Talisker 18 year 45.8%

Last in our random session of Scottish drams, was an opportunity to revisit this Island whisky from Talisker – nicely matured to 18 years.

Here is what our Whisky Ladies found..

Talisker 18 year 45.8%

  • Nose – Seaside peat, sweet, salty, reminded a few of Douglas Laing‘s Rock Oyster, fried fish with lemon and tarter sauce, maple bacon with hickory smoke, lots of bacon, sea salt and iodine
  • Palate – Started by dancing along the surface of the palate, very sweet, cinnamon gum, cinnamon hearts, lovely sweet
  • Finish – Peaty with light cinnamon finish

Overall we found it was a fall whisky, think apple pie and autumn leaves.

Here is what the folks over at Talisker had to say:

Nose:

  • Rich and fruity – Victoria plums, greengages, perhaps dried orange peel – with some butterscotch or rum toffee and a thread of smoke behind. The smoke soon advances into the foreground and the toffee note is joined by a light mintiness. 
  • With water, appropriately, maritime characteristics emerge – dry boat varnish, edible seaweed. Still sweet; now with notes of iodine and the smokiness of an un-struck match.

Taste:

  • In brief… Sweetness and power, with less smoke and chilli than younger expressions.
  • In a sentence… Unmistakably Talisker; mild-mannered and sweet to begin with, then more assertive, warming and smoky.

Here is what else we tried in our Whisky Ladies evening:

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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 WHISKY: CRAGGANMORE 12 YEAR

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 WHISKY – TALISKER 10 YEAR

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 WHISKY: LAGAVULIN 16 YEAR

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 WHISKY: SPRINGBANK 18 YEAR

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

4TH PAIRING’S EXTRA SPECIAL TREAT

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

MMMMM……

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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Winnipeg’s Cabinet Talisker Storm NAS 45.8%

Talisker jumped on the NAS marketing bandwagon some time ago… and has its fair share of fans and detractors for their expressions.

Recently, we sampled the Talisker 57° North 57% and were not massively impressed with the ‘sardines on saltines’ experience.

A few years back, I took a gamble on the travel retail Talisker Dark Storm – Storm’s deeper charred sibling. Sampled blind when first opened, it was found rather yummy. Sampled later, less flattering… but as time went by, strangely it’s burnt wood medicinal quality became a popular party favourite til the last drop.

So what then of its earlier Stormy avatar without the extra ‘dark’ barrel charring?

I just so happened to sample it as part of a peaty themed evening with the lads over at Winnipeg’s The Cabinet.Talisker Storm

Impressions from the evening?

  • Nose – Some sea breeze with our peat, iodine sweet, surprisingly ‘fresh’ with a hint of pepper
  • Palate – Watered down sweet peat, strangely not smokey, pleasant though a little ‘rough’ around the edges, back to the briny quality
  • Finish – Sweet, dry with vestiges of peat

Overall? Sweet peat, understated with a ‘raw’ alcohol quality, a sense of being under developed.

For myself? I found myself wishing I could try Dark Storm and Storm side by side… Which would win out?

What did the lads over at Winnipeg’s The Cabinet have to say:

It was with a great deal of trepidation that I selected a bottle of Talisker “Storm” for this evening. Don’t get me wrong, Talisker is a true classic, but their forays into marketing department driven branding make The Cabinet nervous. Storm? What does that actually mean in a whisky context? Only rainwater collected in winter gales used? Distillery now placed on a herring trawler? Fie.

But no matter. We decided that the poor master distiller had this name forced upon a product that he still created with the same care, attention and craftsmanship as its more sensibly named predecessors. And we were right.

Here was balance. Here was complexity. Here was the sea and the land and the peat and the wood and everything we love about scotch whisky. 7.7; high up in the Three Drams range.

And oh, the medicinal effect? Talisker is well known for its ortho-cresol content. Ortho-cresol as in creosote. As in coal tar. Toxic, corrosive, kind of nasty and oh so tasty. And quite the opposite of healthy. We just had to cap the evening by being contrary.

Read on for more Talisker tasting experiences….

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Winnipeg’s The Cabinet “Peat” evening

Some folks know that I originally hail from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada though long ago adopted Mumbai, Maharashtra, India as home.

During my June 2016 trip back to the ‘Peg, I had several whisky treats – not the least of which was a most enjoyable evening spent with the lads from “The Cabinet” – a venerable whisky tasting group based in Winnipeg.

During an earlier trip several years ago I had the distinct pleasure of joining a Cabinet session and was introduced to their constitution, traditions and lore. Since then these merry men (and yes they are ALL men!) have further evolved during their 9 odd years of gathering.

They update a chalk board that lists what currently resides inside “The Cabinet“,  which is unlocked precisely at the given hour and the session is called to order.

The Cabinet Whisky ListAs guest, I had the pick of the open bottles to whet our whistle before the real evening commenced. Purely as it is increasingly rare to come across a bottle, my eye spotted the Rosebank 21 year… What can I say? I’m a sucker for indulging in  discontinued distillery samples when the opportunity arises!

Post my selection, we had a decidedly peaty tour with the room scented with peaty smoke. Our host shared insights from his most recent Scottish whisky tour and even managed to acquire ‘peat pellets’ from Manitoba, wondering why oh why isn’t there a good peaty single malt made in Manitoba?

The Winnipeg “The Cabinet” evening featured:

The lads at The Cabinet maintain a most amusing blog and already have their post on the evening published! It is, quite simply, a ‘must read!’ and can be found here: “Peat”

Thank you again gentlemen and I look forward to our continued tasting adventures!

Whisky Cabinet

Fabled Winnipeg Whisky cabinet

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Unchartered Territory – Talisker 57° North 57%

Whisky sampling convention tends to lean towards starting a tasting evening with the softer, gentler whiskies and closing with the powerful peat monsters and higher strength or more mature whiskies. We’ve certainly played around with a few approaches and tend to more or less follow such an approach with more focus on a progression in flavour profile from more delicate and light whiskies to more forceful and robust whiskies rather than strictly age or strength.

For our May session, our host decided to go completely against such notions to explore ‘Unchartered Territory‘ with the boldest and strongest dram first, then ease up on the strength and profile as the evening progressed.

As usual, we sampled blind then revealed… and where did we begin?

Talisker 57' North

Talisker 57° North 57%

  • Nose – Peat, ocean spray, vanilla, sardines on saltines, dry hay, sweet barley, hint of sweet port wine
  • Palate – Almost overwhelming, strong, spicy, dry kopra, turmeric bitter dry on the palate, chilly spice, pungent, sukha mirchi, a bit oily
  • Finish – Warm burn, dry
  • Water – Demands a few drops, really works wot water once let it settled down brings out cinnamon or more dry kopra…  brings out a few more elements

Our reaction was “I’m awake now!!”

Overall found it quite challenging, a surprise, definitely not a whisky to be taken lightly. No warm fuzzy familiar dram here.

That said, the reveal was a surprise. It has been some time since we gave Talisker a chance and a change to try one at 57%.

The Talisker folks launched this whisky to celebrate Talisker being 57’ degree for latitude and attitude with strength made by the sea. In keeping with many recent releases, it has no age statement. Described on the bottle as a

“pure expression of Talisker from American Oak refill casks… Sweet to start, it explodes with smoke and volcanic pepper. Stunning with strong blue cheese such as Stilton.”

Here’s what others have to say about the Talisker 57° North:

What other whiskies did we sample in our ‘Unchartered Territory‘ evening?

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Unchartered Territory – Talisker 57′ North, Laphroaig PX, Inchgower 13 year

As the mercury rises in Mumbai and we impatiently wait for monsoon to make its appearance, our merry malt gang made its way over to a members home for an evening of whisky sampling.

The ‘non-theme’ of the evening proved to be ‘Unchartered Territory’. Each of the whiskies our host had never sampled. He also tried a reverse approach of starting with the strongest in alcohol strength progressing to the least powerful. Furthermore everything we tried for dinner were all new experiments. As usual, all tastings were blind before the dramatic reveal!

May's trio - Talisker, Laphroaig, Inchgower

May’s trio – Talisker, Laphroaig, Inchgower

What whiskies did we sample?

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The Mumbai Amrut Jim Murray Experience

We came, we sniffed, we spat and were decidedly NOT conquered!

Over 150 folks showed up at Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel Crystal Ballroom for a whisky tasting with whisky guru Jim Murray on 10 March 2015.

The invitation card said to arrive at 7:15pm as the tasting would begin sharp at 7:30. The doors were tightly shut until the appointed hour as the staff poured out 6 samples of whiskies in tulip glasses for each attendee.

Amrut

And then we experienced classic IST (Indian stretchable time) as those who reached on time, waited and waited and then la la di la la waited some more until 8:45pm when one of the ‘special guests’ meandered in…

Then the ‘show’ started. And it was a show… carefully curated to show off Amrut whiskies.

Beginning with a tribute to Jamshedji Tata on his 175th Birth Anniversary, the Amrut founder took us through Amrut highlights over the last decade before introducing Jim Murray.

After some crowd warming chit-chat, Jim began with lessons in how to nose through pointing out what NOT to do (push full snout into the glass), regaling us with tales and anecdotes while we warmed our glasses nestled next to our bodies.

Tasting steps according to Jim Murray:

  1. Lift cover off glass and take the first fresh whiff – dabbing against an imaginary moustache both right then left nostril
  2. Cup glass with both hands to seal the whisky in and warm it against your body for approx. 5 – 10 mins
  3. Hold covered glass away from body, lift hand to let alcohol evaporate while drawing close to then nose again
  4. Take a tiny sip to rinse mouth – the ‘mouth wash’ step – and spit
  5. Then a few seconds later take another whiff right and left nostril followed immediately by a large sip – the 1st taste – roll it around in your mouth, chin up, opening and closing your mouth like a fish, then spit it out
  6. ‘Listen’ to the whisky to ‘hear’ what it tells you about its character
  7. After a few minutes, take a 2nd taste… again whiff, sip, tilt head back, open and close fish style, then spit out or… perhaps… if so inclined… swallow
  8. Again ‘listen’ to what the whisky ‘says’
  9. Repeat steps 2, 3, 7 and 8 as required…

We were discouraged from discussing our impressions at the table, to reduce influencing each other, as part of the ‘lesson’ was to discover how the whisky ‘speaks individually.’ What this means is the notes that follow are the impressions of the two members of our whisky tasting club who jotted down our thoughts.

Sample setting

Sample setting before tasting…

I’ve kept the labels as per the place mat however notes in the tasting order.

And here come a BIG caveat – in fairness to all the whiskies – they were poured from 6:30pm so by the time we sampled, two to three hours had elapsed…

Whisky 1 – Glenmorangie 10 year

  • Nose – Initially very mild perfume (fruit) then nothing! Very light, slightly floral, perhaps hidden peat and apricot, dry. Post warming slightly sweeter, still very soft, remained exceedingly light
  • Taste – Dry ash, bitter, mildly briny, like weak (not very good) coffee,  slightly rancid undertone
  • Finish – Dry oak, short
  • Impression – Insipid

Whisky 2 – Amrut Single Malt

  • Nose – More character than the 1st, overripe fruit, dirty socks, sweet, very little peat
  • Taste – Oily, fruit gone slightly bad, with the 2ndtasting coaxed out a little chocolate after extra ‘warming’
  • Finish – Medium short, nothing to write home about
  • Impression – Weak and not terribly interesting

Experience – The first two were ‘revealed’ after we sampled both. We were challenged to identify which was Scottish vs Indian which lead to positively contrast the entry-level Amrut Single Malt against the mass produced entry-level Glenmorangie. While I’m not trying to defend Glenmorangie, I should note the sample was so small it could easily be misleading – the Amrut pour size was far more generous. While Jim extolled the virtues of Amrut vs Glenmorangie, neither were terribly noteworthy.

Whisky 3 – Jim Beam White Label 4 Year

  • Nose – Varnish, ash, an agave / almost tequila quality
  • Taste – Paan betel leaf sweet, a bit minty, dry, not quite leather, slight spice, after oxidizing even sweeter
  • Finish – Not exceptional
  • Impression – No body, no character

Experience – Universally this was noted as ‘different’ than the others tried but not particularly good. Two lone souls identified it as a bourbon. Jim asked one if he was a bourbon fan – the retort was ‘No!’ (and turned out to be a distributor so at least he knows his business!).

Whisky 6 – Amrut Peated

  • Nose – Peaty, smoky sweet, little citrus after warming
  • Taste – Spice, chewy, leather, not peaty on the palate. After further warming and again tasting, bit of coffee, still quite sweet, smooth, no longer spicy
  • Finish – Medium long, tinge of bitter cacao
  • Impression – Most interesting of the evening (which wasn’t saying much), also the most generous pour

Experience – Jim was clearly trying to get us to guess this was an Islay and shared insight into the art (and follies) of adding peat to whiskies – so why not to an Indian whisky? Certainly no objection from this corner!

Whisky 4 – Talisker 10 year (tried after Whisky 6)

  • Nose – Slight smoke, hint of blue cheese, light sweet… in short quite bland
  • Taste – Dry, spice, off-balance, toothpaste? ‘weird whisky’
  • Finish – Jim shared how the ‘weird taste’ lingers
  • Impression – Jim was definitely steering the audience to discover something ‘off’ with this whisky

Experience – Here is where Jim really got after the Scots for their laziness and neglect of their craft – justifying adding caramel vs what Jim would like to see – a ban on caramel! Also castigated Scottish distilleries in general for their methods of cleaning and re-using casks. Shared how Talisker may have been the 1st distillery he visited, however Indian distilleries are now taking much more care with the craft of making single malt.

Whisky 5 – Amrut Fusion

  • Nose – Sweet, varnish, smoke, tannin from oak, clean, mild peat
  • Taste – Oily, mocha, smoke, sugar, oaky
  • Finish – Medium long
  • Impression – Jim shared how ‘well balanced’ the whisky is with its different elements

Experience – Jim extolled the use of quality wood however (not sure if others caught this) did later admit an ‘inconsistency’ with this whisky. Which remains my ‘beef’ with Fusion – either quality control issues at the distillery or massive incompetence and neglect in storage before it makes it to our table. Even after our blind sampling a couple of years ago when we went ‘Yuck!’, I’ve had very mixed experiences with Amrut Fusion ranging from ‘passable’ to ‘no way’ to ‘tolerable’ to ‘ok’ and back to ‘average at best.’

Evening close…

When Jim took a poll at the end of the evening, Amrut was preferred over non-Amrut whiskies, with more preferring the Peated than Fusion (though Fusion also had its fans). He also observed more women preferred the Peated than Fusion.

Jim finished his part of the evening by sharing how he believes India has two outstanding distilleries – Amrut and Paul John – that are way ahead of anything else.

While I certainly applaud his recognition of the efforts of both Indian distilleries and appreciate Mr Murray is an expert genuinely devoted to the world of whisky, not sure the evening truly achieved either the stated objective of ‘education’ or unstated but understood aim of promoting Amrut.

Jim Murray is certainly entertaining and his enthusiasm and love of whisky undisputed, however his slightly bombastic claim of rampant independence was belied by obviously steering the evening in one direction.

And while he repeatedly said how he will keep Amrut ‘on their toes’ if he sees quality slip, the question really is – where does Amrut aspire to be?

If it is truly wants to out-class Scottish whiskies yet with a distinctly Indian character, then why fear including at least one ‘aspirational’ whisky in the sampling to show what true quality single malt craftsmanship is about? Better question, if Amrut is producing cask strength whiskies, why not showcase at least one of those which may have proven more interesting?

The only answer seems to be that clearly this event was targeted primarily at novices to whisky.

For those more familiar with single malts, one could hear various versions of the following remark:

“Have you ever had so many bad/mediocre/below average whiskies in a single eve?”

For me, even the ‘best’ of the lot – Amrut Peated – didn’t stand the test when revisited later in the evening without being juxtaposed next to Jim Beam!

If anything, the evening did a disservice to Amrut, dumbing down what could have been a more interesting debate with a renowned authority on the world of whiskies and, more specifically, where one Indian distillery is forging ground.

Not a complete waste of an evening but I for one was highly grateful to make copious use of the spittoon!

View of the Gateway of India from Taj Mahal Hotel

View of the Gateway of India from Taj Mahal Hotel (Whisky Lady)

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Talisker Dark Storm NAS 45.8%

Many whisky distillers are chasing after that elusive ‘different’ element. Some succeed, many do not.

Talisker Dark Storm is the latest Duty Free release in Talisker’s efforts after Talisker Storm.

Another thing we are learning is that the true test of a ‘good’ whisky is not in the initial impression… it is when it settles in… reveals another side… is revisited and even more nuances emerge.

Talisker Dark Storm (Whisky Lady)

Talisker Dark Storm (Whisky Lady)

Talisker Dark Storm 45.8%

We originally tasted this whisky on 14 June 2014 together with Tyrconnell and Ledaig 1997. I re-sampled it in February 2015.

First impression:

  • Colour – Copper
  • Nose – Rubber, leather, caramel, heavy burnt wood
  • Taste – Full-bodied, wet mud, medicinal, more leather, yet smooth with no harshness – in the ‘hoo whee that’s whisky!’ exclaim
  • Finish – Spicy, ash, doesn’t disappear instantly

The unveiling? Surprise! Most were not terribly impressed with earlier Talisker offerings… to learn this was duty-free, no age stated… and actually yummy?!

The stated gimmick is it is matured in heavily charred oak. Hmm…

Second tasting:

Unlike the 1st tasting when the bottle was freshly opened and we quickly snipped, swished, savoured and swallowed, the 2nd round was slightly more leisurely and less complimentary.

Did we get the same notes? More or less… the nose was exceedingly sweet, the medicinal taste seemed to have a vaguely manufactured quality to it. Same with the ash… which dominated both the palate and finish.

The other elements seemed considerably more subdued, less nuanced the longer it had time to breathe. If anything, it became increasingly ‘flat’ like pop loosing its fizz. Yet the ash remained.

Overall assessment

Given the unrelenting ash element and the highlighting the charred oak casks (um… aren’t they all?), clearly Talisker achieved its aim of celebrating burnt wood.

Does it work?

While certainly different from the Talker 10 year, it makes for more of a social gathering whisky than a top choice for an evening at home with a true whisky afficianado.

Up close with Talisker Dark Storm (Whisky Lady)

Up close with Talisker Dark Storm (Whisky Lady)

Other brushes with Talisker:

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