A Happy New Year to you all, and a huge welcome to the 2020s!
It’s always great to start a bright, shiny new decade, wondering what it will bring. It started with these!
The three Beauties are just that – beautiful whiskies. The Beast, on the other hand, is not an ugly beast: on the contrary, it is possibly more beautiful than the Beauties.
But it is the biggest Beast of a Whisky I have ever come across. And I would happily go out looking for more dragons like that!
BEAUTY No. 1
Bruichladdich, Islay Barley, Rockside Farm 2017, Unpeated Islay Single Malt, 50% abv.
This was Les’s ceremonial opening of a bottle he’d been given. I managed to wangle myself an invitation to the event. Glad I did!
Appearance: a light, clear, golden 0.6. Lovely to watch the sun shine through!
Nose: new mown grass, plums, but not a lot of “distinctive” aroma.
Palette: soft, dark, sweet and floral, slightly drying.
Finish: Medium +, a dryness left on the tongue.
Comment: Very drinkable. According to the tube, this is barley from Rockside Farm on Islay.
BEAUTY No. 2
Johnnie Walker, Pure Malt Scotch Whisky. 15yo, 43%
Another out of Les’s stash, emerging from the darkness just after the Bruichladdich was opened.
It’s another bottle he had been “given”. It has been sitting unopened for maybe 15 years – it seemed almost a shame to open it, but sacrifices must be made…..
Nose: nutty, slightly marine/salty, sweet.
Palette: silage, grassy. Is there PX sherry somewhere in here? A slight bitter note.
Comment: This is good! The label is a camouflage green colour, reminiscent of JW Green but darker.
The whisky is a blend. In consequence, a lot of potential high notes seem to be missing. But it is definitely one of the top JWs I’ve tried.
BEAUTY No. 3
Bruichladdich, Islay Barley 2010, Unpeated Islay Single Malt, 50% abv.
I discovered this bottle shortly after sampling the 2017 version. Too good a comparative opportunity!
There are seven barley sources listed on the tube, not just the Rockside Farm of the 2017.
Appearance: The colour is darker than the 2017 – reminiscent of varnished rimu.
Nose: light and sweet with a note of freshly picked apricots. Salt ash and looking for shellfish in rock pools at low tide.
Palette: Honey. Soft and more honey!! A first bell-curve of taste, climbing swiftly then dropping away. A slight oiliness left coating the mouth.
Finish: Waxy and oily.
Comment: Impressive! As my “holiday dram”, I have been having some of this each night this week. I could be encouraged to stay on holiday a little longer!
Images of Ayrshire Dalrymple Bridge, bottled by Malts of Scotland, Sherry Hogshead, teaspoon Ailsa Bay, 68.3%.
Note: A “teaspoon” whisky is where a teaspoon (or more) of another whisky has been added to a cask. This addition makes the whisky a blend, and therefore cannot be bottled as a single malt. One reason for doing this may be to protect a particular distillery’s brand.
Commentary: I have tasted one or two whiskies over the years. They have ranged from brilliant, through good, OK, and So-So to “Dear-God-why-did-they-bother?”.
But I had never met a whisky that I was physically unable to drink. Until now!
Ian gave me this sample. He said I might like it because I like Ailsa Bay whisky. He omitted to say just how much caution this sample should be treated with!
My usually formulaic noting of whisky tasting could not possibly do this dram the justice it deserves. So I am going to write this one as a story.
The tasting came as a sample. I didn’t have the usual advantage of being able to read the tube or bottle blurbs to get a steer as to what I’m about to taste. No age statement, no maturing notes of any kind to guide me.
I pour the sample into my glass and hold it up to the light. Its appearance is medium viscosity, quite dark in colour (1.3). The hogshead must have been a good one.
The initial nose is rather strange. It has vinegar and rich fruit cake with those little cocktail pickled onions.
The sample’s label says 68.5% abv. My first sip is judicious (read “timid”) in quantity.
The general tasting practice is to hold the sip in your mouth for the same number of seconds as the year age of the whisky – ten seconds for a ten year old, etc. The practice is usually dictated by the age.
Not this time.
The length of sip-holding is dictated totally by a rapidly acquired sense of self-preservation!
I had not presumed it was going to be a soft, cuddly kitten whisky.
I certainly was not expecting a full-grown tiger with its claws out, trying to eviscerate my tongue!
This is HOT!!! Like licking the barbeque! Total Firewater!
There is an underlying sweet taste – I was going to say “sweetness”, but you might misconstrue that as “gentleness”. Gentleness is not a word that can be applied to this whisky! The alcohol level creates way too much heat for the taste to be appreciated.
When feeling had started to return to my tongue – about four minutes later – I venture another sip. This is similar to slamming your fingers in the door a second time to see if it really did hurt that much the first time.
Cowardice being the better part of Discretion, and not wanting just yet to sacrifice my life for whisky tasting, I decide some reduction would be appropriate. I headed for the water and the dropper.
Normally, my rate of reduction would be four drops of water in a tasting sample – enough to get change in nose and palette, without turning the dram to weasel juice.
I put twelve drops into the Ayrshire. The nose goes to prickly, with the cocktail onions slightly abated. The palette becomes dark fruit cake and rich plum duff. But the whisky is still way too strong to appreciate. Further reduction needed!
My reduction method is not scientific. It provides no way of accurately calculating the altered abv: I would guess the final mix would be around 50% abv. At this point, the whisky becomes a seriously good dram. The palette is uncomplicated, there is pepper still and heat in the throat. And there is caramel & beautiful rich fruit cake steeped in dark brandy.
At the end, the finish is lingering sherry, with a slight (not unpleasant) oloroso sourness. A bit of leather furniture, too.
My score is 8.8, possibly marked down a bit because of the experience. I will be angling to see if there is another sample lying around unattended somewhere!
Footnote: I had planned to have another whisky before heading to bed that evening. I decided against it.