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.

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