Sunday, February 28, 2010

Scotch Club 2.0

Graciously hosted by Dara, the Oct. 23rd tasting was almost our first full-scale scotch club. Eleven guys this time, with 3 guys from Iran, which in turn led to a fair amount of racist commentary - which is one of the things scotch club is about. As long as everyone's being insulted equally, it's healthy.

Kevin, having done a degree in Kentucky, was kind enough to introduce us to some fine bourbon whisky in addition to our normal selection of scotch whiskies. I was very happy to have a taste of some good bourbon, as opposed to the Jack Daniels which comprises most of what we know north of the border. It wasn't very popular, but sampling different whiskies is what scotch club is about. That and racial slurs.

Attending: Me, Max, Dara, Derek, Mark, Kevin, Laurent, Ardeshir, Nick, Houman, Cameron.

My notes are again missing from this tasting - 4 bottles left us all in rather poor shape. This night is the reason that we stick to 3-bottle tastings.

Woodford Reserve (USA, bourbon)
Not being a scotch, I approached this whisky without any strategy or expectation. I learned a fine bourbon tastes a bit like cognac, a lot of very sweet and fruity notes. Tons of roasted sugar flavours from the charcoal. Personally, I quite enjoyed it; it wasn't a big success with the crowd. I can see how one of these on the rocks would be part of a great reward for a hot day's work well-done.

Cragganmore 12 (Speyside)
My notes on this are lost to the toll of the ages and drink. Suffice to say I'm not a huge fan and rate this young Speyside around a 7.5/10. Has a lot of character though, and tastes like it could be interesting after another couple years in the barrel.

Benriach 16 (Speyside)
We ended up with this bottle by virtue of it costing the closest to the $85 budget I had for our last bottle. I started with a different bottle at $87.50 and brought it to the counter, only to have it ring up as $67.50. The guy working the counter had a great laugh when I told him it simply wasn't expensive enough and took it back to the shelves... given an $85 whisky budget, I'll spend $85 every single time.

Nose: Very nice, dark fruits mixed with vanilla.
Palate: Strong up front, with nice vanilla notes in the middle. Very big.
Finish: Strong and complex - wood, smoke, peat - the works!
Overall: This whisky was more than a pleasant surprise. I haven't had the chance to try most of the expansive selection of Benriach products I've seen at our liquor store lately, but this whisky gave me more than a little interest in this distillery. Between 8.5 and 9 out of 10.

Highland Park 18 (Highland/Island)
Highland Park is one of my favourite distilleries, mostly for their 12-year old which is a great whisky and a bargain. I was really looking forward to the 18-year-old and, although it's a fantastic whisky, wasn't quite what I was hoping for.

Nose: Extremely rich, toffee dominates.
Palate: Smooth, with more of the toffee. Lacks much of the character of the 12-year-old.
Finish: Long, rich and sweet. Absolutely gorgeous.
Overall: Smooth, rich and beautiful, but this one had lost a lot of the dried fruit and nutmeg/cinnamon/clove flavours that make the 12 such an amazing whisky. Closer to 8.5 than 9 out of 10.

Scotch Club 1.0

Our first try at a full-scale tasting took place July 17th 2009 at Max & Norm's place. We managed to get 12 men to sign up, but three had to bail out, leaving us a bit in the lurch. The 9 of us went ahead with the tasting, and so got a little extra whisky in the deal. This was the only time we had any leftovers, and I learned Saturday around lunch in a drunken voicemail that Mark and Max were holding scotch club 1.1 with said leftovers, which apparently did wonders for their hangovers.

Attending: Me, Max, Norm, Dara, Derek, Kevin, Mark, Laurent, Allard.

Yamazaki 18 (Japan)
Max and I had been hearing about this Japanese distillery for quite some time from a friend in London, and we were more than a little sceptical. Max came back from a trip to the US with a bottle of Yamazaki 12, and we found it to be absolutely spectacular. We were both really excited to try the 18-year-old, and to showcase a great whisky from Japan, of all places.

The whisky went alright with the group - one comment was "Those Japs make a mean whisky. Who knew?" Max and I were crushed, though, as we found it far inferior to the 12-year-old expression and about twice the price. Another lesson learned: older whisky isn't better by definition.

Nose: Amazing. Lots of wine and fruit. Rich.
Palate: Started smooth, but then goes bitter and woody. A little smoke in the back.
Finish: All big bitter wood and burnt sugar.
Overall: One of the best-smelling whiskies I've ever run across, but this one has been too long in the barrel. Woodier than me in the morning. No better than 7.5/10.

Macallan Fine Oak 17 (Speyside)
One thing about the Macallans is that they are smooth. I've yet to sample a Macallan I didn't like, and this is the smoothest expression I've had to date. Went over very well with the group, especially the scotch novices. Derek picked this up at the duty-free, and a good thing too - this one is around $170 at the SAQ.

Nose: Tons of vanilla. Fantastic.
Palate: Incredibly smooth. Lots more of the vanilla, maybe some honey.
Finish: Sweet and smooth, but quite short.
Overall: This whisky is like a pretty girl without any brains. Sure, I'd go out with her once, but the lack of substance and character wouldn't bring me back for a second date. Around an 8 or 8.5.

Aberlour 15 Sherry Finish (Highlands)
The least expensive whisky of the night, picked up by Dara at the duty-free. I didn't expect much from this one, and was as pleasantly surprised by it as I was disappointed by the Yamazaki. This was the best-scoring whisky of the night, once again demonstrating that expensive isn't necessarily better.

Nose: Sweet, with raisin and figs.
Palate: Rich, complex and satisfying, there's a bit of everything in here.
Finish: Disappointingly short.
Overall: One of the better sherry-finished whiskies I've had, this was round and rich like an overweight heiress. Just wished the finish was a little longer. A solid 8.5/10.

Scotch Club 0.1

"Scotch Club" was an idea I had floating around in my head for a couple years, and it was at a friend's birthday party that I realized I knew enough people to actually pull it off. I love whisky, and I know a lot of guys love the idea of whisky - and if it weren't so damn expensive they'd love the reality of whisky on a much grander scale.

So we started in May 2009 by getting about a half-dozen guys together with 2 bottles of Bowmore, just to get a feel for how a larger-scale tasting would work. We learned some valuable lessons at this event: firstly, eat before - and not during - the tasting. Secondly, most of us agreed that the younger (and less expensive) 12-year-old was significantly better than the 15. Thirdly, keep a supply of water, ice and beer on hand. Lastly, take your tasting notes early in the night and put them in a safe place.

Since I didn't follow that last piece of advice, we don't have the notes from this first stab at a scotch tasting. But I'm still a big, big fan of the Bowmore 12 and consider it one of the best values in single malt scotch whisky.

Attending: Me, Max, Norm, Dara, Derek
Served: Bowmore 12, Bowmore 15 "Darkest Islay"