Saturday, March 6, 2010

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.

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