Saturday, March 20, 2010

Irish Tasting - March 2010

In honour of St Patrick's and a truly spectacular number of birthdays in the month of March, we sampled two Irish whiskies, chosen somewhat at the last minute, and a fantastic scotch brought from across the pond by a friend of Max's. Thanks to Persian New Year, Dara and Ardeshir had to take a pass, whereas some of our other long-standing members had less interesting reasons. Except Mark, who was building robots. In any case, first-timers Sam, Ian M and Jamie seemed appreciative. Thanks again to Erin, this time for brownies.

Max's new apartment proved an excellent venue for scotch club (thanks to him and Pat, who had a wee taste of everything), and Joe finally managed to successfully identify a couple of whiskies (2/3 - somehow). We got a taste of the Irish, but found not everyone has a taste for the Irish... Laurent wouldn't even touch his second round of Bushmill's. With only 10 guys, I was happy to come in on-budget, and thanks to the "extra" whisky it got awful drunk out towards the end of the 2nd round. Plus we learned what "Frazzles" are. And no, they don't live underground eating the fruits of hard Dooger labour.

Attending: Me, Max, Kevin, Laurent, Allard, Joe, Stevens, Jamie, Sam, Ian M.

Bushmill's 16 (Ireland)
Grabbed at the last minute and mostly selected on the basis of budgetary constraints, the Bushmill's suffered from not having tasting notes prepared for the blind tasting. However, it turned out to be the favourite of the night - although scores were pretty tight. Personally, I wasn't a huge fan - but, unlike Laurent, still enjoyed getting a taste of this "premium" Irish whisky. Finished in Bourbon, Oloroso, and port casks.

Nose: Winey and sweet.
Palate: Spicy, hints of smoke, and something I just couldn't quite put my finger on.
Finish: Sweet but a little dry somehow, long and smooth.
Overall: Not a favourite for me, but a fairly smooth and interesting dram that ranks at least with the Jameson's 18 that I tried not too long ago. Oddly the first round tasted much better than the 2nd, which is normally not the case at all. 8/10.

Redbreast 12 (Ireland)
One of only 2 traditional Irish pot still whiskies on the market, I insisted we try to get a hold of this one for scotch club. I wasn't disappointed, and neither was anyone else as this whisky was ranked 2nd on the night. At $43 for the bottle, this is a whisky with great value and a lot of character. Impressive.

Nose: Cherries, raisins, plums; something creamy.
Palate: Big, smooth and sweet with some spice cake-type notes and dried fruit.
Finish: Short and smooth.
Overall: Wasn't sure what to expect from this whiskey and ended up enjoying it thoroughly. A bit Speyside-ish owing to the fruit notes and smooth character. Great value. 8.5/10.

Port Charlotte 7 Sin an Doigh Ileach (Islay)
I was sceptical about this whisky for two reasons. First, it's made by Bruichladdich, and I'm not a big fan of the 2 expressions I've had from them. The other, of course, was that's only 7 years old and from a brand-new distillery (opened 2002-3 from what I've read and deduced). However, the more I read about it, the more I got excited - the reviews were very positive. At 61%, this dram is more than drinkable, but is best enjoyed a bit diluted.

Nose: Toffee notes, with earth and campfire smoke. Bacon?
Palate: Sweet, with some earthy feel. Well-balanced with strong peat and smoke notes. Rich and complex.
Finish: Rich, sweet and a bit smoky. Long-lasting and chewy.
Overall: Hits the tongue like a good Speyside and rolls down the throat leaving Islay in its wake. The best of several worlds. Instantly cracked my top ten, and improved significantly with a couple drops of water. 9.5/10.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Feb 2010 Tasting

Finally, my posts have caught up with my journal. Our February tasting took place on the 19th at Max & Norm's place (thanks guys!) on Max's last weekend there. As I organized my journal and whisky lists, and out of a raging sense of curiosity, I tallied up all the single-malt scotches I have ever tried more than just a sip or two of. This tasting brought me to 50 different whiskies from 27 different distilleries.

This was one of our best tastings of all-time, second only to Christmas. The two cask strength whiskies (both over 55%) wreaked some havoc on us all the morning after, but all 3 whiskies were hits. Erin again sent some of her great baking over with Kevin, this time fresh cookies. Scotch Club rookie Jesse went 3 for 3 on the blind tasting with great confidence.

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

Glengoyne 12 (Highlands)
Bottled at some 57.2%, this is a powerful whisky that uses an entirely unpeated malt. It's distilled on the Highland line and actually matured in the Lowlands. Grabbed this at the SAQ after a mini-tasting (man, I love mini-tastings at the SAQ), where I found it outscored the Glenlivet Nadurra cask strength.

Nose: Light fruits - pears, apples.
Palate: Some sweetness - fruit, honey, a little caramel. Strong, but not unpleasant, alcoholic aroma over oaky herbals.
Finish: Long, dry, with oak and straw notes.
Overall: Smooth for its strength, this is a nice, light and enjoyable scotch. Good complexity for a 12-year-old. A solid 8.5/10.

Caol Ila Distiller's Edition 1996 (Islay)
We gave the Islays another stab, this time with my favourite distillery. This scotch has much broader appeal than the Laphroaig Quarter-Cask, being finished in Muscat casks and having far less phenol (around 35 ppm). This one was much better-received than the Laphroaig, scoring #1 or #2 on everyone's list. Can't figure out why it's $100 at the LCBO but $130 at the SAQ.

Nose: Some grape over great smoke and peat notes.
Palate: A little grapiness up front giving way to Caol Ila's signature earthy, oily peat smoke. Complex and balanced throughout with a little caramel and spice.
Finish: Long but not especially complex - good smoke and peat.
Overall: This is my favourite distillery, and this was no disappointment to me. It's like your girlfriend in a wig - you like that she's the same girl, but you like that she looks a little different tonight. Tied with Laphroaig Quarter-Cask for #4 and #5 on my all-time list. 9.5/10.

Convalmore 21 1984 (Speyside)
Bottled 2006 by Gordon & McPhail
We let Max go wild at an enormous liquor store in Chicago with $200 for a single bottle. He was like a kid in a candy store, and to his credit, picked up this beauty from Convalmore, which we'd never heard of. This distillery closed in 1985, so it was fun to get a taste of something we'll likely never see again. Another cask-strength bottling, this one weighed in at 57.1% and managed to be quite smooth despite that.

Nose: Grape and cherry, bright alcohol.
Palate: Caramel and dark fruits, going to oak and malts, with a hint of smoke. Round and balanced.
Finish: Alcoholic, some bitter oak and quite dry.
Overall: Easy to see why this was used so extensively in blends - nothing spectacular, but absolutely nothing unpleasant. It's nice, but I felt like the price tag had more to do with novelty value than quality. 8.5 of 10.

Jan 2010 Tasting

I made the best New Year's resolution ever this year: to drink more scotch. Specifically, I wanted to try holding a tasting every month. Scotch Club had really taken off by this point, with people clamouring for one of the 12 spots. There is an unofficial tier system where the founding crew of me, Max, Norm, Dara, Derek, Laurent, Kevin and Mark always get first dibs on the spots, followed by our other top tasters - Allard, Ardeshir, Joe, Nick and Jason.

This tasting, held at Dara's on Jan 29th, filled up immediately. Some of the guys from Christmas were pretty upset when they heard there were no spots open for this tasting - Jean-Martin offered me double the admission fee if I would kick someone out. Special thanks to Kevin's wife, Erin, for baking us some sweet snacks.

Attending: Me, Dara, Derek, Max, Mark, Kevin, Laurent, Ardeshir, Allard, Nick, Joe, Jason.

Highland Park 23 1984 (Highlands - Islands)
"Old Malt Cask" bottled 2007 by Douglas Laing & Co.
Our first crack at a private bottling, the "Old Malt Cask" series are whiskies from single casks purchased from various distilleries and bottled at 50% without chill filtration or colouring. I was expecting big things from this bottle, being such a Highland Park fan. At $190, this is still our most expensive scotch to date as of this writing. It was liked, but didn't seem to be a standout for most. The alcohol was a bit strong, and water didn't improve the flavour profile at all. Max tried it on the rocks (the lack of chill filtration was immediately apparent), and pronounced it to be fantastic.

Nose: Vanilla, honey, some background peat and wood. Great balance.
Palate: Malted sugar and honey at first, becomes herbal and woody with a little peat in the back. Smooth.
Finish: Heavy oakiness, nice peat presence. Very dry. Long, but not especially complex.
Overall: A little like dating a high-maintenance girl who's no good in the sack. A good scotch but not worth the price tag. I put it between 8.5 and 9/10; whereas the Highland Park 12 is a solid 9 IMO.

Glenfiddich 18 (Speyside)
There's a lot of scotch drinkers that turn their nose up at Glenfiddich, because we all outgrew the 12-year-old at some point and wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole anymore. I wouldn't have either, until Laurent gave me a taste of this at the pub. I agreed it was far better than the 12, and we also agreed that strangely, that one was better than the bottle we had tonight. Dara and I had a taste of this beside the Glendfiddich 21 at the SAQ the night before, and found it actually superior.

Nose: Fantastic. Wine, grapes and dried fruits. A little oak but subtle.
Palate: Mellow fruitiness gives way to solid oak. Quite smooth.
Finish: Huge, solid oakiness characteristic of Glenfiddich, but smoother and warming in this expression. Little complexity.
Overall: Honestly, I remember this having more dried fruit flavour in the finish that came off a lot richer and more satisfying. 8.5/10.

Laphroaig Quarter-Cask (Islay)
Max and I are both big Islay fans, and we thought that it was time to introduce the guys to peat. My brother and I picked up a bottle of this at Christmas, and found it to be absolutely spectacular - and a great bargain at $65. Beware, though, as this is a big fat nasty peat-packing monster. I've read in some places it has around 65 ppm phenol, and when you have a dozen glasses of it under your nose, you smell it pretty well. It was at least an educational experience for some (Kevin hated this one), but it received the most votes for favourite of the night.

Nose: Phenolic peat smoke punches you in the face. Jim Murray describes it as "a crofter's fireplace," which makes me think those guys (whatever they do) must have short lifespans.
Palate: Just a touch of sweetness up front (caramel or toffee; without coffee or chocolate notes) before an exquisitely well-balanced shitstorm of peat, smoke, and oak goes slam-dancing on your tongue. Salty.
Finish: Tons of peat and oak blending into a chewy, never-ending finish. Astounding.
Overall: This is a whisky with enormous character, but absolutely no middle ground that people will either love or hate. I'm a lover, and rate this at #4 or #5 on my all-time list. 9.5/10.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Christmas Tasting

My brother is also a scotch lover, and I love to torment him with tales of the great whiskies we get the chance to sample. He was visiting over Christmas, and likely would have murdered me if I hadn't organized a tasting while he was here. Because of the season (and our department's party the same evening), many of our stalwart members couldn't attend, but we got a full twelve guys for the first time and had a now-legendary tasting with three of the best whiskies we've ever done. Thanks to Joe and Max D for taking hosting duties. I did actually manage to hold onto some notes from this tasting, or at least generate them the next day.

Stevens was a big hit in his kilt, and Jason's cigars were thoroughly enjoyed beside the Lagavulin. However, cigars are best enjoyed outside and we learned that sitting outside in the winter can really deaden the flavours of a great scotch.

Attending: Me, Max (B), Mark, Allard, Norm, Max D, Joe, Jeremy, Jason, Stevens, Jean-Martin, Jean-Francois.

Talisker Distiller's Edition 1996 (Highlands/Islands)
I like the Talisker 10 a lot and wasn't sure what to expect from this sherry-finished expression. I'm not a big fan of wine, and I'm not usually into sherry-finished whiskies as much as their "unsherried" brethren. This is one was well-liked by everyone though, and would have been a favourite of the night if the rest of the selection hadn't been so spectacular.

Nose: Sweet and fruity, loads of the sherry finish.
Palate: Lots of fruity character, with some bitter chocolate.
Finish: Long and smooth, Talisker's signature smoke without peat is here.
Overall: The sherry might have done the Talisker some favours, but I'll need to taste them side-by-side one day to be sure - and that's going to be a great day. 9/10

Glenfarclas 25 (Speyside)
My brother and I had the 15-year-old a couple years ago, and we were slightly giddy when we picked this one up - when it was bought, this was both the oldest and most expensive whisky I'd ever laid my hands on. We've since bought more expensive whiskies for the club, but this is still the oldest. It was a big favourite on the night for those that don't prefer the Islays.

Nose: Sweet, creamy vanilla
Palate: A bit of peat in the background under big, creamy, fruity flavours.
Finish: Long and complex. Absolutely amazing.
Overall: This whisky was just stunning. I described it at one point as like eating a piece of cake. Some whiskies suffer when they're too long in the barrel, but this wasn't one. #3 on my all-time list as of this writing. 9.5/10

Lagavulin 16 (Islay)
I love Islays and Lagavulin is one of the best. I first had this whisky when I was about 21 and it was a major reason I began getting interested in scotch. This was also a very well-received whisky, and is a great one to bring to novice tasters. It illustrates perfectly the peaty, smoky characters of Islay whiskies without being (too) overpowering.

Nose: Phenol, smoke and herbs.
Palate: Heaps of phenolic peat, but well-balanced with a malty sweetness and great smoke flavour.
Finish: My tasting notes from the evening read "me love you long time, baby!"
Overall: In my opinion, this is one of the great whiskies that make life worth living (to quote Jim Murray). #2 on my all-time list. 9.5/10