Whisky sampling vs drinking

“Are you tasting whisky every day??” or “You must drink A LOT of whisky!!!”

Yes… that’s what I hear when folks learn I enjoy exploring whiskies. Or see my regular posts.

With the implication that my drinking must be high in quantity, frequency and perhaps even to excess.

And yet, here is the thing.

Believe it or not, I do quite the opposite.

A little goes a long way. I’ve been known in social occasions to skip the alcohol on offer as it simply didn’t appeal…

And that makes some people uncomfortable.

Because there is a quiet little secret in social circles and the alcohol industry… alcoholism. There. I’ve said it out loud.

Tasting whisky in moderation is quite different than regularly drinking too much.

There is a very good reason I openly shared my Whisky Live Survival Guide mantra of “sniff, swish, savour and spit.” If it was changed to “sniff, swish, savour and swallow” I would have been waving and weaving my way through the stalls, missing the best stuff and paying the price the next day. Not my thing and definitely not worth it.

And while my posts may be relatively frequent, the reality is they are typically based on around 2-3 tasting sessions a month where we sample 3-5 whiskies, sometimes supplemented with a minis evening or a one-off tasting.

And when we have a tasting session, it tends to be smaller pours, in a structured setting, where sampling can stretch over a few hours… liberally offset with water and food.

That’s it. Really. Generally you won’t find me sipping a whisky otherwise.

I think it’s terrific if you enjoy a dram or two! And even more so if you are as passionate as I am about exploring the world of whisky… Just please be kind to yourself and those around you – drink responsibly.

‘Nuff said.

From time to time, you can also find other whisky related updates and activities on:

Whisky palate cleansers or palate pleasers?

With our original whisky tasting group, we are very strict about what can be served with our whiskies – just a few slices of cucumber and perhaps plain bread sticks or crackers – with plenty of water to rinse before we repeat our sampling process with the next whisky.

Palate Cleanser

However with our whisky ladies, we have a bit more fun with mixing and matching, blending sipping without accompaniment then experimenting with different delights like fruit, cheese and chocolate… perhaps a thali of chocolate delights?

goa-deserts

Both work – it just depends on whether your aim is an evening of the purest sampling or playing around with pairings.

Anyone have firm notions of what to accompany (or not) your whisky sipping adventures?

Related posts:

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10 tips for whisky hosting

While our original tasting group has perfected the art of hosting whisky tasting sessions, my new group of fabulous women are mostly new to hosting structured tasting sessions.

Lining up for some serious tasting!

So with our whisky ladies in mind, I put together a ‘how to’ for hosting with flair and panache!

  1. Capacity – Start with how many people can comfortable sit around a circle to discuss, debate, swish, swill, swallow and kibbitz together… if you have too many split around the room, that’s more of a party than tasting. Yet too few and you miss out on the fun of different impressions and reactions.
  2. Diversity – The best whisky tasting group has a range of palates and perspectives. How boring would it be to all pontificate in unison?
  3. Scents – If you have novice whisky samplers coming, it is advisable to let them know any strong perfumes are a ‘no no’ as it interferes with the whisky aromas. Ditto for you as a host – including those gorgeous flowers or spicy cooking smells.
  4. Whisky selection

    Whisky selection

    Contributions – Decide how the whiskies will be selected and in which order. Personally, I prefer no more than 3 samples per evening. I also prefer to have a theme behind the sampling journey.

  5. Glasses – I have a distinct preference for either Glencairn or tulip glasses. We’ve tried other options and they just don’t work as well. If possible, it is ideal to have one glass per whisky per person. If not, then just rinse between whiskies.
  6. Presentation – Do you wish to taste blind, then reveal the whisky? Display each whisky openly, sharing stories as you sample? Either works!
  7. Palate cleansers – During the tasting, should only have cucumber or bread sticks / crackers with minimal salt and no other flavours to influence. Best are simple oat cakes, but not everyone goes to the effort of making or finds them easy to acquire.

    Sampling Glenfarclas in Hong Kong

    Whisky + water…

  8. Water – Everyone should have their own water glass to liberally consume – particularly between whiskies. There should also be water jars to refill, rinse glasses, etc. Plus it is ideal to have a couple pipettes or droppers to control adding just 2-3 drops of water to a whisky.
  9. Spittoon – Whether you follow the ‘spit the 1st sip‘ adage or not, it is still good to have a bowl to dump excess whisky and water from rinsing glasses, etc.
  10. Food – The best approach is guests come after having already lined their tummy before tasting – a soup with bread is a great base. However if that isn’t possible, it is good to greet with something light, no strong flavours, just to coat the belly and get the taste buds revved up for the whisky goodies to come! Post tasting, if not dispersing immediately, feel free to get creative, playing around with foods you think will pair well with whiskies! Just refer back to #3 on scents – ideal is to time your food order to arrive when you expect to finish  tasting.

Anyone else have simple tips for organising a whisky tasting evening?

More whisky tasting tips:

You seriously spit out whisky?

Was the incredulous response when my partner described to a new acquaintance our ‘ritual’ in blind sampling whiskies.

Spit your 1st sip…?

When our monthly group first started our tasting adventures in February 2011, we had a ‘rule’ to spit out the 1st sip.

Now, I must admit, somewhere along the way we mostly abandoned this rule. However, there is a very clear rationale behind it.

Why spit?

It is all about acquainting your palate with the high alcohol content. In short, you let the first sip go so it helps clear the way to enjoy the real flavours. Think of it as calibrating the palate for the delights to come.

Keep it coming…

As most of us whisky aficionados taste whiskies for fun not funds, if you have lined up more than three whiskies in an evening, a certain amount of healthy pacing is in order too.

Psychologically using the spittoon for the 1st sip helps you slow down, distill the different elements before you have that 1st swallow that coats your throat with whisky goodness.

Whaddya do?

Any others adhere to this recommended approach or merrily abandon it in favour of gleefully gulping the 1st quaff?

Whisky sipping...

Whisky sipping…

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Airport offerings…

London should have been a massive ‘score’ for the Whisky Lady… however we had such a hectic thoroughly engaged time, there was narry a chance for whisky. Yeah… I know.. seriously. No excuse really acceptable but there you have it!

So I did what all folks do… checked out the airport duty-free offerings.

Here is the challenge… for us merry malt samplers, we are always seeking something ‘new’. Particularly when traveling, it is our ‘duty’ to help supply something less accessible for our fellow adventurers back home from the world of whisky. Which means we don’t completely dismiss duty-free options, however they tend to not quite satisfy the craving for something ‘different’.

First stop in London Heathrow Terminal 4 was the standard duty-free store with a rather limited selection.

Next stop was the wee World of Whisky outlet in the same terminal. A quick glance confirmed that while there were a few more options, none jumped out as ‘must have!’

The fellow there tried to be helpful however I must have seemed like a complete ‘bevri‘ (that’s a female drunk for those who don’t speak Hindi)… as most ‘interesting’ whiskies he suggested were all previously tried…

So then he started cracking open the distiller samples to tempt with:

  • Mortlach NAS (We’ve tried the 15 before)
  • Cragganmore (Ditto for the 12, however he pulled out another one which didn’t make the cut)
  • Dalmore cigar whisky (Interesting but not worth the price)
  • Aultmore 12 and 21 year (New to our whisky tasting group so a possibility)
  • Kilchoman (I simply didn’t have the heart to tell him we had a terrific whisky dinner pairing with Kilchoman‘s master distiller Anthony Wills and his lovely wife in Mumbai)

With triumph, he then said “I know! I guarantee you haven’t tried this one! Though I don’t have a bottle open to try…”

That’s when he drew my attention the KininVie 17 year. He couldn’t believe I bought a bottle last year in Singapore as it was new to their stock. I confessed that I’ve yet to open it… however thanks to Ronald of Whiskyriffic, there is a wee sample sitting in my cupboard awaiting attention.

I was seriously tempted by the Linkwood 1988 however the price was steep. I’ll probably regret that decision, but there you have it.

You will know what I DID pick up from future reviews. However all in all it either proved our wee whisky tasting group in Mumbai has acquired a reasonable range of whiskies over the years or the selection was particularly limited.

We single malt drinkers can truly be a ‘promiscuous‘ lot, always seeking a new and interesting partner to dance with before moving on to the next twirl around the dance floor with another partner…

Would you agree?

Airport offerings (Whisky Lady)

Airport offerings (Whisky Lady)

Pssst…. Since July I have indeed sampled the KininVie, plus the two I picked up:

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Will Quaich Bar in Singapore quench your whisky cravings?

The ‘big close’ to my Singapore whisky tasting adventures was my last evening in town – Saturday night – with a fellow Whisky Lady. We had ambitious plans to hit a few different places however after a slow start at her place, then the limitations of my newly twisted ankle, we decided to take a more selective approach.

After a stellar evening earlier in the week at The Auld Alliance and the usual delightful purchasing pit stop at La Maison du Whisky, I was primed for surprises and an opportunity to discover something completely different – in a good way!

After considering :

  • The Secret Mermaid – known for craft American whiskies yet eliminated as shortly off to N America
  • 28 Hong Kong Street – reservations required
  • Pony & Jigger – likely crowded Saturday night
  • B28 – the latest incarnation of the Malt Vault – closed for an indeterminate time…

We finally settled on beginning our evening at Quaich

Quaich (pronounced Quake) takes its name from a traditional whisky bowl offered as a symbol of friendship. Around since 2006, it is one of the well-known whisky sampling spots of Singapore.
Quaich Bar Singapore (Whisky Lady)

Quaich Bar Singapore (Whisky Lady)

We strolled into a cosy space that conveniently has both an outdoor area for smokers, indoor for non-smokers plus semi-private cigar lounges around the side… in which a couple were (ahem), taking advantage of the seclusion offered.

The whisky menu began with suggested tasting sets then long lists by region.

Excited, I perused the sets, then had a sinking realisation that I’ve sampled just about all the whiskies listed in the them…

Now… I consider myself a novice in the world of whisky, so this did not bode well.

While the overall selection is fantastic by Indian standards (easy to achieve!), clearly one of the pre-set samplers was not going to satisfy my quench for something unique.

So naturally I asked for help from the staff which was… erm… just not on par with my Singapore single malt sampling experiences til date.

Whisky dram (Whisky Lady)

Whisky dram (Whisky Lady)

Now, I’m sure they must get this a lot “I want to try something different!”

And it is not easy to know what someone will enjoy until you have a deeper conversation about experiences til date and preferences… but that’s just it, there wasn’t much of a further probe and well… let’s just say the lass helping us didn’t seem terribly enthusiastic.

I shared my quandary about the sample sets with a sincere request for guidance.

No offer to craft a modified set, and in the dance to determine what may be of interest, my queries lead to her frankly admitting that she hadn’t been permitted to sample most of those I asked about, and hence could not speak to their character. Hmm…

Not that it should impact the equation, however, I shared a bit more background:
  • I live in India and appreciate the range available in Singapore
  • Am part of a whisky tasting group in Mumbai and
  • Share our tasting notes in a blog on whisky

All to provide context as to why I was so keen to try something less accessible and open to recommendations.

Normally, this would be the point during which other support would be brought in, if needed…

Off she went and came back suggesting the Glenglassaugh Torfa which, indeed, I’ve not tried. Unfortunately, it was not an entirely positive experience and we did not even finish our whisky. My friend opted for the Hazelburn 12 year – smart choice!

A bit of India at Quaich Bar, Singapore (Whisky Lady)

India at Quaich Bar, Singapore (Whisky Lady)

What amused me the most was spotting two bottles of India’s Paul John proudly displayed… with one bottle clearly already empty!

It could be that I just happened to get someone newer to the team or perhaps I wasn’t able to articulate my expectation well enough. However, would I go to Quaich again? Doubtful unless there is a specific draw…

What stood out was staff pride in their new Quaich bar in Myanmar “Do come visit us in Myanmar! Here is the card!” I simply wish that level of passion had extended to the collection right there in Singapore.

In our case, the evening ended on a high note as we gave up on further whisky adventures in favour of going straight to BluJaz to catch the end of a friend’s set. There the whisky choices may be limited, but the price is as reasonable as one gets in Singapore and best of all, by the time we reached, the band was smoking. I opted for a Macallan and considered my Singapore trip overall a success.

Slainthe!

Quiach Bar is located at 390A Havelock Rd, Grand Copthorne Waterfront, Singapore 169664. 

La Maison du Whisky, Singapore

Most trips to Singapore with a bit of time include a stop at La Maison du Whisky for an enjoyable hour spent chatting, sampling and slowly deciding which whisky will make the final ‘cut’ for the journey home to Mumbai.

This June 2015 trip was no exception.

La Maison du Whisky, Singapore (Whisky Lady)

La Maison du Whisky, Singapore (Whisky Lady)

Over the years, the gents there have gained a sense of what we enjoy, what will peak our interest and also what we’ve managed to acquire by other means.

  • Last trip, I showed a spreadsheet tracking our tasting sessions
  • This trip, I could happily show this blog record of our sampling adventures

I’ve shared before how much I appreciate a chance to discover, discuss, sniff and sip before making a final purchasing choice. I prefer to take my time, so deliberately pop by late afternoon when there is more ‘trade traffic’ than ‘customer traffic.’ After all, it isn’t such a bad place to hang around and invariably those that do wander in will lead to an interesting conversational turn or two about a shared passion – whisky and fine spirits.

Our goal this time was:

  • Something that cannot be so easily obtained in London far cheaper… given that I would shortly be traveling there
  • No repeats of previous whiskies
  • At least one in the more mature and complex range
  • As always, an unpredictable ‘twist’ is appreciated

I shared how we enjoyed the Ledaig from an earlier trip and confessed we hadn’t yet opened the one selected late 2014 as it was trumped by my Japanese quartet from Tokyo.

Diego started with a rum, just because he recalled that the Tapatio Excelencia Gran Reserva Extra Anejo tequila was such a hit!

Clarin Vaval 52.5% – Small batch Haiti clear rum from Cavallon village, double distilled from ‘Madame Meuze’ cane sugar in 2013. It was a delightful discovery with overripe fruit, hot, tropical and distinctly different. It was like sunshine in a bottle.

Clarin Vaval (Whisky Lady)

Clarin Vaval (Whisky Lady)

We then moved on to two Compass Box whiskies:

Glasgow Blend (Whisky Lady)

Glasgow Blend (Whisky Lady)

We discussed several other whiskies – including suggestions for my London ‘wish list’. I was sorely tempted by this Hazelburn 8 year 1st bottling…

Hazelburn 8 year (Whisky Lady)

Hazelburn 8 yr (Whisky Lady)

In addition to the whiskies sampled, I’ll admit to sniffing more before finalising my selection for this trip…

What did I pick?

It was the Bunnahabhain 26 years.. part of a special Signatory Session held in February 2016:

Previous reviews sourced via La Maison du Whisky Singapore:

La Maison du Whisky is located at 80 Mohamed Sultan Road, #01-10 The Pier, Singapore
 Tel: 6733 0059

Hudson Single Malt Whiskey 46% (2014, Batch 1)

In our quest to sample interesting drams, members of our whisky tasting group sometime just gamble and grab when an unfamiliar bottle presents itself – without the chance for  advance research.

That is exactly how years ago, long before the rave reviews, Sullivans Cove found its way into one member’s collection. He was curious about what Tasmania produces… And lucky us… his curiosity lead to our sampling a great whisky at a time it was sold out in most markets.

The thing about a surprise is that while it can be a delight, it equally can be a disaster.

In the case of this Hudson, one member stumbled across the craft distillery while traveling in the US. Attractively encased in a squat 375 ml old style apothecary bottle, its bright ruby-red beckons, hand labeled with the year, batch and bottle… however… the proof is always in the blind sampling where packaging has no influence!

This is what we found in our May 2015 tasting session…

Hudson Singel Malt Whiskey

Hudson Single Malt Whiskey (Whisky Lady)

Hudson Single Malt Whiskey 46%
2014, Batch 1, Bottle 282
  • Colour – Ruby red
  • Nose – Cherries, pear, then a peculiar strong varnish, just too ‘woody’, musty
  • Taste – Flat and frankly yuck! Spat out by more than one… just too woody in the wrong way. In short – no one liked it. No one could even describe it on their palate because it was not even remotely close to what we seek in a whisky
  • Finish – Bitter in an annoying way but blessedly short
  • Water – Spicy and double yuck!
More info:
  • Tuthilltown Spirits from Gardiner, NY is a micro distillery opened in 2003 and acquired by William Grant and Sons in 2010
  • It produces the Hudson whiskey range – named for its location in the Hudson Valley – along with vodka, gin and other spirits
  • They pride themselves on being a ‘craft’ distillery and focus on using local grains – from farmers less than 10 miles away
  • In this case, it is 100% malted barley, pot-stilled and aged under 4 years in charred new oak ‘petite’ barrels (according to the label)
We speculated that high contact between new make spirit and wood in smaller barrels, in this case, simply does not produce the aromas and flavours we find appealing.
In reading further about this whiskey, I understand they have a two-step process:
  • Split the spirit then age part for approx 6 months in ‘petite’ casks (3 gallon barrels) and the balance for 18 – 24 months in 14 gallon barrels
  • Then blend the two together until make the whiskey profile
The results for us were very much in the ‘disappointing’ territory – for our host clearly the ‘disaster’ end of the spectrum as he had expectations of something distinctive in a positive way.
Hudson

Hudson close-up (Whisky Lady)

While it is always interesting to try something unfamiliar, none would buy it and I wonder how our friend will dispose of the balance? Would it work in a reduction sauce over a red meat? (suggests the vegetarian). Perhaps a cocktail??

It is notable that the distiller suggests putting the single malt in a Manhattan variation with Pinot Noir, rosemary syrup, raspberry purée, lime and plum bitters… not an appealing sounding combination to me. However I’m decidedly against sweet ‘girly’ drinks. Give me a dirty martini over a Manhattan any day!

Truth be told, many months later our host generously donated this bottle to the Whisky Ladies for our American cocktail evening. Still nothing brilliant but either oxidation toned down the varnish or the ladies were in a more charitable mood that evening given it was contrasted with Jim Beam and JD!

As we venture beyond the average fare, we are bound to have a few misses with our hits. Which makes me all the more appreciative of options to buy whisky in smaller bottles – 375 ml like this one, 500 ml like my still un-opened KininVie or the whiskies I found in Tokyo with 180 ml (Chita & Nikka) and 200 ml (Ichiro’s Houou-uhi) bottles. These are a great way to share a sample with a few folks and then only splurge for the ‘full’ volume if the whisky achieves ‘full’ favour!

Normally, after I write our tasting notes, I like to see what others have to say. In this case I’m frankly puzzled… some folks seem to LIKE this whiskey which, to our collective palates, bordered on the undrinkable territory. This may partly be due to significant differences between what was produced in 2011 (most reviews seem to be from this year) and 2014 (our bottle).

Here are a few reviews I found interesting:

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Quarterly favourites – how to pick?

Whisky Lady is actually a spin-off of my blog Everyday Adventures in Asia –  created as I recognised my interests have two rather distinct audiences.

  • Those that enjoy a good dram or two! (or was that three?)
  • And those interested in the adventures of a crazy Canadian who calls India home and traipses around Asia

However I still impose share on Everyday Asia a monthly round-up of Whisky Lady’s adventures. This quarter featured:

Whisky Lady

Whisky Lady

In my round-up, I try to pinpoint which was my favourite for the month. And I struggle. What I realised is I can’t pick ‘one’ as I like different whiskies for different reasons in different settings.

As it is not my habit to numerically ‘score’ whiskies, I have no easy number to help ‘rank’ the month’s samples either. After all, while a nice neat number seems authoritative, there are experts out there who have perfected ‘scoring’ whiskies. Who am I to add to their numbers!?

A number also doesn’t convey how taste is a very personal thing. My palate and yours may be quite different – which is why I enjoy sampling both alone and with others. Why descriptions can help you discern what might interest you or not. Some read ‘dirty socks’ and go eewww! Others know that’s just one of many elements you can find in a whisky.

A number also doesn’t recognise that some drams are great for a particular mood but don’t quite match a different setting or company. Some are like elegant ladies and must be treated accordingly. Others grab you by your (ahem!) nether regions with a rollicking good ride!

That said, I have contemplated keeping in mind a few simple factors when sampling whiskies. Something that could help hone a list of ‘favourites’ based on vague criteria or descriptive triggers to remind me “Ah… that’s why I liked it!”  or not!

A few factors for consideration include:

  • Mood: What kind of setting could I envision sipping? Quiet evening curled up at home? Clinking sociable glasses with some colleagues? A bad-ass party of mad men n women? In short – what kind of mood does the whisky put me into? Or mood would it compliment?
  • Mode: Neat, drop of water, or (gasp!) with ice or mixed. Could it work in an exotic cocktail? Or one that absolutely under no circumstances should be messed with – neat n only neat! Or is it a whisky I wouldn’t cringe serving at a party and watching folks liberally dump in ice cubes and drown in soda?
  • Money: Would I buy it (again)? Is it value for money, rare commodity or rubbish for the price-tag? After all, you can’t really expect the same quality of a $20 whisky as you would from a $200 one!
  • Mmmm….. This is an indefinable quality. You just know it when you find it! I favour more complex whiskies with nuanced elements. Ones with great body, balance, finish with a little something ‘extra’ going on… Yet how many decent drinkable drams actually achieve (or come close) to this elusive quality?

I may not always assess a whisky referring to some of these considerations – particularly ‘Money’ as we source individually for our tasting sessions. While I could use a UK online store as an indicator – it often bears little relation to the kind of prices we incur in markets closer to our home in Mumbai, India so may not be of significant benefit to others.

However ‘Mood’ and ‘Mode’ may make a regular appearance and it might be fun to have quarterly ‘top picks’ based on ‘Mood’ and ‘Mmmm…’ Perhaps a topic for our next monthly tasting session to discuss!

Curious what others think. Those with tasting groups, do you ‘score’ or ‘rank’ whiskies? Or have a rudimentary way to categorise whiskies? Other ideas?

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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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