Random whisky tasting at KODE

When we started our different whisky tasting clubs in Mumbai it was at a time where the offerings readily available beyond whiskies personally brought into the country were rather limited. Fast forward and today it is possible to have a respectable flight… right here in the city… for a price.

That shared, we likely won’t see many single casks entering anytime soon… in part because to import requires donating a “sample” for testing purposes. When a product has only say 100 bottles in the world and to sell at best a handful in a particular state, it becomes impossible to justify such a “donation”.

So while the more unusual limited edition specimens likely won’t show up anytime soon,  the overall range is sufficient for those curious to be inducted into the world of single malts and whiskies in general.

Which is exactly what we sat down to accomplish one fine evening at KODE in Mumbai early April.

My sampling companions and I warned the waiter that we would be requesting different bottles, sniffing then selecting so to be patient with us. And they were.

We began with a clear progression from light to distinctive profiles…

I’d initially thought to start with Compass Box Hedonism as it is such an unusual yet light whisky. They were just out of stock, so shifted instead to a readily accessible “appetizer”:

Our palates now acclimated, our real journey began with:

I then wanted to shift gears to start to discern more subtle complex flavours… It was wishful thinking to hope Glendronach 18 year might be available however did have a choice between the 12, 15 and 21 year... We went with:

  • Scotland – Glendronach – Glendronach 15 year “Revival” 46%*

Then split into the following to cater to the emerging different palate preferences of my sampling companions:

As conversation veered towards talk of casks and the difference between a Scottish single malt and Bourbon, I thought it would be good to do a wee detour to the US to contrast what we sampled so far with Bourbon & Rye:

Then proceeded to compare the nuances between very similar whiskies from Glenmorangie that have different finishes:

  • Scotland – Highland – Glenorangie Lasanta 12 year 46% – Olorosso & PX Sherrry finish
  • Scotland – Highland – Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 12 year 46% – Port finish

And finally we closed with a split between revisiting whiskies that “stood” out for my companions:

*Just in case you were wondering what all the “asterisk” mean… each of these bottles were brought into India thanks to Keshav Prakash with The Vault Fine Spirits. I’m incredibly proud of what Keshav and his team have achieved and have made a huge impact on the range now available in Mumbai. Thank you!

KODE – Freestyle Bar and Kitchen

Ground Floor – 11, Oasis City, Kamala Mills – Entrance #2, Lower Parel,, Mumbai, Lower Parel, Mumbai, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400013. Tel: 077188 82924

PS It may seem like an insane quantity of whisky but keep in mind we were splitting 30 ml singles – focusing more on sniffing, swishing and savouring.

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Waldviertler J.H. Single Malt 41% + Rye Malt 41%

Next up from Austria was a duo from Waldviertler J.H. with their 5 year Single Malt and 6 year Rye Malt.

Both come from the Austrian distillery J Haider in Roggenreith, north of the Danube river. It was founded in 1995 by the Master Distiller Johann Haider and his wife Monika Haider. While new to us, it seems the distillery has become such a tourist attraction that by 2011 it had 80,000 visitors a year (FYI double Glenlivet)

What did we think?

Valdviertler J.H. 5 year Single Malt 41%

  • Nose – Plastic, glue, why tried to say honey?? Perfume but more of an industrial, chemical variant than fine perfume, amaretto, syrupy, dusty grain
  • Palate – Raw wheat, gehu (guar gum), quite crude (one called it ‘battery acid’)
  • Finish – Unrefined

To say it didn’t hit the spot was an understatement. To be fair, this group of Whisky Ladies have little familiarity with rye. At best the Canadian know if from youthful follies of Rye and Ginger(ale).

And this Austrian Rye was decidedly young… something we would describe in hindi as ‘kaccha’ meaning it is raw or uncooked… for something that really should be prepared properly.

Yet like many of these experiments, it was interesting to try… just wouldn’t go out of our way to repeat.

Here’s briefly what the distillery has to say:

Single Malt J.H. and Dark Single Malt J.H. are made from 100% barley malt. When the malt is roasted lightly, caramel tones emerge, while dark roasting produces coffee-caramel tones.

Valdviertler J.H. 6 year Rye Malt 41%

  • Nose – Surprisingly similar to the Rye, but more honey, antisceptic, gummy adhensive, with a whiff of flowers like rajnigandha jasmine
  • Palate – Malt grain, ply or cardboard, rancio, completely ‘kaccha’
  • Finish – Holds… but why? In truth for this finish holding isn’t a good thing

What can we say without sounding discourteous… this was simply not a single malt for us. Far too raw, like hooch that touched wood.

Here’s briefly what the distillery has to say:

Rye Malt J.H. is made from 100% malted rye, light roasted(41%. alc.). 
Flavor: This rye malt whisky is unique in Euroe, its mellow sweet honey note evolving from the special malting of the rye, hamonising perfectly with the light vanilla flavor of the sessile oak (local oak).

Like Wiser’s Uuahouua Pinot Noir, you can purchase the Rye Malt from the Austrian Supermarket for approximately €62 for the 700 ml bottle.

Here’s what they have to say:

The Original Rye Whisky J.H. is the best-selling whiskey and has added much to the family’s success. Ever since 1995 the family business of family Haider has been distilling whisky at the highest stage possible, making them and their exquisite liquor an international pioneer. Family Haider started to destil Schnaps in the 1990’s using a … Alle Produkte von Waldviertler Whisky Haider

Learn more about the distillery from Whisky Intelligence’s “Milk or Whisky? Austria’s first distillery Walviertler Roggenhof”

What all did we enjoy in our Après-ski evening?

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Whisky Ladies Après-ski

With December, one often thinks of winter, skiing, coming in stomping off the snow, peeling off toque, scarf, mittens and many layers, settling down in front of a roaring fire to enjoy a drink, food, great company… all the while making merry.

Our Whisky Ladies decided to embrace a decidedly northern theme of “Aprèsski” with European whiskies where one can also enjoy winter sports, even though it remains a balmy 27’c in Mumbai.

We began our evening with mulled wine made by our Swedish host and lebkuchen smuggled in from a recent trip to Germany… then quickly shifted gears to a rather remarkable line-up with a few whiskies anchoring the session with full pours and a couple of small shared samples picked up by a Whisky Lady while backpacking around Austria!

Here is what we tried:

*While matured in France using European barrels, strictly speaking the new make spirit is from Scotland… with the  most annoyingly difficult wax on the cork which required a ‘proper’ corkscrew to pop open. How peculiar! As is the whisky too…

As for the others, just click on the links and read what we thought!

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Rye Night – Cody Road 100% Rye Whiskey 40%

In all our six years of sampling whiskies, our original Mumbai tasting group‘s adventures have only touched on rye every once and again… it has never once been a fully fledged featured evening… until now.

Alas I again had to miss our session as was off gallvanting around Germany, however our resident guest whisky writer Nikkhil is back again to share our group’s impressions.

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Pour 1: Cody Road 100% Rye Whiskey | 40% Abv

  • AppearanceCaramel
  • Nose: Spicy, citrus sour green tamarind on the tree, lemon drops, sweet poppins, orange mithai which gave way to a distinct raw turmeric (haldi root but not the dried one) note. Some ravalgaon toffee notes now in the glass. A very unusual flavour profile which was not yet experienced by the group. Certainly non-scottish!
  • Palate: Spicy and bitter. More turmeric/ginger notes on the mid-palate. Marigold flower petals! I’ve never experienced that before in any spirit. Some caramel popping its head up now. There was something plasticine about it which hit the back of the tongue. Almost like an off note. This I find commonly in first pours and usually settles thanks to oxidation as the level goes down in the bottle.
  • Finish: Spice and bitter stay at the back of the palate. A medium linger with a hint of cocoa notes.
  • With water sweet vanilla, a hint of mint. The bitterness stays. Overall a shy palate.

After 20min rest: The nose and the palate had completely opened up. It smelt and tasted like a cold sweet paan in a bottle! Lovely. The mouthfeel now had an oily consistency. Some cloves, cinnamon and over ripe bananas. Very fruity. The plasticine notes subdued significantly. Time in glass as important as time in cask. Every whisky tasting is a two way conversation and we must avoid the tendency to rush into our tastings in an effort to form or announce our impressions.

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What is interesting is how we have developed a clear slow down, sample, set aside and revisit approach (where we have enough Glencairn glasses!)… more often than not, the whisky will shift with more air – sometimes revealing additional quite interesting qualities, sometimes the opposite where once something that was quite appealing becomes “not” as it becomes sour or its aromas just vanish!

The original’s rye night contained:

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It twas a rye, rye, rye night!

As I was traveling when our original club’s October session happened, our guest whisky writer Nikkhil again stepped up to the occasion.

What made this particularly unique was our 1st ever session focused purely on Rye. As per our normal approach, the merry malters sampled completely blind before the reveal.  

The original’s rye evening contained:

Nikkhil’s comments on the evening:

The hostess revealed all three bottles together. She had chosen a Rye theme for her session and it was indeed a very interesting experience for all of us. It was a first for me. Turmeric and paan notes are not what one would normally associate with a whiskey yet there they were!

The group was divided between the Cody Road & ​Cascadia Rye​ with me preferring the former. High West was not up to the groups liking. I had never imagined a Rye to be “finished” in sherry/port casks.

The Cascadia Rye did have a distinct pinkish hue and that sulphur note. Could the sulphur be because of the port cask finish? Cask fumigation by burning sulphur candles or brimstone sticks has been used to preserve casked wine and to prevent bacterial contamination of casks stored empty. It can also creep up if batches are distilled too fast or in too warm climate​. Cask maturation can significantly mitigate the effect of sulphur after 3 years. But by law an American straight Rye can be bottled after 2 yrs in the cask. Could it be the latter than the former? The mystery continues!

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Speed Tasting – Pikesville 110 Proof Straight Rye 55%

My “Speed Tasting” continued with the clock ticking far too quickly! Two drams down… on to the 3rd with approximately 2-3 minutes to quickly rate according to nose, taste, finish, character & complexity.

What were my hasty impressions?

Pikesville 6 year 110 Proof Straight Rye 55%

  • Nose – Took a few moments to calibrate from the earlier whisky as initial impression was varnish! Then over-ripe fruit. VANILLA – with a reason for ‘shouting’ as this was such a dominant note. Then eased into flowers. After more airing (during the revisit post speed tasting), the vanilla had faded and the nose shifted into something deeper
  • Palate – Smooth, finally we found real body, other elements too, fruity, a bit nutty, clearly rye with a spicy chaser
  • Finish – Quite a decent length, savoury and sweet spice
  • Character & Complexity – The first to have some complexity, interesting

Quite a contrast from the earlier whisky, which was all sweetness in the end.

Most were confident this wasn’t Scottish and identified it as a rye. For a few, this was the 2nd highest rated dram of the bunch.

But was it outstanding? 2nd best in the world? Hmm…

And that was exactly the point of our “Speed Tasting” organizer, who mixed into our five mystery malts, Jim Murray’s top 3 whiskies for 2016.

Image Pikesvillerye.com

And what did Jim Murray have to say in his 2016 Whisky Bible about this dram?

  • Nose 24.5/25 – Textbook. The fruitiness of the rye shimmers on the nose; a light spice tingles in Demerara rum fashion. Carry on nosing and you will, if patient and able enough, find unusual depths to which few whiskies reach. The tantalizing chocolate-liquorice at about three quarters depths is one of the aromas of the year;
  • Taste 24.5/25 – After that nose, the delivery just had to be majestic. And it is. The rye grain fair rattles against the teeth, the sugars – crystalline, dark and tinged with both molasses and muscovado – help bring its salivating qualities to a maximum. Then those spices… those wonderful, bustling, fizzing spices…
  • Finish 24/25 – A lovely mix between ulmo and Zambian forest honey keeps the sweetness lingering to the end. The rye, of course, continues to sparkle and spice its way to the last embers of the fade… which is a long way away… 
  • Balance & Complexity 24.5/25 – The most stunning of ryes and the best from Heaven Hill for some time.

And the official Pikesville tasting notes?

  • Colour – Pale copper
  • Nose – Dusty cocoa notes with oaky smoke underneath
  • Palate – Dry and spicy, with honeyed rye and cloves
  • Finish – Soft vanilla and baking spices

While Heaven Hill’s Pikesville was originally from Maryland, it is now produced in  Kentucky, aged for at least 6 years.

Photo: Keshav Prakash

What were the other whiskies “Speed Tasted“?

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Speed Tasting – Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye 45%

During monsoon, we had a remarkable experience “Speed Tasting” where we rated five different drams in the space of 15 minutes with approximately 2-3 minutes per dram.

We had no idea what we were sampling… This was my 2nd dram and merely known as whisky “B”…

Our first part was tasting in silence and rating

What were my hasty impressions?

  • Nose – Sweet, fruity, yoghurt, young and fresh, light spice, quite piquant, a bit of grass and a quality almost like agave, then shifted to sweet – like candy floss or bazooka gum or juicy fruit or banana candies or… (you get the picture!) –  returning later it was pure honey sweet
  • Palate – Much spicier than the nose indicated, almost harsh on 1st sip, peppery, then settled down and became sweeter and smooth
  • Finish – Holds for a bit but quite linear
  • Character & Complexity – Bright, young, and dropped its spice to become insanely sweet

Our 2nd part was brief discussion with a wee bit of guessing…

Impressions – most thought this may be rye. We also thought it wasn’t your ordinary rye and may be matured in something quite different – perhaps cognac cask.

None of us gave this top rating however it certainly wasn’t last.

And the reveal?

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye 45%

I’ll admit that I’m not so familiar with rye whiskies… and I certainly didn’t pinpoint this as Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye, even after we were given a short-list of options. Admittedly, I’d had it only in passing with no proper tasting so far. What I remembered most was an almost ‘ginger ale’ quality which I didn’t connect with this experience.

And what did Jim Murray have to say in his 2016 Whisky Bible when awarding this dram?

  • Nose 25/25 – The rye is not just profound and three dimensional, but has that extraordinary trick of allowing new elements to to take their place: rarely does ulema honey and manuka honey link arms when rye is around, but they do here, yet never for a second diminish the sharpness and presence of the grain;
  • Taste 24/25 – Salivating and sensual on delivery, hardly for a second are we not reminded that rye is at work here. And it makes itself heard loudly through the stiff backbone from which all the softer, sugary notes emanate. Crunchy and at times bitter, though in a pleasant controlled way from the grain, rather than from a questionable cask.
  • Finish 23.5/25 – Quietens rapidly, though only for a moment or two before the spices begin to pulse again and vanillas take up their comfortable positions;
  • Balance & Complexity 24.5/25 – This is the kind of whisky you dream of dropping into your tasting room. Rye, that most eloquent of grains, not just turning up to charm and enthral but to also take us through a routine which reaches new heights of beauty and complexity. To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice.

And the official Crown Royal tasting notes?

  • Nose – Baking spices, cereal, light wood spices
  • Palate – Gentle oak note, rich butterscotch, spiced vanilla, develops into soft peppery notes
  • Finish – Smooth and creamy

A few folks may know that Crown Royal is from my home province of Manitoba. Or that in 2016, I had the pleasure of touring their plant in the very picturesque Gimli with my parents.

Gimli (Photo: Clarina Taylor)

What were the other whiskies “Speed Tasted“?

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Nordic Explorers #11 – Denmark’s Stauning Young Rye 2010/2011

Next up in our Nordic Explorer‘s session was a whisky from Denmark’s Stauning distillery.

Stauning was founded in 2005 by nine whisky enthusiasts in western Denmark with a dram to make a Danish dram that uses locally sourced grain, locally malted and, where relevant, using Danish peat.  Encouraged by a meeting with Jim Murray and his positive reviews of their early results, the team bought a farm near Staining and built new premises in 2009.

Stauning Young Rye (2010/2011 – Oct 2012) Batch 5 49.3% 

  • Nose – Inoffensive yet still veering more in the harsh nose cleanser territory, clearly rye, raw yet more muted than the rawness of the Floki, some spice sharpness, a dusty dry sawdust dimension, then became sweeter with overripe melon and honey
  • Palate – Grain rye, smooth and doesn’t burn with a hint of apricot
  • Finish – Normally a finish that stays is a good thing… in this case not so much

Perhaps it is just that my Nordic whisky lady companion and I are simply not partial to rye whiskies or perhaps it was just that after the fabulous Teerenpeli Kaski, the Stauning Young Rye didn’t even come close to measuring up.

It reminded both of us of the slightly peculiar grain experiments we recently tried from AD Laws – Triticum and Hordeum. Neither were to our taste. Perhaps a rye fan would find other elements we missed… That’s all part of the range of whiskies that appeal to different palates and preferences.

Here are the folks at Stauning have to say:

  • Colour – amber, dark
  • Aroma – Rye, fruit, cinnamon
  • Taste – Rye, apple, apricot
  • Finish – Very long, cinnamon, oak, raisin, chocolate

Stauning Rye takes an usual approach in using a large proportion malted rye, then matured in new white oak barrels.

*** Whiskies courtesy of 

For more information, do read Thomas’ posts on Whisky Saga. Specifically:

A fascinating journey so far with our Nordic whisky experiences:

  1. Smögen Single Cask 7/2011 4 year old 57.3%
  2. Smögen Sherry Project 1:4 57.2%
  3. Box Whisky The Festival 2015 54.5%
  4. Shareholders 2016 52%
  5. Mackmyra Preludium:01 – De Första Dropparna, 3 year 55.6%
  6. Mackmyra 8 YO Dram Good Whisky 54.4%
  7. Mackmyra Bachair 3 YO Private Cask
  8. Audny Series 3 4 year 46%
  9. Flóki Young Malt 1st Edition 47%
  10. Teerenpeli Kaski Distiller’s Choice 43%
  11. Stauning Young Rye (2010/2011 – Oct 2012) 49.3% Batch 5 (this post)
  12. Stauning Peated 4 year (2009/2013) 55% 2nd Edition (coming next)

With only one more to go, our Nordic whisky adventures are nearly over…

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Rough Rider ‘Bull Moose’ Three Barrel Rye 45%

Next up in our American tour was a surprise from New York – bottled by Long Island Spirits.

This rye is matured for only one year and made from a mash of 95% rye and 5% malted barley, matured in three barrels – new American oak, straight bourbon cask, then finished in casks used to age Pine Barrens Single Malt Whiskey. The ‘Bull Moose’ name comes from the nickname of Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, formed in 1912. True Americana!

As usual we sampled blind then revealed the whisky. Here is what we found…

Rough Rider
Rough Rider ‘Bull Moose’ Three Barrel Rye 45% cask select 1

  • Colour – Deeper amber than the Russell’s Reserve
  • Nose – Lemon soapy scented bubble bath, fresh sawdust
  • TasteRuafza (sweet rose syrup), sweet on the tongue while harsh at the back, wine notes with a chardonnay brightness or gewürztraminer sweetness, smooth
  • Finish – Very surface level, slightly sour
Observations:
  • One thought had slightly synthetic flavour
  • Another suggested would be best drunk at a brunch, paired with a lemon tart
  • For a one-year old baccha (child),  not bad… but not qualifying for favourites category

Here’s what the folks over at the WineBow group have to say about their Three Barrel Rye:

Crisp with a fruity sweetness on the nose followed by spice, caramel, vanilla and blackberry on the palate with a long, warm, toasty, velvety finish.

Sampled together with:

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Bring on the bourbon and rye!

Finally proper whisky drinking weather in Mumbai! A hint of chill in the sea breeze just in time for the marriage marathons and seasonal festivities of the December / January ‘seasons.’

Our last monthly malt meeting of 2014 had a decidedly American twang with two Bourbons and a Rye! Given that the US now has over 2,000 whiskey listings with 600 new distilleries, it is no surprise that there are plenty of options to sample.
As none of us had tried these American offerings, we dispensed with our usual blind tasting and merrily went straight for the bottles!
We toured three different states – Kentucky, New York and Colorado.
Russel's Reserve

Russell’s Reserve

Small batch Kentucky straight bourbon matured in ‘alligator-charred’ virgin American oak casks.
  • Colour – bright amber (don’t let the pic fool you!)
  • Nose – banana caramel desert, vanilla, spirity with a slightly peaty element, agarbati smoke, curry leaves with a faint hint of fresh mint sprigs
  • Taste – bitter kerela, baby puke sour, dry and oaky
  • Finish – still bitter
  • Water – BLAND, tamed the sharpness but added nothing new
Conclusion – A nice, easy drinking whisky. And we all enjoy a bit of that from time to time!
Rough Rider

Rough Rider

This rye is matured only one year and is made from a mash of 95% rye and 5% malted barley, matured in 3 barrels – new American oak, straight bourbon cask, then finished in casks used to age Pine Barrens Single Malt Whiskey. The ‘Bull Moose’ name comes from the nickname of Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, formed in 1912. True Americana!
  • Colour – deeper amber than the Russell’s Reserve
  • Nose – lemon soapy scented bubble bath, fresh sawdust
  • Tastepoppins, ruafza, sweet on the tongue while harsh at the back, wine notes with a chardonnay brightness or gewürztraminer sweetness, smooth
  • Finish – very surface level, slightly sour
Observations:
  • One thought had slightly synthetic flavour
  • Another suggested would be best drunk at a brunch, paired with a lemon tart
  • For a one-year old baccha, not bad… but certainly not one to go into the favourites category
Breckenridge

Breckenridge

From Colorado, Breckenridge is aged 2 years in charred new American oak barrels. Its key claim to fame is that it uses water from “snow melted from the rocky mountains.”
  • Nose – reassuringly bourbon banana sweet mellow raisins, fruity
  • Taste – the closest to being Scottish in taste, a bit chewy sweet, good whisky but no specific character hence slightly tricky to describe
  • Finish – light spicy finish
Best quote of the evening:
  • “Feel like cowboys / gals in leather chaps riding off to the sunset just like in those old Westerns. Yeehaw!”
Rough Rider, Breckenridge, Russel's Reserve

Rough Rider, Breckenridge, Russel’s Reserve

And just when we thought the tastings for the evening was over… out popped a repeat from an earlier session consistent with our evenings theme – Blanton’s Single-Barrel Bourbon. With its trademark Blanton stoppers – we have yet to collect each in the series to see the race in action!
20141218-Blanton Label 20141218-Blanton
2014 brought several opportunities to sample brash whiskies from North America, however my personal preference remains single malts from Scotland or a few favourites from Ireland and Japan. You?
Other American whisky evenings:

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