Not sure if I'm looking forward to this: Malt whisky sampler kit
November 21 2002 at 3:22 AM
One cold and snowy evening past winter, I thought it would be the perfect time to sit in front of a roaring fireplace with a couple of hunting dogs at my feet and sip a shot or two of fine Scotch whisky. Unfortunately I have neither a fireplace nor dogs at home but the whisky, that could easily be organized! I am by no means a whisky drinker and don't particularly like it either. It must have been almost a year ago when I had my last shot - as medicine after a disastrous Indian dinner.
Well that cold evening, instead of buying a whole bottle, I picked up the sample kit shown above. But I never got around to actually opening it and it's been taking up space in my cupboard the entire summer. It's slowly getting cold here again and I've decided to finally start with the sampling. These whiskies do have a big following and I'd like to learn to appreciate them a bit more.
As I'm completely ignorant when it comes to malt whiskies, I have a few questions:
a) I'll probably be trying the different brands over the next few weeks, should they be tasted in a particular order? The box includes the following brands:
Of all the spirits, whisky must be associated with more myths than any other fire water or water of Life.
IMHO tumblers should not be used for the best whiskies as the flavourful fusel oils are lost easily. Suggested glass is shaped like a tulip with a cover.
Glugging whisky, however, can only be served in LARGE tumblers, by definition....
Like wine, whiskies may be best enjoyed from lightest to strongest in flavour, intensity or peatiness.
The set you have contain good representatives of the style of 6 regions of production.
My choice would be in this order:
1. Dalwhinnie Central Highlands.
2. Glenkinchie Lowlands.
3. Oban West Highlands.
4. Cragganmore Speyside.
5. Talisker Skye.
I have not tried No. 4 so your tasting notes will be appreciated.
Water is allowed to release the fusel oils and aromas at about 20% alcohol concentration. Urban myth states that only water from the same spring used by the distillery should be used. Unfortunately,this myth is busted by the fact that most whiskies are "cut" or diluted before bottling at a central bottling plant nowhere near their home spring.
Unless you live in a pure water area, ordinary tap water is a No No. I have found all sorts of muck and precipitates when tap water reacts with the whisky! I guess bottled spring water (Scottish if pedantic) is good for us far flung people from the Auld country.
The final requirement is a good pal to share tasting notes with in lieu of the gun-dogs and log-fire. But that's what we are for on this forum....eh? Albeit not in real-time.
I am amazed how much you know about Whisky and particularly Scotch >>
November 21 2002, 8:41 AM
It so happens that I have a castle (in shambles) in the Northern part of Arran, which is a most important historical site since Robert the Bruce -so the saying is- built it.
For about 150 years there was no Whisky distillery in Arran, albeit we have an excellent water.
Lately some 8 years ago the ex CEO of Shivas Regal has founded a new distillery close to my castle (Lochranza castle). They distilled a single malt, which came out last year or so and it is a very fine excellent single malt.
In the meantime, the distillery needed something to sell. So they blended an own Whisky, which they called "Lochranza" and my castle was on the bottle.
The blended one as well as the number one Arran single malt are excellent.
BTW dear Hans, you should drink a good Scotch single malt without ice and without water and not too cold either.
I hope you charged the distillery, in money or in kind for the historical pretensions.
Alas, I am found out...my sordid mispent youth as a medic has caught up with me. Many a fine dram (wee or not, as I cannot recall) has passed through my "unwilling" lips. Of course, only for medical libation or research purposes.
My current acqua vitae premium: Glenfarclas 25yrs..."tis like Angels dancing on your tongue".
"Iechyd Da!" (Good Health!) Yes, I am also an honourary Welshman.....don't ask. Well, maybe next time after a few drams; I'll explain.
No I did not charge them but they let me be part of a subscription for their
November 21 2002, 5:45 PM
single malt and I have received quite recently 60 bottles of this fine marvel. They wait for me in France when I shall be back in April/May next year.
When I shall be back to Scotland next I dinna ken, but so much I can say: you are a bonnie lad.
BTW the castle was built around 1303 by Robert the Bruce (then fighter for the independence and later King of Scotland). The castle and the surrounding land became the seat of the Earldom of Arran, granted by James IV to the family of the Dukes of Hamilton (1504). When the Earldom was bestowed on me I automatically became the owner of the castle and the land around it. It is now a historical site very important to the patrimony of Scotland and the responsible secretary of the state maintains and renovates the castle regularly but it is of course accessible to the public.
I thought you wanted a running order for a single session of whisky tasting. That's why we start with the sprightly Dalwhinnie and end with the rumbustious Lagavulin. It would then be a compare & contrast-a-thon.
Now, you don't need the oatmeal biscuits between drams!
My guess is that it will take me at least until the end of the year to try all of them. Each bottle contains 5 cl and I drank the Dalwhinnie over the past weekend.
In the past, the few times I had a whisky, I usually ordered a Johnny Walker Black Label, simply because all bars seem to stock it and it tastes OK. I found the Dalwhinnie tasted quite similar in fact but was much, much more concentrated - almost like the difference between a perfume and an Eau de toilette. I shamefully admit that I had the second hit with a bit of ice and liked it better that way.
The taste of the Dalwhinnie was mercifully peat free, the true test will come when I get to the ones that taste like sea urchin gone bad
I can't stand those peaty Islay malts; they do my head in (if anyone knows of an Islay malt that isn't peaty, I'll be happy to try it). But Dalwhinnie has long been my favorite Scotch, at least amongst the more-readily-available, won't-break-the-bank whiskies. Some die-hard Scotch drinkers pooh-pooh it; I think it's probably too accessible for them and doesn't challenge the palate enough to be a 'real' connoiseur's pleasure. That's their prerogative. I'll stick with the sweet stuff from the Highlands.
I am glad that you experimented and found a preference for a little ice. There is no shame involved when it comes to personal taste. If there was a perfect taste...we would only have one whisky.
Its also OK to try Islay whisky and declare it unpalatable to you..no shame in that.
Interesting you likened Dalwhinnie to Johnnie Walker Black Label. JWBL previously known as 'Extra Special Old Highland' was a favourite of the late Sir Winston Churchill who even featured it on one of his paintings, "Bottlescape". It is a blend of Port Dundas (Lowlands), Caol Ila (Islay), Talisker (Skye), Cardhu (Speyside) etc, up to 40 different grain and malt whiskies. Perhaps when you get to the Speyside malts, you will find your happy place.
but there's a Scottish dessert that I quite like that uses a little whiskey in it. It's called Cranachan and is painfully easy to make (literally, all it takes is minutes) and tastes absolutely gorgeous; this is just in case you have a little left over.
This luxurious dessert is an ancient Scottish specialty, and is very rich and alcoholic! The raspberries aren't traditional, but they make this sweet extra special. 2 1/2 ounces oatmeal
9 fluid ounces double cream
3 tablespoons honey (heather honey is best)
1 to 2 tablespoons Scotch whisky
6 ounces raspberries (optional)
Toast the oatmeal in a dry frying pan over a high heat until lightly browned. Cool. Whip the cream until thickened but not stiff (the oatmeal will thicken the cream even more), and stir in the oatmeal and honey. Slowly stir in the Scotch whisky and raspberries, and spoon into small serving glasses. Chill until ready to serve.
a Fondue. In Switzerland, Fondue is perhaps our equivilent to a barbeque -though in Winter.Usually a relaxed meal with friends, with the man of the house doing the 'cooking'. For those not familar with the dish, the basic recipe is cheese and swiss white wine (from Vaud or Valais),which are carefully melted together and of course there are the little touches like rubbing garlic around the pot etc.I once saw a documentry on a gentleman who lived in the Jura, who set up a business supplying take away fondues.You telephoned or dropped in with your order (number of people,type of cheese) and he mixed it all up so that all you had to do was melt it on your burner at home.To try something different he offered different alcohols than the traditional white wine.Beer,kirsch and even whiskey.He stated with a straight face that 99% of his clients reported that no guests noticed the difference. As a natural born skeptic I had to see if that was true so invited a few friends over for a fondue special. I did use a particularly generous dose of whiskey and my guests did notice a slight difference to the norm, however no-one could pinpoint what special ingredient I used and everyone was shocked when hearing that I had substituted whiskey for wine.The taste difference was not large though and if I had used a more reasonable measure I am sure that it would have gone unnoticed.
What a fine little 'introduction' you've set for yourself.
I quite agree with Melvyn on almost every point in his post "What a sextilemma". (Great title as well, Melvyn.) The advice about avoiding tap water is spot-on.
May I suggest a slight deviation to the order of tasting, however:
1) Dalwhinnie 15
2) Glenkinchie 10
3) Cragganmore 12
4) Lagavulin 16
Items 4 and 5 may be switched without much problem. I have found quite a bit of bottle variation in the Oban over the years. You might have a lighter or a more aggressive example. It is impossible to know. Talisker 10 (a wonderful whiskey) is a bit rough and tumble though. I'd certainly put it last. The Lagavulin 16 is pure delight. Majestic, rich and beautiful.
One additional suggestion. Try a side-by side comparison of each. Begin by tasting the whiskey served 'neat'. Pour a small amount, try it and note your impressions. Give yourself a chance to settle in with the whiskey. Sample it in the same way you would a wine. In another glass pour a sample with a small bit of water or a tiny (distilled water) ice cube. Do the same critical evaluation. I think you will be amazed at the difference. The water/ice brings up the alcohol and the volatile elements of the aroma. It seems to abbreviate the finish as well. In only a few cases have I ever found the water to enhance the whiskey, and then not by much. But that is only my experience.
If after the Talisker, and a wee dram or two of Lord Arran's Lochranza, you find yourself searching for another, try Macallan. Preferably an older version. It is magnificent. On a chilly, damp eve, when you're so far from the tropics that even great rum cannot conjure up the sun, it may save your life.
Thanks for your variation of tasting order. I do not drink enough Oban to notice the annual fluctuations.
My favourite used to be The Macallan (1966) but as I finished every bottle I could find rather hastily ("Life is for Living"), its taste is but a bedewed Memory nestled next to indubitable Hope...to find more. To preserve that ethereal memory, I moved on to other malts.
I was rather miffed that my current favourite, Glenfarclas, only came 11th in the Millenium Malt Classification (MMC). My chagrin demonstrating that emotion can cloud liberalism. The Macallan came in a technical 3rd. Bearing in mind that the first two malts tied for 1st place, The Macallan may be deemed "equal 2nd".
It would be interesting for Hans to rank his sextet of whiskies and then we could compare his Man-off-the-Street opinion with the experts.
The MMC represent the views of five of the world's greatest malt whisky specialists. These scores reflect the overall status of the malt brands based on:
1. The quality of the malt.
2. The consistency of that quality over time.
3. How the distillery is generally judged by malt whisky writers.
4. Focus on the main brand expression in each respective market.
BTW the experts were:
MICHAEL JACKSON - "Malt Whisky Companion".
F PAUL PACULT - "Kindred Spirits" and "The Beer Essentials".
PROFESSOR WALTER SCHOBERT (aka "The Whisky Pope") - "Malt Whisky Guide 3rd Edition", "The Glenmorangie Trail" and "The Single Malt Notebook".
NAMORU TSUCHIYA - "Malt Whisky Taizen", "The Complete Guide to Scotch Malt", "Single Malt Scotch Whisky".
JIM MURRAY - Whisky Writer of the Year (1992, 1994, 1996). "The Irish Whisky Almanac" "The One Hundred Malts", "The complete Guide to Whisky", "The Art of Whisky" and "A Taste of Irish Whiskey".
Thank you for your post. I was unaware of the Millenium Malt Classification and of scotchwhiskey.com.
It was interesting (to me) to note that Highland Park and Springbank placed so well in both the amateur and the professional tastings. Both are fine whiskeys, but I had not ever placed either in the league of Macallan, Lagavulin, or of Glenfarclas (which is such a nice whiskey). Perhaps it's time for another sample of each...or of all.
I was quite saddened to find Mortlach fared poorly as well. Mortlach was always a wonderful counterpoint to Macallan. Mortlach was never ponderous, just lovely. A whiskey for Spring and for Summer. A whiskey for weddings. Where one could always find an interesting alternative to Macallan, Mortlach was unchallenged as elegant and celebratory.
Aye, we are so fortunate even to contemplate these matters. To have the means and opportunity to experience such things is a cause for reflection every day.
Well said, Tom! MTF - I wonder if those classifications would translate
November 29 2002, 5:45 PM
to other categories - more specifically, to watches and wine, mayhaps even cars, service providers, and other prestige goods and services whose raison d'etre is not merely to serve a functional, measurable purpose, but to strive for perfection in one form or another?