Recent Openings and Christmas Spirits

Recent Openings and Christmas Spirits

Isn’t serendipity a coincidence?  The things the Universe brings when you weren’t really expecting but you leave it open to see what turns up.

You may remember the article about the opening of the Amrut Spectrum and how impressed I was.

Daniel asked if I could take him a sample, and he was prepared to trade a couple of interesting sherry-based ones that he had.

A fair swap!

Daniel’s Samples

Sample 1: Glendronach 15yo, PX, 54.7% abv

Colour 1.5. 

Nose: A strong nose of pipe tobacco, followed by fresh raspberries mixed with citrus peel, cloves, and granny’s Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. 

Palette:  As you would expect with a PX sherry cask whisky, the taste opens with a mouthful of sweet, spicy sherry.  Then comes orange peel and the cloves returning. 

Finish: The finish is long, with the flavour lingering but not the cask-strength heat.

Comment: I thought the nose was delightful and marked it at 9.2.  I was a little disappointed to find that the nose promised rather more than the taste delivered.  However, overall this is still a deliciously good drop!

Score: 8.8 

Sample 2: Adelphi Glen Rothes 7yo, 66.7% abv

The colour of 1.7 is the signature Glen Rothes sherry finish colouring. 

Nose: Here is an old leather couch and brown sugar, wrapped in a crepe bandage. 

Palette: The taste is thick with a slight sour note, predominantly from a lot of oak and an oloroso sherry cask.

Finish: My mouth was left with a feeling of tannic-y drying, but not unpleasantly so.  

Comment:  When the choice is between an Adelphi bottling and something else, I will almost invariably go for the Adelphi – they are consistently appealing.  Although my marking here is not at the top end, the 7yo Glen Rothes is well within my expected marking range for Adelphis (Adelphii?),.

Score: 8.8

The Christmas Spirits

There is a long-standing family tradition that we have created over the last couple of years.  It is called the family Christmas meal, and involves my wife’s brothers and their families.

It may not come as a huge surprise that a large part of the tradition involves whisky.  One year the whisky bit centred around an Advent calendar that contained twelve assorted single malt samples.  They were only small bottles, but it was a very Happy Christmas indeed.

This year the event went up a gear.  The invitee net was spread to include several items of note: two Glenlivet Nadurras, the Cardrona Just Hatched Sherry Cask, and Graeme.

The Glenlivet, “Nadurra” Bourbon finish.  59.8% abv

Colour 0.7.  Finished in a first fill white oak bourbon cask.

The expression “finished in” on a label is not really helpful if you’re trying to use the information to determine what a whisky might taste like before you purchase it.  Was the whisky finished in that barrel for 5 years? One year? Six months?  Who knows. 

Nose: lollies, airfix glue, sweet nuts (cashews or almonds), vanilla.

Palette: Full front of mouth, bourbon burn, tannic.  2nd mouthful is softer, greater heat.

Finish: long, slightly tannic-y drying but nice.

Comment:  This is the second time I’ve tried this whisky (the first was at a tasting session 9 months ago).  I bought a bottle of its sister dram (the oloroso finish version) as it catered more to my taste for sherried drams, but the bourbon finish is still very good and scores highly in consequence.

Score: 8.9

The Glenlivet, “Nadurra” Oloroso sherry finish, 60.3% abv

Colour 1.3

Nose: Leather, rich, fruit cake.

Palette: Heat!, sweet, fruit cake

Finish: fruit cake, oloros sour

Comment:  In my hand-written notes I put “unremarkable”, but this is not intended to minimise the whisky or be derogatory.  At 60.3% abv this is not a petty dram at all, quite the contrary.  Other whiskies at that strength hit you very hard, mostly with alcohol burn and little else.  This Nadurra  in exceptionally drinkable and – my other note – “goes down very nicely”.

Score: 9.2

So here endeth 2018, not with a whimper but with a bang!

I have been very fortunate to have found some amazing drams to taste, and there have been some ho-hum ones too.   But, as with so many things, at the end of the day beauty in whisky is in the taste of the beholder.  What fascinates me may well bore you to tears, and I will be last to say you’re wrong!

So thank you to all the distillers & suppliers and tasters.  Roll on 2019 and some more drams to sample!

Slainte

Advertisements

Cardrona “Just Hatched”

Two and a half years can be a very long wait.  But when the wait is over the outcome will prove that it was all worthwhile.

Two and a half years ago I was fortunate enough to be part of a group that got to taste the new spirit from a New Zealand distillery. The universal group view was that waiting for marketable output from this major new distillery was going to be extremely worthwhile.

And so it has proved.

The western mountains of Central Otago on NZ’s South Island are some of the most picturesque in the world.

New Zealand’s newest producing distillery – Cardrona – is located on the highest alpine pass tourist route through the mountains.  Up until now the Cardrona area, some 40 kilometres from the southern tourist mecca of Queenstown, has been best known for winter sports,

I confidently predict that is about to change!

One of the non-skiing attractions of Cardrona is the quality of the local water source.  That has been one driving reason for building the distillery there.  The current Concerto grain used in production is imported from the UK, and the water is able to be added unfiltered to the mash.

The first release bottlings, appropriately entitled “Just Hatched”, were bottled two weeks ago from barrels casked at the beginning of December, 2015.

Two expressions have been released.  A bourbon cask and a first fill Oloroso cask.

Both releases have been in 375 ml bottles.  There are 474 bottles of the bourbon cask and 1,295 bottles of the sherry.  Both are presented in a very attractive, professionally designed wooden outline box, with a bespoke locking arrangement to keep it all securely together.

The Whiskies

Just Hatched – Bourbon Cask

66.7% abv, colour 0.2

Caution: undiluted, this is in the top five strength whiskies I have ever tasted.

Nose: Taking the cork from the bottle, you are met by a strong, endearing aroma of honey.  From the glass, the first thought is of the sweetness.  There is alcohol and a distant memory of the glue boys used to put model aeroplane kits together when we were young.  Then it quickly turns to pears, green apples, and another memory of those lovely baked apples stuffed with dates, brown sugar and cinnamon that your mother used to cook.

Taste: Taking a large mouthful and holding it for ten seconds is not for the faint-hearted, unless you have medical insurance to put your head back on.  There is capital A alcohol, hot, full, a huge mouthful and the honey coming through.   The second – and more judicious – mouthful still has the big flavour, but now it has smoothed out to deliciousness.  At rest, there is gentle perfume and, most surprisingly, a hint of fresh mushrooms.

Finish: The finish is long, equally of flavour and heat with a comforting warm throat.

Comment:  The time in wood has had an effect.  The whisky is quite light in colour, and I didn’t find the vanilla notes that normally come from bourbon casks.  There is a New Zealand mythical “Southern Man” – tough, climbing a steep hill in snow carrying a sheep under each arm.  This, in its undiluted form, would be his whisky.  It is, in a word, magnificent!

But, as my brother-in-law observed, “This is definitely not a session whisky!”

I’ll be back for more.

Overall: 9.0

 

“Just Hatched” – Oloroso

63.2% abv, colour 1.6

Nose: first nose from the bottle is a slight rubber bike tyre (sulphur).  That goes very quickly with exposure to air, and turns to honey.  From the glass, there is more honey, a sharpness, with golden syrup and rolled oats, and a gentle sugar sack.

Taste: There is grain and honey, rolled oats, leather polish, a slight bitterness that is typical of oloroso casks, and pepper on the tongue.  There is a beautiful roundness and fullness in the mouth, reminiscent of a low Christmas cake.

Finish: The finish is long on the flavour, and I wish it would stay even longer!

Comment: As with the bourbon cask expression, from the bottle this is a high abv whisky but very drinkable, even undiluted.  The dark oloroso engenders a much darker colour than its bourbon sister.  I am becoming quite a fan of sherried whiskies, and this is at the top of the very nicest I have tasted.  I’m just sad that the bottle isn’t bigger!

On a personal level, I prefer this whisky to the bourbon expression but I stress that is only my taste and nothing at all to do with the whiskies.

Score 9.5

 

Overall comment: These whiskies may not be old enough to go school unaccompanied, but they are both more than capable of playing for the college First 15!

Or carrying a sheep up a hill.

These are two excellent whiskies!  The two and a half years was well worth the wait, but I hope it isn’t going to be another two and a half years before we get a second release.

Note: this article is unsponsored, but I would like to extend my thanks to staff at the Cardrona distillery for background information provided so willingly.

Tasting: GlenDronach

My feelings about this tasting after the event were not entirely what I had expected them to be.

Like a Spaghetti Western movie,  it encompassed the truly magnificent, the sort-of-ok, and the “Really??”

The name GlenDronach generally brings smiles to faces.  It anticipates a good drop, as do the outputs from its sister distilleries, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh.

This vertical tasting of GlenDronach whiskies included some rare (and relatively uncheap) whiskies.

Now, “uncheap” is a very subjective term, governed in some part by the depth of one’s pockets.  To some buyers, paying out $100 for a bottle of whisky may be viewed as a big outlay.  To others, $600+ is a mere bagatelle.

I tend to buy in the $120-$160 range as I can find a lot I like in that range.

But the opportunity to taste whiskies that are in the higher price ranges is always a good option for me.  The cost of going to tastings is not high and if I don’t like the offerings I haven’t shelled out a whole lot of money.  If I do like them, I have tried them – without laying out a whole lot of money!

Win-win, smiley face, smiley face.

Back Story

Now owned by Brown-Forman, The GlenDronach is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland.

GlenDronach, then under the ownership William Teacher & Sons, was mothballed in 1996 and resumed production in 2002.  I only note this rather prosaic piece of information to provide a little interesting background to some of the whiskies in this tasting.

With some careful mathematical workings, 1996 was 22 years before 2018.  This means that anything in this tasting that is 22 years old or over is stock made before the distillery was mothballed.  And there were three in that timeframe – the 22 yo PX from 1995, the 25 year old from 1992 and the 27 year old from 1990, all of which were bottled in 2017.

The Whiskies

1995 22yo, PX Puncheon, 53.1%

The first of old stock.  Darker in colour, nose of brown sugar with a slight hint of sulphur and grandfather’s braces, Christmas cake and syrup, an slightly oily medium length finish where the taste stops but the heat lingers.  A top drop!  Score: 9.6

21 yo Parliament 48%

Slightly lighter colour (1.5), nice nose of leather, old sack and tinned fruit, buttery on the palette then thin and slightly sour taste.  Score: 7.6

1992 25yo Sherry Butt 50.9%

The second from old stock.  It is darker colour at 1.7, with the nose of an old leather chair, px raisins and sultanas, musty and old furniture.  The taste is smooth and high-end chocolate, dry on the tongue and slightly tannic.  Goes sour at the end with a short/medium finish.  Score: 7.8

1990 27yo, PX puncheon, 52.1%

Another from the pre-mothballed old stock.  A lovely nose of lollies and liquorice, brown sugar, vanilla and prunes.  The palette is smooth and sweet, cake, fruit, grass, sack, dry  (too much time in wood?) to a long finish. My second favourite of the event but only by a short nose (I am a sucker for a PX-matured whisky!).  Score: 9.5

Allardice 18yo, 46%, Olorosso

The nose is rather dirty and musty, with vegemite, sulphur and slight smoke.  The palette is disappointingly flat, with no great highlights to a short/medium finish.  I would generally go quite a distance for an oloroso whisky – sadly not in this case.  Score: 7.4

12yo Original, 43%

The nose of sweet lollies, caramel and vanilla ice cream, laundry that has not been properly aired (sourish smell – bourbon barrel?), chocolate.  Palette: fruit (oloroso?), taste is a bit disappointing compared to the promise of the nose.  Score: 8.0

Hazelburn (Campbelltown) 13yo oloroso 47.4% (the mystery)

“One of these is not like the others”.  A nose of marine and rock pools, quite light, an old opium pipe, musty with slight smoke and the sweet smell of a service station grease pit.  The taste echoes the peat and smoke, with a short/medium finish.  Not hard to spot as the Mystery, although its origins were not as easily identifiable!  Score: 7.5

Additional Glass

The Hielan, 8yo 46%

Very light in colour (0.3), almost clear.  The marine and sourish nose continues over to the palette with a bourbon barrel taste.  Score 7.8

Overall view of the tasting: a couple of real highlights, but overall not quite as magnificent as I was expecting.  Glad I went, though!

Tastings are a bit like buses – there’ll be another along shortly!

Tasting held at Regional Wines & Spirits, Wellington.  Presenter: Daniel Bruce McLaren.

Tasting: Brother-in-law’s Birthday

In which we get introduced to an Irish whisky, two new Scotches and one new edition of an oldie-but-goody Islay.

My brother in law and I have an interesting time, birthday-wise.

We’ve been doing seriously whisky-themed birthdays for about 15 years.

Celebrations involve a gathering at the celebrator’s residence, a gift of whisky is usually made and samples of the celebrator’s single malt stocks are tasted (refer to previous block about stocks being depleted as the result of family events).

The whisky gifts tend towards the odd, the new, the hard-to-come-by or the downright unusual.  It’s not a competitive thing: we just like to get something that we haven’t tried before or for a long time.

For our wives, wine is also served (Merlot in the winter, tending to Rose in the summer months), plus the occasional rum or gin-and-tonic (gentle on the tonic!)

For those of you who may be concerned, the celebrations also involve either a substantial lunch or a barbeque where all the participants contribute a dish to the meal.  The families all have at least one great cook (sometimes more than one) and there are many speciality dishes in the mix – you never go short of something to eat!

For my last birthday he gave me the latest Teeling Grain whisky, the one that got Best Grain in the Whisky 2018 awards.  A nice drop I have to say, and thoroughly deserving of the award!

For his birthday I found a sherry matured Bunnahabhain 12 year old that I hadn’t seen on shelves for a while and that he had just finished his bottle of.

He had been threatening me for some weeks with three new whiskies that he’d found somewhere that he was going to get to try.

So, here we go:

Whisky #1

Teeling Brabazon bottling, single malt Irish whiskey, Release 2. Port Cask matured, 49.5% abv. No age statement, non-coloured, non-chill filtered.

Colour: 1.7, with a reddish tinge from the port casks.

Nose: spicy, apples, marine with a hint of seaweed and rock pools.  Nose score: 8.7

Palette: floral, cinnamon, slightly bitter, with a slightly tannic and drying end.

Overall score: 8.7

Whisky #2

Talisker Port Ruighe, finished in port cask, 45.8%, no age statement.

Colour: 1,6

Nose: Strong, smoky bacon.  Reaction to the first sniff: WOW! Nose score: 8.7

Palette: bacon, pepper, smooth, slightly sweet.  Did I mention the bacon?  Tannic at the end.

Overall score: 8.5

Whisky #3

The Arran, The Amarone Cask Finish.  50% abv, non-coloured, non-chill filtered.  The blurb on the box notes that the whisky was initially matured in traditional oak cask, finished in Amarone wine casks.  (In case you’re asking, Amarone is n Italian red wine.  We know.  We looked it up!)

Colour: 1.8

Nose: red wine (not surprising), dark chocolate, sweetness and coconut.  Nose score: 8.9

Palette: cherry parfait, pears, smooth, no tannin.  More cherries, followed by other cherries!  The taste lingers, along with the cherries.

Overall score: 9.1.

That was his three, and quite imporessive they are.  But it was only afternoon tea time (we had started at midday), so we had to try:

Whisky #4

Bunnhabhain 12 yo, 46.3% abv, matured in sherry and bourbon.

Colour: 1.8.

Nose: hessian, sugar sacks, leather.  Nose score: 8.4

Palette: old leather, sacking (tastes, like it noses). Sweet, fruity and warming.

Overall score: 9.2

With luck, we will both have another birthday each next year.  I’m looking forward to that, although I’ll need to spend the next 12 months trying to find a suitable present.

Thanks to all who cooked (and ate) for the event. The food was damned fine, too!

Tasting: An Introduction to Whisky

You might think that a heading like this would indicate another learned piece on malt, peat smoke, worts, and the effects of  age and barrels.

It doesn’t.

In the late 1950s, before air travel was readily available, Wellington was the geographic centre and transport hub of New Zealand.  The only way to get between the North and South Islands was by the overnight inter-island ferry that sailed daily between Wellington and Christchurch.  Everyone traveling had to pass through Wellington.

The ferry left at 7pm and arrived at 7am the following day, so people who lived in Wellington got a lot of visitors calling as they either waited for the ferry to take them south or recovered from the often bouncy trip coming north.

We lived in Wellington.

Like most men of the era, my father was a returned soldier.  He had seemingly hoards of ex-army mates, all of whom seemed to travel frequently from North to South and back again.  All these “uncles” used to call in on Dad and our family as they passed, and they’d frequently stay overnight.

Part of the ritual of their visit or stay was to have a dram with Dad.  Dad preferred a drop called Black & White, a blend of predominantly grain whisky.  The distinctive label featured a picture of two Scots Terriers on the label, one black and the other white.

The bottle top of Black and White whisky had a strange sort of arrangement to it.  It had a lever mechanism made of twisted wire.   When the lever was pushed down it locked the cap in place and released it when the lever was lifted up.  The bonus was that when the cap was locked down it was spill-proof.  It was a neat arrangement, particularly to a young boy with a slightly technical turn of mind, and I still find it fascinating.

My mother had been brought up through the Depression, a time when things were home-made rather than purchased.  She made a lemonade cordial for us kids, made as a concentrate and kept in a screw-top bottle.  We would pour half an inch (about 10mm) of the concentrate into a tumbler and then add water to taste.

One of our family rituals were picnics on Sundays.  And part of the picnic ritual was to make up a bottle of pre-diluted lemonade cordial to take with us.  And one of the good things about Dad’s whisky bottles was the clever locking, spill-proof cap.  An empty whisky bottle, with black and white doggy label and locking cap, was pressed into service as a container for the kids’ drink.

On the particular Sunday under discussion, an uncle (and possibly an accompanying aunt) were arriving in town on the way to or from somewhere or other, and they were staying overnight.  The family had gone on a picnic for Sunday lunch, accompanied by the pre-owned Black and White Whisky bottle containing diluted lemonade cordial.

When we got home after the picnic some of the diluted lemonade was still left in the old whisky bottle; the bottle was put into the refrigerator for future use by thirsty children.

Uncle (and aunt) had arrived for tea and to stay the night.

About 8:30pm in the evening Dad’s Black and White Whisky had been brought out to help lubricate the visit.

At about 8:45pm I was heading to bed (obedient young lad that I was!) and decided that I needed a drink of lemonade before retiring for the night.

And then I remembered the Black and White whisky bottle of lemonade in the refrigerator.  Aha, I think, I’ll have a glass of that because it’s already made up and I can just pour it out into a glass for myself.

When I arrived in the kitchen, I found the bottle was already out on the kitchen bench in all its canine splendour.

Through the green of the bottle I saw that it was still about a third full.  I remember thinking how quite unusually considerate whichever sister had got the bottle out had been to leave some for me!

I poured myself a nearly full tumbler from the bottle, put the locking cap carefully back on, and even thought to return the bottle to the refrigerator!

Then, as thirsty young boys do, I took a big mouthful and swallowed it in a gulp.

Can anyone see where this is headed yet?

Black and White Whisky these days is a 40% alcohol by volume dram.  I haven’t tasted it for a long time, but I suspect that it was probably 40% alcohol by volume back then, too.  Whatever, even at 40% it was still 39% higher than anything I had ever had to drink before that Sunday evening!  Even cough medicine wasn’t that high!

My anticipated gulp of cool, gentle lemonade suddenly seemed to have acquired a flame-thrower additive that I hadn’t been warned about.

My yell of astonishment/horror/shock brought my parents and the uncle (and probably the aunt) racing into the kitchen at high speed from their rudely interrupted comfort in the lounge.

They conducted a quick check of vital signs to make sure I had managed to regain the ability to breathe, that the screaming had decreased to acceptable levels and that no-one was going to cut themselves on the remains of the glass which I had thrown to the floor in my surprise.

On ensuring that there was no lasting damage, their interest turned to the bottle of Black and White (the whisky bottle, not the cordial one).  Their focus of concern now seemed to to have shifted, that the level of available liquid in their bottle had dropped alarmingly and that there may not be sufficient left for their evening tipples.

Charming!

Other than the broken glass, there was no lasting damage that I remember.  But it took some years for me to be able to look whisky in the eye again.

And I never gulp it!

Tasting: The Midlands

Tasting: The Midlands

Held at: Regional Wines, Wellington

Presenter: Daniel Mclaren Moon

Offerings:      Aberfeldy Gordon & McPhail Connoisseurs’ Choice, 14yo, 46% abv

Blair Athol Connoisseur’s Choice, 9yo, 46% abv

Glenturret Sherry Cask Edition, 43%

Deanston 18yo (the mystery)

Deanston Old Malt Cask 21yo 50% abv

Glengoyne Cask Strength 59.1%

Edradour Straight From The Cask 10yo, 58.8% abv

Format: Blind tasting, 6 of the 7 bottles are known, but not which glass each is in.

*******

Where are the Scottish Midlands, you ask?  And well you might.

According to Wikipedia, the Scottish Midlands (or Central Belt) is the triangle defined by the M8, M80 motorway and M9 motorways stretching from Greenock and Glasgow in the west to Edinburgh in the east.

I hope that makes things clearer, but it might not.

Whisky drinkers in New Zealand would probably refer to it as the Southern Highlands.

It’s not an area that I’ve had a lot of sampling from until now.  Apart from having a couple of Edradour whiskies in the past it would be fair to say that this would be my first real introduction to the area.  But there is an interesting array of distilleries operating in the region, and some of the whiskies coming from them are very attractive.

Usually the blind tastings at Regional Wines follow the format of nosing all the offerings first and inviting tasters to give their views.  It is only after that nosing round that the whiskies are tasted, with more comment invited.

However, at this tasting the known bottles were in two quite distinct groups.  The first group of three were in the standard strength range of 43 to 46% abv.  The mystery also fell into this group.

The second group of three were all cask strength at 50% and above.

To save the tasting from being unbalanced the presenter made the choice to taste in two flights, with the lower four being nosed and tasted first.  The second flight of three were also nosed and tasted in isolation.

My notes and scoring:

Aberfeldy Gordon & McPhail Connoisseurs’ Choice, 14 year old, 46% abv, First fill sherry.

Nose: Canvas tent, leather. Score 7.8

Taste: Peppery, but nice, Fruit

Finish: Medium/long

Overall Score: 8.5.

Blair Athol Connoisseurs Choice, 9 year old, 46% Refill sherry butt.

Nose: one matchhead.  Score 7.4

Taste: smoky. Not to my personal taste.

Overall Score 7.4

Glenturret Sherry Cask Edition, 46% abv

Nose: Dirty cookies.  Score 7.0

Taste: Fruit (from the sherry cask)

Overall score 7.8

Deanston 18 yo, 46.3%

Nose: Wood wool, tobacco.  Score 7.8

Taste: Citrus peel, peppery

Overall score: 7.6

Deanston Old Malt Cask, 21 year old, 50% abv

Nose: Lemon peel, honey, slighty soapy, very pleasant.  Score 8.4

Taste: Honey again, fruit.  A very nice drop, indeed.

Overall score: 9.1

Glengoyne Cask Strength 59.1% abv, non-coloured, non-chill filtered

Nose: strong!, smell of an old rubber ball

Taste: Sweet, honey and wax

Overall score: 7.9

 Edradour Straight From The Cask 58.8% abv, Sherry butt

Nose: Hessian sacking, very sherry.

Colour: 1.8

Taste: Wood, leather, a bit of tannin at the end

Overall score: 9.2

 

One of the interesting side bars of a blind tasting is to see how many of the drams you can guess correctly.  In the past money has changed hands on this aspect of the evening – not a lot of money: the ante is usually $2 per person – but it can be extremely satisfying to pick up the cost of tomorrow morning’s coffee from your fellow tasters.

So, how many of the seven did I get right?  A rather embarrassing three.

In my rather thin defence, the gamblers all had the same score so there was no winner on the day this time.

Recent Opening: Amrut Spectrum

Recent Opening : Amrut Spectrum

I always feel a little bit guilty when I open a bottle that one of only 1,000 released.  It seems almost criminal to consume such a rare animal that only a few have seen or will get the chance to sample.

But there you go.  We all have to make sacrifices in the interests of knowledge, and I’m quite prepared to lay my lofty sentiments on the line!

The reality is that various recent family events have worked to empty the open bottles in the cabinet and the stocks need replenishing from the cellar.  The Amrut Spectrum has been hiding away for maybe a couple of years, and the magnificent black box it comes in was just a little bit too tall for the shelf where the unopened bottles sit awaiting invitation.

So the Amrut’s time had come to be introduced to an eagerly waiting public – me.

I’ve tried quite a few of Amrut Distilleries expressions over the last ten or so years since they first started arriving in New Zealand.  Some, like the beautifully orange-flavoured Naarangi and the rare Kadhambam are quite spectacular, and the cask strength single malt is a good standard dram.  The peated version I’m not quite such a fan of, but that’s OK.

But I think the Spectrum is in a very different league!  It’s not just the box lined in royal blue velvet that is magnificent – the contents are a very big step up from anything else from Amrut that I’ve tasted.

Technical details (from the writing on the box and the bottle):  700mls, 50% abv.  No identifiable age statement.

Initially matured in ex-bourbon barrel, then in a custom-built barrel made from five varieties of oak – new American, French and Spanish oaks, ex-oloroso stave and ex PX stave.:

Colour: 1.8.  Very, very dark, darker than Glenfarclas 105 and about the same as Aberlour A’Bunadh.  There is a slight pinkish-red tinge at the edges which is reminiscent of a port finish, but I suspect it comes from the sherry staves.

Nose: Spicy, brown sugar, strong Christmas cake with brandy.  Maple syrup.  Nose score: 9.

Palette: Round and full.  The whisky tastes just like it noses, with the rich Christmas cake coming through strongly.  There is a very slight hint of vanilla, probably coming from the initial bourbon barrel, and there is pepper on the tongue.  The finish is long (and delightful!).

Overall impression:  I had heard good stories about the Spectrum from those who had been lucky enough to try it at a tasting.

But Wow!  That was not what I was expecting at all!  Quite an amazing top quality dram, well worth its advance publicity!  It may have to be put in a quiet back corner of the cabinet where hopefully others on the prowl may overlook it and I can just have it myself.

Sadly, knowing my family, that’s not likely to happen.  So I’ll just have to keep my eyes open for the next expression!

Overall score: 9.3

Tasting Notes

Tasting Note explanation:

I mark on the 1-10 system for both nose and palette where over 9 is exceptional, 8-9 is great, 7-8 is OK, 6-7 is so-so and lower than 5 is “why bother?”.

In my world, a mark of 10 is not achievable because by definition it cannot be beaten and giving that mark would not leave room for something even better to turn up next week – which I continually hope it might!

Colour marking is based on the Whisky Magazine’s colour chart of 0.0 (light, “gin clear”) to 2.0 (dark, “treacle”)

The Tasting Experience

The Tasting Experience

I like whisky tastings.

That’s not true.

I LOVE whisky tastings.

I stalk websites looking for whisky tastings.  And when I find one, all life stops until I’ve managed to get myself a booking to it!

I’ve been going to tastings now for about 12 years, and in all that time I really can’t remember a bad one.

They’re places for bonhomie, for laughter, for meeting old friends and making new ones, for learning, for bad taste jokes and sometimes even worse taste descriptions.  For discovering what’s good and what’s not so good, what you’d like to add to your collection next or what really should have not been put in bottles.

I’ve heard of a whisky tasting where the offerings were so average that the tasters all clubbed together, went downstairs and collectively bought a different bottle to take the taste away.  For the record, the bottle they bought was a Bowmore Legend – and it was subsequently declared the top dram of the night!  Apparently by a clear margin.

I went to a tasting a couple of years ago in Edinburgh.  The event was called a Stramash, which I understand is Scottish for a disturbance or racket – a fair description, really.  I went because it was my birthday, because we happened to be in Edinburgh at the time, and because my wife lovingly bought me a ticket to it for my birthday present.

It was held at the Surgeon’s Hall on a lovely warm, sunny, late spring day.  I went on my own, so I knew no-one there.

By the time the queue of whisky fans had reached the gate I was good friends with a couple of likely and chatty lads from Rothes. Two hours, a lot of samples, and a curry and rice dish later we had become life-long friends.  They were great company for the afternoon.

I wish I could remember their names.

Over my tasting life there I have been to three or four tastings that will go down in the records of Memorable Whisky Tastings.  One in particular was of a degree that set the all-time benchmark.  That mark is unlikely to ever be beaten but if it is I would surely want to be there!

Three of us came out of that tasting together: only one if us noticed that it was raining beyond belief.   It wasn’t me.

I think every form of tasting has its pluses and minuses.  In the early days, when I first started going to tastings, I knew nothing about whisky other than I generally liked the taste.

I found it best to know in advance what whisky I was drinking.  The presenter would explain what each whisky was about – where it came from, what casks it had been matured in, for how long, what effect the cask had on the spirit, what the “style” was.  I tried to soak all the knowledge up – not surprisingly, some of it got lost in a haze of fumes but some bits have stuck.

With more experience now, the “mystery” event has its interest.  You know the whiskies but not which glass they’re in.  Nosing through all the glasses, everyone calling out their impressions.  Some of the comments are predictable, some are brilliant, some rather disturbing (“it tastes like licking a cricket bat”.  Really?  How do you know that? What life experience got you there?).  “Smells like my granny’s laundry” – way too much information, my friend!  Some are less inspiring, like “smells like baby sick”.  I think a count of match-heads is a good barometer of peaty-ness on the nose.

Then tasting through – does the pallet reflect the nose?  Bourbon or Sherry influence?  Strong upfront peat or late developer?  Christmas cake or vanilla/caramel ice-cream?

I also like vertical tastings, where the tasting is a range of six or seven expressions from one distillery.  I went to a Glenmorangie vertical tasting a while back: it was very interesting to experience side-by-side the range of whiskies available from that distillery.

I usually go tastings with two good friends.  We’ve been doing it for a while now.  Our whisky tastes are not necessarily the same, but they are similar and we generally like (and dislike) the same things.  And we tend to buy different things for the home supplies, so that there is always a variety to re-test when official tastings get hard to find.

Ah, the sacrifices we make in the interests of scientific research!