A group of us got together for the first of hopefully several whisky tastings this past weekend. We all either walked, drove or took public transportation to our meeting place…none of us flew in on a private jet. We were not carried there upon jewel-encrusted sedan chairs. There were no entourages. We kept things pretty simple. Mostly we kept things pretty inexpensive because, unless one of us is really holding out, none of us is rich beyond measure and able to bring $400 bottles of whisky to a casual get-together. We decided to keep the bottles at around $50 or less and tried to get a decent cross-section of the Scotch world, a couple of Speysiders, an Islay, an Island malt, and a Campbeltown – preferably all distillery bottlings. We also made a point not to get any clichés, no Glenlivets, no Macallans, no Laphroaigs, no Highland Parks, not that there’s anything wrong with any of those, but we did not want malts we’d all tried before or see on a regular basis.
Keeping things (relatively) inexpensive was a great way to taste our way around the different regions, get a sense for a distilleries basic traits and not get blown away by one 30 year old bottle in a group of youngin’s. Here are my brief-ish notes on four that we tasted. The fifth, a Springbank 10 was my bottle and one I want to spend a bit more time with before posting notes. So you’ll just have to wait. Patience, Grasshopper.
The Nose: First whiff…tequila. Hola. Muchos Gracias but no, tequila is not the nose I want with my Scotch. Floral and light, there was vanilla and sweet citrus, tangerine maybe, with a hint of fennel and wood spice.
The Palate: Lighter mouthfeel. Vanilla notes mixed with spicey, youngish tones. There was something mildly salty about the taste as well. Refreshing and crisp.
The Finish: Medium-ish. The spicy quality hangs around a bit.
Thoughts: I found the tequila nose thing kind of a turnoff, but then again, I’m not the biggest tequila fan. Nothing really jumped out here, otherwise. It was a little plain-jane. Very accesible and refreshing…just…not…yeah. It was ok. I’ll look forward to trying the more well-regarded vintages from Glenrothes.
The Nose: More beverages on the nose, this time root beer float/vanilla cream soda and I mean that in the best way. Cream sherry, a little raisin-y, and a wisp of smoke. A rich and vibrant nose.
The Palate: Smoooooth, luscious mouthfeel. Sweet honey tones and sherry notes drift into nice oak-y-ness. It’s perhaps just a little harsh and young towards the end (the start of the finish?).
The Finish: Medium long, oak-y. the harshness fades somewhat and some sherry comes back with a little chaser of smoke.
Thoughts: What a difference between these two Speysides. The Glenfarclas is rich and inviting and definitely has more of a traditional Speyside feel in that it’s much deeper and robust than the Glenrothes. I really enjoyed this one. Of special note, Glenfarclas is truly one of the original independent distilleries, having been owned and operated by the Grant Family since 1865, making it a inspiring oddity in a landscape of corporate-owned holdings.
The Nose: Light and delicate, crisp cereal-grain plays the largest role here, with light cocoa notes and a just a touch of roasted almonds.
The Palate: The crisp cereal-grain thing just gets even bigger and smoother on the palate. In comparison to the Glenfarclas, the Arran has very little fruit and just faint vanilla tones, it’s all about the barley. Thanks to its island upbringing, there is a bit brine, just a slightly smokey whiff of sea air.
The Finish: Long and…well, grain-filled.
Thoughts: The Arran 10 is very smooth, really comfortable and drinkable. It does have a bit much of that one-trick-pony thing happening in that the cereal tends to stand on top of everything else, and though it’s a very good trick, for me it lacks a deeper complexity to be truly outstanding. Spring is in the air and this one strikes me as the perfect picnic single malt.
The Nose: There’s peat smoke, of course, but there’s also wood smoke and a little pipe smoke. That said, this isn’t a big peat blast like a Laphroaig 10, it has a restrained balance allowing some baked fruit and spice notes to mingle.
The Palate: Again, peat smoke, wood smoke and a little pipe smoke all swirl around each other. A slight brown sugar sweetness and some baking spices, cinnamon & clove, are here as well. Really well balanced and well put-together. This is strong and insistent with out being overwhelming.
The Finish: Long and smokey. Again, it’s not as medicinally smokey as some Islays, that pipe tobacco smoke comes through nicely at the end as well as a bit of salty brine.
Thoughts: The Bowmore 12 has the feel of a classic, so well-rounded and balanced. It’s a stately and elegant Islay, bringing all the peat you’d expect but in a more nuanced and complex way, allowing some sweeter notes and the sea-air tang of the island to come out and play as well.