Taste: Blind tasting drams

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

There aren't that many whisky websites or blogs that I drop by now and again. Whisky Intelligence remains the source for news as do a couple of forums. I enjoy reading Jason's Scotch Reviews and the approach he takes, wrapping up the review amidst a story or theme. This makes it far more entertaining than just purely colour, nose and taste which many bloggers prefer.

Another site is Malt-Review who cover whiskies from across the world thanks to their team of contributors. Surfing for news and views whilst enjoying a dram is a guilty pleasure now and again. Recently I sent the guys at Malt-Review a selection of drams blind, where they could summarise their thoughts here and then I'd reveal what the whisky was.

This turned out to be great fun, educational, broadening horizons and I do have too much whisky in this house. So it is good to share a little now and again, especially bottles that might not receive the coverage or distribution they truly deserve. Needless to say, Malt-Review returned the favour and you can read my thoughts below.
Dram1
A very clean coloured spirit, fresh, with only a touch of colour - perhaps a young one? This continues onto the nose which is very shy; fresh pine, sliced apple, Pledge furniture polish and a subtle background note of peat. Upon another dram I'm finding a cream soda sweetness. This is enticing either the taste is going to deliver or quickly fade!

This isn't a bruiser in terms of alcohol strength yet is above 40%. I do think this young and peat dominates the palate initially, with black pepper coming through alongside star anise before a surprisingly long effervescent finish.

So if I was going to suggest a distillery for this (which will be wrong) I'd pick a newer arrival such as Kilchoman. In fact this sample reminds me most of the exclusive bottling from Royal Mile Whiskies from Islay's newest distillery. Not as strong or developed as the RMW version but certainly an earlier snapshot of a spirit in maturation.

Answer: Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2007 Rockside Farm 50% AB
Malt-review tasting notes

Thoughts: I read recently that collectors were complaining about keeping up with Bruichladdich as in one year they had 42 releases or something like that! I love the idea of keeping a whisky local, and using a specific type of barley. Benromach and others have been doing this on the mainland and despite high quality yields from modern strains of barley, I don't think we should consign to history older, more intensive crops.

Dram2
Like the first dram this possesses a very subtle colour, perhaps hinting at its youth. A powerful, pungent nose. It takes me back to Islay, the southern end specifically, although it'll turn out its from Skye at the end of this piece. So robust notes of eucalyptus, menthol, peppermint and a pleasant earthy aroma.

Again, a very easy drinking characteristic assisted by a lower alcohol strength. The nose transcends into the taste, joined by smoky embers and TCP however a balance exists allowing the palate to enjoy other drams afterwards. There is a taste of the ocean here, a salty note and a decent finish that takes me back to Ireland and dulse (seaweed) out of a paper bag.    

Answer: Kilchoman 100% Islay 3rd Edition 50% ABV
Malt-review tasting notes

Thoughts: for such a young age, Kilchoman shows the importance of quality casks and controlling the process from start to finish. In a decade we'll be experiencing some remarkable older stock.

Dram3
Another faint candidate when it comes to colour so potentially young and just as nature intended. Now the nose is restrained, the dominant aroma is wet wood specifically oak, maybe some vegetative features thrown in and most bizarrely, what I can only describe as a touch of lime cordial.

The taste is holding back on me as well, another smooth easy drinking dram here. Some peat and barley-malt, marmite and a touch of pepper to finish. 

Answer: Port Ellen 1982 bottled 2010 - Connoisseurs Choice Gordon & Macphail  43% ABV.
Malt-review tasting notes

Thoughts: well, I've often heard tales from more (lets say) aged whisky drinkers how variable Port Ellen can actually be. Such an iconic name can produce whisky of varying quality. So I'm thankful for this experience despite some disappointment. Now, if I had known if it was a Port Ellen in advance what would I have thought?

Dram4
So it is time for number 4, which has more definition when assessing its colour - an older statesman oak.

The nose, well a touch of wet leather or possibly grass in here, in fact we're stretching out across the couch with furniture polish also evident. No, I haven't had the feather duster out today and you can certainly tell the Malt Review team love their Islay bottles!

I really want to say with this nose sherry but I'm not sure it is a sherry cask. This dram is doing a great impression of that wooden host with flurishes of sweetness such as cream and typical sherry features like stewed fruit. It brings back memories of a Bladnoch that was finished in a sherry cask briefly in 2012.

Right, enough delay lets get into the taste itself. Oh yes, this fella has a kick and a warm residue from a higher strength. It must be cask strength and all the better for it, I wouldn't bother with water here. You're taken aback by an initial rush of sweetness that I wasn't expecting. This departs leaving cloves, cardamom, black pepper and a lingering finish. I was too busy enjoying the 2nd dram to take further notes!

Answer: Lagavulin Feis Ile 2013 51%
Malt-review tasting notes

Thoughts: This is the sort of bottle you bring out for friends wanting to share a great experience. Marvellous stuff whisky when it displays this poise and balance.

I love Islay, as a couple we try and visit at least 1 Scottish island per year, normally it has been Skye but we have thrown in Orkney as well recently. And I might as well reveal we'll be on Arran in March, and Skye (again) in April, which means, yes, at least 1 distillery tour and further exploration of Arran whisky. Another distillery ticked off my ongoing Scottish road trip adventure! 

Drams like the ones above bring back fond memories of my time of Islay, from the flight and lack of formalities, to the bouncy roads and beat up hire car. It was an adventure and while geographically we were still in Scotland, it felt a world away from our normally hectic daily lives.

Thanks to Mark for sending these samples north with his generous selection. Now the onus is on me to return the favour once more.

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