Islay Iterations – Lagavulin 16 year 43%

The last time the Whisky Ladies enjoyed this Lagavulin 16 year was over two years ago – paired with chocolate, brought by the exact same lady.

No surprise then when it came time for her to host, this perennial favourite anchored the evening, reminding us of why year and year you can simply count on this favourite standard to deliver. In a time of compromises, sometimes distracting marketing iterations, there is something so comforting to return to a “classic.”

Lagavulin 16 year 43%

  • Nose – A few remarked how there was more bacon than we remembered, lots of the lovely honey sweet elements we expect, a slightly floral hint though also quite punchy, the peat is there but subtle and after airing for some time it took on a wonderful full vanilla caramel custard quality
  • Palate – Wow! Just what we wanted! Peat, smooth and smokey not in the least bit heavy, has its complexity but doesn’t make you over-think. Slightly briney salt edge, spice dancing on the tongue, particularly black pepper and cloves, a bit oily… and much like the aroma, let it sit for some time and even on the palate you will be rewarded with warm French vanilla
  • Finish – Woody, slightly bitter closing on a cinnamon spice
  • Water – One lady immediately remarked how it was like Iodex from a medicine shop – in her opinion killing it completely. Whereas after some time, it made it even smoother on the palate, sweeter though had a sense of being a tad “diluted”

Most prefer it neat though on shared  how this is one dram that can “stand up” to an ice cube, chilling it down to a more enjoyable temperature in the Mumbai heat.

Overall, we were delighted to revisit an old familiar friend and kept coming back to its classic style as we wove our way through independent bottlers Islay offerings…

What did we explore in our “Islay Iterations” evening?

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Bar Night – Penderyn, Lagavulin and Aberlour

In lieu of our original planned evening, the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents shifted gears to enjoy their version of a ‘Bar Night’ with a Gurkha cigar.

There was some debate over the tasting order and, in retrospect, it could have had the peatier Lagavulin last, swapping place with the Aberlour. However it all worked out in the end!

Penderyn Madeira 46% 

  • Nose – Initially distinctly varnish, then sweet, banana, citrus sweet oranges, resin, pine, vanilla, apricot, bannoffee pie, then odd bitter, pine needles
  • Palate – Tingle at the front, sweet, acidity at the back, banana sweet
  • Finish – Pleasant yet nothing substantial

The two of us who sampled it earlier, were reminded of why we found it an interesting conversation whisky. While not for everyone, there is a distinctive quality to it that cannot be ignored.

It also turned out to be the dram choice of the night for most gents, as it complimented our Gurkhas rather well.

Lagavulin 16 year 43%

  • Nose – Clear peat, yet rounded not harsh, wet rag, berry sweetness, black berries, shifting into a briny ocean spray, leather
  • Palate – Spice sweet, peat, ash, lovely balance
  • Finish – Lovely sweet

In short, a beautiful whisky! What a treat to return to a familiar friend…Those who once upon a time treated the Lagavulin 16 as a bar ‘staple’ were reminded of why that is the case – its ability to have balanced peat and sweet.

And how did the Lagavulin fare with the cigar? A contrasting pairing, with the whisky the predominant note.

Aberlour 12 year 40%

  • Nose – Prunes, sherry, berry
  • Palate – Candy sweet, cinnamon
  • Finish – Light spice finish

The whisky was oddly disappointing as it was a pale comparison with the more familiar A’bunadh.

And yet it was an absolutely perfectly balanced pairing with the cigar.


Though it wasn’t our original plan, the substitute ‘bar night’ theme worked rather well.

What would you chose as a trio of more accessible drams for a sociable evening?

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Gourmet affair – Westin and whisky combine!

Once and awhile, I have the pleasure of joining special evenings… this was one such night!

TheWestin partnered with Nick Ord from Diageo‘s TheSingleton to host a private pairing of whisky and fine cuisine. It was very clear the chef and team spent considerable time and effort experimenting to find just the right combination (and perhaps imbibing along the way too!).

We were greeted by the poolside with a glass of Singleton, served as we wished. It was a hot muggy dark evening but the company was refreshing, the breeze delightful and the experience worth braving Bombay’s traffic to join!

Warning – my camera photos simply do not do justice… even still, you are liable to become rather envious of those lucky enough to be part of the evening.

With that caveat in mind, read on…

2016-05-22 Westin Whiskies Cards

Glenkinchie 12 year

  • Whisky – Aromatic, vanilla, cut flowers and creamy
  • Salad – Green and white asparagus, burrata with a quinoa chip
  • Pairing – An excellent starting combination, complimented well, whetted the appetite for more to come…

2016-05-14 Westin Asperagus

2016-05-22 Glenkinchie 10 year

Caol Ila 12 year

  • Whisky – Subdued, citrus fruitiness, a fresh and appetising nose, almond oil and after a while a pot pourri
  • Appetiser – Stuffed Kashmiri morels, mushroom puree
  • Pairing – Outstanding! Simply superb! Each on their own excellent but combined was easily one of the best pairings I’ve sampled so far. There was simply something about how the feta stuffed morel merged with the Caol Ila to bring out even more in each. Like taking something already fabulous and bring out something even more spectacular. It was that good.

2016-05-14 Westin Morel

2016-05-22 Caol Ila

Talisker 10 year

  • Whisky – Powerful peat-smoke with just a hint of the sea-water salt of fresh oysters, with a citrus sweetness
  • Option 1 – Panseared scallops, air dried prosciutto, cauliflower and truffle puree
  • Option 2 – Corn fed chicken smoked in clay oven, spiced yogurt, raw mango and pineapple chutney
  • Option 3 – Variation of the chicken dish with smoked paneer instead
  • Pairing – Folks raved about the scallops, spoke well of the chicken and my vegetarian fare was well balanced with the Talisker. Pleasant, worked well but not out of this world like the morel and Caol Ila.

Here Nick Ord from Singleton interjected that we should savour the Talisker 10 as stocks are running low – what is here today may be gone tomorrow.

2016-05-14 Westin Paneer

2016-05-22 Talisker 10 year

Lagavulin 16 year

  • Whisky – Intensely flavoured, peak smoke and a rich, deep sweetness
  • Option 1 – Australian lamb loin with madeira sauce, milanese risotto, truffle
  • Option 2 – Indian lamb shank with a signature ‘tear’ sauce and biryani
  • Options 3 – For vegetarians, broccoli on a mustard infused mash
  • Pairing – Though by all accounts the Australian lamb was excellent, however as a pairing it simply didn’t hit the high notes. In the case of the vegetarian version, the dish brought out spice in the Lagavulin instead of complimenting.  However, by contrast, the Indian lamb biryani was apparently spot on! It was yet another reminder, to not be afraid of bringing more desi flavours into the foreground with whiskies – particularly those with a bit more oomph!

2016-05-14 Westin Lamb

2016-05-22 Lagavulin 16

Singleton by Glen Ord 12 year

  • Whisky – Toasted nut, rich fruit and aromas
  • Desert – Delightful assortment of mignardises from fresh raspberry to a melting almond ganache to a crunchy ball bursting with flavours and more…
  • Pairing – Pure joy! After dutifully sampling a nibble of one with the Singleton, I gleefully abandoned all pretence of sticking to one whisky alone. A small bite of pure sin would tell me which whisky might work best… Fantastic way to close the evening!

2016-05-14 Westin Mignardises

2016-05-22 Singleton

While these single malts are all ‘standards’ – even familiar friends – it is always a pleasure to revisit… particularly with such carefully planned pairings.

TheWestin Mumbai team clearly put a lot of effort into playing around with possible options. Bravo to the organisers, TheWestin team and Nick!

2016-05-14 Westin Whiskies

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Whisky Ladies – Anything better than whisky and chocolate?

Our Whisky Ladies in Mumbai’s February session had a bonus – chocolates specifically designed to pair with whiskies. One set of pralines were meant to pair best with a mild and soft, delicate whisky. The other set were meant to pair with smokey or sherry cask matured whiskies. Each lady also shared a little insight into the bottle she brought….

When Neuhaus meets Single Malt Whiskies

Delicate – Hibiki Harmony NAS 43%

A few of us initially sampled this delightful whisky as a soothing balm after a romp through seven Paul John whiskies – yes in addition to the quintet reviewed, there were two bonus samples direct from the master distiller! Our contributing whisky lady shared how she loves the delicate nuanced balance Harmony achieves with its three component whiskies – Yamasaki, Hakushu and Chita.

What did we discover with Harmony?

  • Whisky – The nose was indeed delicate, nuanced, flowery, honey sweet. The palate was soft, very well constructed. In short, an exceedingly civilised dram to kick-off our evening!
  • Chocolate – Paired with pralines having caramel ganache, caramelised hazelnuts or toasted almonds or a smooth, rich creamy single origin Javanese cocao milk chocolate

Peaty – Lagavulin 16 year 43%

Our contributor confessed this was her ‘go to’ dram during her London student days. For many this was a familiar friend. The kind of peaty ‘curl up by the fireside’ quality you turn to for comfort. For a few, it was a first introduction to this classic Islay dram.

What did we find with the Lagavulin?

  • Nose – Peat, split pea with ham soup, forrest, moss, then sweet honey, vanilla, warm toasted sugared almonds, finally a curl of cinnamon spice
  • Palate – Spicy, smokey, ‘tarka’, a buttery quality, keeps getting sweeter, rich, powerful
  • Finish – Long and dry, moss, smoke, vanilla
  • Quote“I feel like I just took a drag from a cigarette!”

For chocolate, we paired similar to the sherry bomb…

Sherry – Abelour A’bunadh batch 46 (2013) 60.4%

Our whisky lady picked up this particular gem in the US at a speciality whisky store. She shared she wanted something distinctive to bring back to India and was directed to this gorgeous cask strength sherry bomb. She opened it prior to our session, fell in love and with great difficulty was able to keep it reserved for our tasting pleasure.

So…. how was this A’bunadh with chocolate?

  • Whisky – Gorgeous sherry notes of plums, figs, raisins, burnt sugar. Cherry berry sherry bomb on the palate full of rich flavours, well rounded and robust. The finish closed with long drawn out rummy raisins.
  • Chocolate – Paired with pralines having more of a deeper, bitter or more intense single origin chocolate from Peru, or ones containing speculooos or puffed rice to add texture and balance the smokey peat or christmas sweet of sherry

Some may recall we sampled batch 35 at a Whisky Ladies ‘Cask Strength Diwali‘ and for comparison, it was pulled out revealing juicier fruits.

Without a doubt, pairing whiskies with chocolate was a smashing success!

2016-02-27 Whisky + Chocolate

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80s flashback – Lagavulin 16 year ‘White Horse’ 43%

Often when people of a peaty persuasion are looking for a reliable single malt to enjoy or gift, I will direct them to Lagavulin 16 year. This islay whisky is known for its ‘house style’ of well balanced peat, rich, dry and entirely dependable.

Lagavulin will officially turn 200 next year… unofficially it actually is a wee bit illegally older harkening back to 1795. So what a treat to sample an earlier incarnation of the iconic Lagavulin 16 year!

20151121_Lagavulin 16 'White Horse'

The third from our remarkable evening featuring rare malts… we tasted blind discovering:

  • Colour – Burnished copper (clearly sherry cask!)
  • Nose – Honey, vanilla, a very ‘classic’ feel, spice, sweet basil, light plum, saunf (fennel), a bit of nougat peeping beneath, mild pinch of peat
  • Palate – Oily, rancid, rust, copper, iron.. in short quite metallic, dry, chilly pepper, then starts to sweeten, cinnamon, a bit of chocolate, smooth and increasingly sweet with each sip
  • Finish – Sits there, doesn’t do anything in particular except for a bit of pepper

Comments included “has the smell of an old library” and the “taste of rust.” Which may not sound terribly pleasant however when you experience it, has a compelling quality.

With the reveal, it was considered the “dark horse” of the evening as it displays the classic roots of our familiar friend – the modern avatar of Lagavulin 16 year – with some distinctly different notes.

This particular bottle is a collectors item – part of the initial 16 year old releases in the 1980s under the ‘White Horse’ label.

Interestingly, Lagavulin was indirectly responsible for our evening… it was the ‘amazing discovery’ of Lagavulin whisky that sparked the whisky explorations that became Malt Madness – read the story here.

It also, in turn, transformed a regular working man on a trip postponing his flight back to India, getting a car and driving straight to the distillery to morph into India’s Malt Maniac.

It even brought together members of our Mumbai private whisky tasting group who 1st met at the Lagavulin distillery… A fitting note indeed to close our rare malt transport back in time to the flavours and feel of whisky from the 1980s.

This remarkable malt came courtesy of India’s Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula at an evening organised by The Secret Supper Project and The Vault Fine Spirits in celebration of 20 years of Malt Madness.

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80s vs today whisky styles

The 1980s was a time of pac-man, tetris, Apple computers, big chunky jewellery, hair that defied gravity, caked on make-up, and some very bad pop hits.

For some of us, the 1980s was also a time where we shouted “ban the bomb” and “anhilitate apartheid!”, where we stood firm with our brethren in Tiananmen Square, the Palestinian intifada, watched the wall come down and yes… had funky spiked hair, grunge clothes and hung out at punk rock gigs.

If you haven’t figured out which camp I belonged to… pop over to Everyday Asia and check out the photographic evidence in “How I got ‘hooked’ on going away.”

However, the 1980s didn’t happen to be a time that I could afford whisky! I was far too deeply buried into heavy academic tomes to surface to sniff, swirl, swish and swallow a single malt.

Rumour has it that the 1980s happened to produce many rather good drams. More than a few whisky experts around the globe speak of how whisky styles have changed between ‘then’ and ‘now’, noting that with the increased demand for single malt growing globally, production methods, quality controls and shifts in palates have created differences in whiskies produced 30+ years ago with those matured today.

After sampling the remarkable Glendronach grand dames and then the rare Karuizawa 39 year from 1973 with whisky stock laid in the early 1970s, we had another exceptional evening that sampled whiskies from the 1980s… There is indeed something ‘different’ about these drams!

1980s whiskies

1980s whiskies

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