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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Dream Drams – Aultmore 5 year (2007) 66.8%

Master of Malt for years has been my ‘go to’ online source when searching for just a little bit more about a particular whisky – including an idea of price!

However until our rare malts session with Malt Maniac Krish Nakula, I had never had a Master of Malt bottling… to have it be a young 5 year old Aultmore… at a mind boggling strength of 66.8%? Very intrigued…

Aultmore 5 year (12 March 2007/May 2012) 66.8% 1st fill sherry oak puncheon, Bottle 021 of 628 (Master of Malt)

  • Nose – Nutmeg, egg nog or Dutch Advocaat liquer, spicy buttermilk like chaas, quite herbaceous, spicy, creamy, avocado, phenolic like walking into a chemist’s shop, then all spice, a Bengali panch phoran of cumin, fennel, fenugreek, black mustard seeds and kalonji (nigella), then shifts into delightful sherry notes of rum raisins, stewed plums
  • Palate – Spice, honey cinnamon, no doubt this was high alcohol but not dauntingly so, mince pie, thick honey, treacle, marmalade, chillies
  • Finish – Very dry, has a bit of a burn, extreme clove on the finish, then a debate between black liquorice and fennel, then again the nutmeg

I must admit, on the 1st sip, three tasters grabbed for water… when adding water to the whisky, we found:

  • Nose – Lots of sweet notes, pepper spice, almost like spiced rum
  • Palate – It needed the water! Breath through sweet spice… again it was almost rum like
  • Finish – Remains dry yet more accessible

Overall we found the complexity and range of elements remarkable for such a young dram – particularly given its high strength.

Krishna kindly gifted this bottle to me so that the Whisky Ladies could try it in an upcoming session. As I prepared to write this post, I was tempted to do a small pour to revisit… and gave in… All elements were consistent with what we found earlier, with the sherry quality even more pronounced.

What I hadn’t observed in the 1st round was how much this reminds me of the powerful and flavourful Hampden 2010 Jamaican single rum…. at 68.5%, there are few spirits out there quite so high in alcohol that are still eminently drinkable. Or so I thought… turns out some of the Whisky Ladies had a different opinion!

While the Aultmore 2007 is no longer available, the folks over at Master of Malt have a 2009 version for $71.

This isn’t the first time we’ve bottled a 5 year old Aultmore for our Single Cask Series, nor is it the first time that whisky from this distillery has shown so well at such a relatively young age. No coincidence there. Distilled in May 2009 and bottled in April 2015, this bottling says “age ain’t nothing but a number”. Other numbers include 65.4, the natural cask strength abv, and 122, the number of bottles produced.

PS – Alas this Aultmore was the victim of a cracked cork… which meant a perfect candidate for an anti-oxidation trick.

Other whiskies savoured in our “Dream Drams” evening:

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Dream Drams – Mortlach 1976, Lochside 1981, Mosstowie 1979, Aultmore 2007

There are tasting experiences that collectively push the bar to a completely different level.

On this particular monsoon evening in Mumbai with Malt Maniac’s Krishna Nakula, none were standard distillery drams. All but one would qualify as ‘adult‘ whiskies, representative of an older style… From Gordon & MacPhail‘s rare old collection  of closed distilleries to Signatory Vintage‘s mature cask strength set to a unique Master of Malt single cask series, these were no ordinary single malts.

These were the drams that dreams are made of… prompting a few of us wonder… are we truly worthy?

What did we sample?

You will simply need to be patient over the coming weeks as I catch up with all the marvellous malts enjoyed. Trust me… it will be worth the wait.

And a HUUUUGE thank you to our host, whisky contributors who made such an exceptional evening possible! You know who you are.

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