Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 2010 Tasting - Blends

Our July 23rd tasting proved to be quite a popular event, with a full 12 people attending. We had a couple bottles in reserve that had been sitting for 2-3 months: a Corsican whisky that Laurent searched out in France in May, and bottle Stevens picked up at a duty-free not long after that. With 2 bottles of blended whisky in hand, only $90 spent, and a full roster, I looked through the SAQ site to see how to best spend the rest of our budget. Max and I thought it might be fun to go with a selection of blends, and so the idea of a "blend night" was born...

Knowing the dangers of a 4-bottle scotch club, we nonetheless forged bravely ahead into a tasting we knew would be quite painful. Thanks go out to Stevens and Laurent for procurement (and patience!) and Max & Pat for hosting; cheers to Max for our 10th "official" event and to Ian M for attending 5 consecutive tastings since his first invite in March.

Attending: Me, Max, Mark, Laurent, Dara, Derek, Allard, Ian M, Joe, Jesse, Nick, Pat

The Black Grouse
Made by the same guys that do The Famous Grouse, I had tried this before on a trip overseas when I read it was a good and inexpensive blend with a nice peat quality. I resolved to have someone pick up a bottle for scotch club on their next voyage out of the country to taste with the club as an example of how great a blend can be. Everyone I've introduced to this scotch has enjoyed it thoroughly, and it was rated #1 on the night (albeit by a fairly narrow margin). It's now available in Ontario for $33/750 ml, making it the best buy in whisky. Period.

Nose: Pleasant and balanced, with sweetness and malt overlying pure and beautiful peat smoke.
Palate: Malty caramel with a little spice. Beautiful smoky notes in the back. Light phenol is enough to be heard but not overwhelm.
Finish: Smooth, sweet and gentle. Lingering peat over great oaky tones. Absolutely beautiful.
Overall: If your friends like whisky, keep a bottle of this around at all times. They will thank you. A magnificent whisky for magnificent price. Slightly over the 9/10 mark.

Ballantine's 17
I don't mind me a Ballantine's, and drank a fair amount of their Special Reserve before I discovered the Black Grouse. Being that the 17 is an award-winning whisky that Jim Murray was pretty excited about (13-18 Year Old Blended Scotch of 2010), I wanted to include this in the tasting. A strong showing, but it narrowly missed the favourite of the night to a bottle less than half its price.

Nose: Oaky and good vanilla. Slight traces of sherry and peat.
Palate: Sweet, smooth and silky. Honey, oak, a dash of phenol and a pile of malt.
Finish: Smooth, warming and tons of rich malty flavour.
Overall: A great scotch, but a little lacking in character. Great balance and complexity but maybe TOO subtle. Just short of 9/10.

Usquaebach Reserve Blended Scotch Whisky
This started popping up on the SAQ site a couple of months ago. An expensive blend, I had never heard of it and found nothing substantial about it anywhere on the net or in the Whisky Bible, either. Apparently the illness of the brand owner made it unavailable for years, and it has recently come back on the market. Between the lack of information, the way it fit our budget, and the amazingly cool clay decanter it comes in, we had plenty of great reasons to try it.

Nose: On the fruity side - apple, pear and ester qualities. Nicely balanced by a touch of smoke.
Palate: Smooth with honey and a bit of bitter, dry oak. Pleasant and balanced.
Finish: Beautifully smooth, but short and lacking.
Overall: Like a new nerdy guy at work treading around lightly trying not to offend anyone. Doesn't cause any friction but is ultimately a bit boring. No more than 8.5/10

P&M Blend Supérieur (France)
A little-known distillery from the island of Corsica distills this whisky from beer mash and ages it in French oak, some that has previously contained various eaux-de-vie produced at the same distillery. Procured by Laurent, we thank him for keeping it untouched on his shelf for so long!

Nose: Surprising. Perfume, flowers, citrus and spice. Like nothing else in whisky.
Palate: Sweet, fruity and distinct oakiness. Like a strange liqueur that probably exists somewhere but I've yet to try.
Finish: A little hot with some grain liquor quality and strong chestnut flavour.
Overall: A unique whisky that shocks and thrills with unexpected flavours and tremendous complexity. Far from great, but certainly interesting. 8/10.

Monday, July 5, 2010

June 2010 Tasting

Just barely managed to squeeze a tasting into June, as I was trying to plan around a visit from an old friend and scotch lover and did something seemingly insane - plan Scotch Club for a Wednesday night. However, it was June 30th, the day before Canada Day. With most everybody off work on Thursday, we were free to celebrate with a highly-rated Canadian rye alongside a couple of fine single malts. Big cheers to Dara for hosting despite the arrival of his parents that evening!

We had a surprisingly good promised turnout, and I (perhaps foolishly) bought for 13 people attending. Some of these had last-minute issues - Canada Day is Moving Day here in Montreal, and Norm's movers screwed him over; Dara's dad was more or less dragged out by his wife - and another might have been a flat mistake on my part. As a result, several of the men put in more than the $30 we normally charge. Thanks guys, your contributions will be noted and some sort of bonus will make its way back to you.

Also thanks again to Erin for some great baking, and the ladies of Book Club for putting up with us afterwards at L&B. A last cheers to BetterMax, we unknowingly did our 10th event this night - 29 whiskies tasted and counting!

Attending: Me, Max, Mark, Kevin, Laurent, Dara, Derek, IanM, Stevens, Barry

Alberta Premium 5 (Canada)
Max and I were slightly sceptical about this whisky, being more fans of scotch than rye. However, Jim Murray talks about this whisky like ambrosia - statements along the lines of 'should be regarded as a national treasure' or words to that effect; and rating it an incredible 94.5. We decided that this was a better buy than the Glen Breton single malt whisky from Nova Scotia, and gave it a shot. At $30, why not?

Nose: Slightly sweet with complex sugars - maple and molasses maybe. Distinct grain liquor smell, though.
Palate: Sweet, nutty (one taster had coconut, too). Quite smooth and pleasant up front. Maybe some ketones towards the back.
Finish: Pure grain liquor, like a cheap vodka. Nasty, and seemingly immune to the addition of water or ice. Maybe some Canada Dry?
Overall: Whatever Jim Murray has to say, and despite a wholly pleasant palate, I wasn't a big fan. I compared it today to a girl who hasn't yet learned that teeth are no good in a blowjob. Sure, you enjoy it to a certain extent, but it's also painful and difficult to get off. Many guys didn't even want their second round. 6.5/10.

Lagavulin Distiller's Edition (Islay, no age statement)
Barry, who isn't normally a peat fan, was given the chore of picking up our 3rd bottle from the SAQ (sadly, he didn't get to London's shops before leaving). I think the promise of the sherry balanced with peat intrigued him, and I admit to wanting to try this expression badly. Lagavulin 16 is one of my favourite whiskies, and my discovery that I really enjoy heavily-sherried Islays - Ardbeg Uigeadail and Port Charlotte 7, for example - had me anticipating this pretty eagerly.

Nose: A little winey sweetness up front, and then big phenolic peat flavours. Lovely.
Palate: Sweet, smooth and calm at the outset. Maybe even weak. Builds to some serious phenol heights in a very enjoyable ride.
Finish: No lack of it. Loads of peat, but without that sorta chewy, lip-smacking bit that the best have. Something else I couldn't quite identify, but quite pleasant.
Overall: Good, maybe even great, but fell short of the high expectations set by the aforementioned whiskies. At the same price tag ($145 at the SAQ), you can get the Ardbeg Uigeadail, and get soooo much more bang for your buck. 9/10.

Talisker 25 (Highlands - Islands)
Another great buy by Max at Binnie's. $210 in Chicago compared to $400 and change at the LCBO. We were really looking forward to a bottle that broke our price record (previously about $190 for the Highland Park 23 and the Convalmore 21) and tied our age record (25 years, tied with a Glenfarclas). That's right, over $200 and 25 years old. Big pimpin'.

Nose: Strong, the 57% cask-strength bottling really shows up. A little berry, a little woody, a little... aldehyde?
Palate: Sweet and lovely in front, gets washed out by too much water. Quite peppery. Nice little smoke flavours with little in the way of phenol.
Finish: A little bitter with more of that pepper and some good solid wood and smoke flavours.
Overall: A brilliant expression of Talisker. It's smooth like a velvet suit and kicks like a gaudy, heavily-weighted cane. Feel lucky to have had the chance to drink some, but I'd never grab a bottle myself. 9/10.