? Young dude, with a bit of fuzz not yet manly stubble…

Cragganmore 12 year (Photo: Carissa Hickling)


1st pairing with beetroot crepe roll filled with cheese, pepper & a sprig of parsley (Photo: Carissa Hickling)

2nd whisky – Talisker 10 year 45.5%

  • Nose – Peat, smoked bacon, heather, moss… one member was reminded of the glycerine of life boy soap
  • Taste – Spice, little harsh
  • Finish – Nothing to write home about

Paired with two options:

  • Non-Veg – Peppered chicken with fresh pineapple chunks in a reduced pineapple juice and coriander salsa
  • Veg – Bruschetta with tomato, parsley, emmenthal cheese

Pairing pronouncement? Not so much complimenting as finishing. We admitted to the chef, this was not an entirely successful pairing. Some preferred chicken, some preferred veg.

Whisky verdict? Huskier, gruff guy… a bit rough around the edges but not a bad sort.

2nd whisky - Talisker 10 year (Photo: Carissa Hickling)


2nd course: Chicken chunks with pineapple salsa (Photo: Carissa Hickling)

3rd whisky – Lagavulin 16 year, 46%

  • Notes – Oily, brine, smoke, early morning jasmine… bacon again but saltier, wet earth smell
  • Taste – Wood, leather, strongly peated, not harsh unless breathe it in
  • Finish – Long smoky

Paired with a deconstructed vegetarian lasagne with pasta rounds made fresh that day and filled with a mix of vegetables, cheese added on top. Mix in the pesto – perfection!! We also declared that complimenting with pepper was very much a “now we are talking” kind of combination with whisky.

  • Pairing pronouncement? Yum! Cheesy, peppery, add the pesto and voilà! A perfect match with the smoky whisky.
  • Whisky verdict? Universal surprise. Lagavulin’s 16 year is a familiar favourite however we found the character quite different when paired with food.

3rd whisky: Lagavulin 16 year (Photo: Carissa Hickling)


3rd course: Deconstructed vegetarian lasagne (Photo: Carissa Hickling)

4th whisky – Springbank 18 year 46%

  • Nose – Sweet, citrus, a light peat, reduced orange peel, for me – an instant flashback to my father’s chemistry lab and others also discovered a medicinal whiff or two
  • Taste – Woody, bitter sourness, chewy, oil, rubber
  • Finish – Long, hint of sea salt, citrusy orange

Paired with chocolate orange mud cake followed by a sampling of Pierre Marcolini’s chocolates with the ‘saveurs du monde’ collection.

  • Pairing pronouncement? Brilliant – the orange burst from both the Springbank and cake – delightful! And the chocolates? An utterly sinful and blissful combination!
  • Whisky verdict? A bit of a loner, has seen life, strong character and opinionated. One member joked it is a bit like the distillery which is staunchly independent, take weeks to reply to communications, slightly cantankerous but worth persisting to check out!

4th whisky: Springbank 18 year (Photo: Carissa Hickling)


4th pairing's extra special treat - Pierre Marcolini's journey around the world in chocolate! (Photo: Carissa Hickling)


Mmmmm...... (Photo: Carissa Hickling)


A few learnings for us included:

  • Just because you’ve had the whisky before, doesn’t mean the next time you’ll have the same experience – our tasting with food brought a fresh new set of insights.
  • Food very much influences the palate and experience.  As one member put it:

“What a rich robust red wine does for beef, peaty whisky does for peppery lasagna.”

  • Courses also have an impact – as another member put it:

“One cannot assume if the third course is with Ardbeg or Lagavulin, it is going to be very peaty and therefore plan the food to compliment the smokiness. We need to understand that the palette is already coated with the first two courses, and therefore there is going to be less peat on the palette, and so the food needs to compliment this and not the Lagavulin we have from our memory.”

  • We were reminded that cheese and chocolate are known to combine well with most whiskies. Our discovery was that cracked black pepper does too – at least with the whiskies we sampled.
  • Our next challenge is to try a pairing with flavours that have no cheese or chocolate – perhaps a four course Indian meal?

Have you ever paired whisky with food? What is your favourite combination?

PS – Apologies for the poor photo quality – camera settings went wonky and replacement phone’s camera isn’t ideal with the flash going on over-drive in the otherwise perfect mood and lighting of our evening. Clearly I’m NOT a photographer!

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