Sunday, September 25, 2016

RRRRRRRRRRusted! Time for a long overdue blind tasting

I looked at the date this morning and saw it was Sunday September 25th. Not only had fall officially arrived, I realized I hadn't posted one... single... piece... all summer. Nothing for almost 4 months. Do I go into details and tell y'all why...  Nah, most of you probably already know. It's been a super hectic, crazy and sometimes very stressful summer. Stress usually = Not drinking whisky. Sad situation really to look at my most favourite spirit in the world only to have my instinct tell me -> Probably not a good idea right now. Thankfully, I always trust my instinct.

So then there's the next step: Errrrr, what do I write about after such a long hiatus. It was an immediate and easy decision: BLIND TASTING time!!!  There is no doubt that my nose/palate need to get whipped back into shape. I went to the sample shelf which only reinforced how long it's been since I truly stuck my nose in a whisky. Shelf is plentiful of many lovely samples from all over the word but man... I've never seen so much dust. I spent the next hour (yup 60 minutes) reacquainting myself and cleaning them. It was a bit like opening presents on Christmas morning as I found some really lovely gems I had completely forgotten about. On the bottom shelf, way in the back I found three non-descriptive bottles that I carefully wiped and didn't recognize. Bottle 1, 2 and 3...  same hand writing, no names/words. Hmmmm...  Picked up my whisky book to see what I had written, if anything about these (I usually am pretty good at writing things down, errrr somewhere?!) And sure enough, there it was... Samples received from Raj Sabharwal (@Whiskyraj)!  Hot diggity dog, what a fabulous way to come out of hiatus, if I do say so myself.

By lunch time (Yes.. I waited!! hehe), I was ready. Dinning room table, glassware, pen/paper, water and WHISKY! What a lovely feeling to have my thinking cap back on and nosing. I can feel the cogs of my olfactory memory wheel trying desperately to break free of their idle slumber. 

Sample 1: Colour, so delicate it reminded me of a sauvignon blanc. (Oh man I am rusty, I'm comparing my whisky to wines?!) Nose: Green grapes, clean and fruity sweet. (errr still on the wines it seems?!) Palate: Oh, yeah there it is... Crisp, fresh fruit like slightly unripened pears or green apples. Refreshing yet tart. (Wait.. Am I drinking wine!? Oh man my poor senses are way out of whack?)

At this point I decided to walk away for a few minutes and try again a bit later. Back again and albeit a bit more muted. The aromas and flavours are still the same. This is a very subtle and delicate whisky that isn't aggressive in nature and really makes you work to find and appreciate what is in the glass. Another sip, and now with a bit of time this has turned into a very luscious and tart lemon meringue pie. Creamy,  lemon with the airy sweetness of the meringue. Finish: This is cask strength and you can tell, it's long lingering and warms the belly on impact. Hmmm, a touch of mint at the very end?

From start to finish, this is quite an enjoyable dram. If I had to guess I would say this is above 50% ABV, a scotch and it's possibly a lowland or speyside.  Maybe?!

Whatever it is, I do love it. It's an easy sipping whisky that is not only enjoyable but really seemed to awaken my somewhat dormant senses. 

RAJ's REVEAL: Blackadder Drop of the Irish Single Malt Cask Strength, 58.9% ABV

Sample 2: The colour of a red ale (oh oh... now I'm comparing these to beer!?) Prunes... rich dark fruits. Dark brown sugar, almost bordering on molasses. Palate: More high strength stuff! Burnt sugar'ish, bitter and very drying. Finish: Leaves a strange aftertaste and lots of burning. Added a fair dollop of water. Calms the burning but brings in a waxy component.  Still has a very unique aftertaste that I can't quite pin down. My first instinct is to say new wood "sap"...  It's a combination of sour, bitter and resinous.  

This sample is a bit perplexing, it started out quite lovely on the nose but then went down hill quickly. Water didn't help it. Makes me wonder if this was finished in a slightly different type of cask? I would say also cask strength, likely not from Scotland (again relying on instinct) and I would dare say somewhat "middle age'ish" and finished in something other than ex-bourbon or ex oloroso...  Something "different"...  

Feeling the blood rushing through the veins now... or maybe that's just the effect of the whisky kicking in? Moving on!

RAJ's REVEAL: Amrut Portonova Single Malt Cask Strength, aged in first fill Port pipes. 61.2% ABV

Sample 3: Well, you know it's a good sign when you see black bits of char in the sample. Mouth already watering. Raj is the master of surprises when it comes to samples, so I'm really looking forward to this one. 

Colour: Old gold. Shines like a turn of the century wedding band. (Weddings?! Hmmm, quite a few of those coming up very shortly...) Nose: Good old fashion organic and earthy peat. It's like standing in the peat bog on Islay with my friends Ansgar & Thomas! Backdrop of honeyed vanilla and creamy butterscotch. (Finally the whisky descriptors are coming back to me now, thank goodness)... Palate: As to be expected, sweet, subtle with an "exhale of peat smoke" that is not only sublime but quite delectable. Finish: Long... lingering delicious flavours of wet moss. 

This one is an old and sophisticated Islay, also at cask strength. Likely a straight ex-bourbon, or 2nd fill ex-bourbon. It's the truest form of the spirit as it's meant to be enjoyed. The peat is not aggressive. The dram is well balanced and very drinkable without water. But, it is cask strength so like the other two I did add a bit of water. Opened it up just a tad, more notes of a smokier backdrop, the citrus notes appear but the whisky doesn't fall apart.  

RAJ's REVEAL: Blackadder Raw Cask, Amrut Peated Sherry Cask, Cask Strength 62.3% ABV

So, I would have to say that in order of preference for me, on a cold but sunny September afternoon I really loved sample 3 the best. I would buy this, whatever it is and I think my friend Peter Clark and I would continue to enjoy this on the cold fall evenings to come. Sample 1 came in 2nd place because again it was very enjoyable,  slightly unique and a nicely balanced dram that wasn't overly complicated but a nice sipping whisky. And... last, number 2. Alas this one did not speak to me, it started out strong with a lovely nose but then dove into the pits of "there's something weird about this whisky" and I simply didn't enjoy it as much as the other two.

 Raj, I want to thank you for always pushing my boundaries as a whisky enthusiast. It goes to show how dedicated you are because you have the belief that sampling blind can always lead to wonderful surprises and an appreciation for the journey it takes you on vs the end result. So now what? Well, now we hope that Raj is kind enough to tell me what exactly I was sampling, otherwise these will simply remain a mystery. If I do find out, I'll update below.  If I don't, well... I can at least be thankful for the experience and finding three unique and very interesting samples to come back to blogging about.  Raising a bit more of sample 3, thanks again Raj, you are a good friend and passionate whisky ambassador!


The "back in action" nosing/tasting/blogging Lassie


Monday, June 6, 2016

UK - Leg 1: Bedford/London. Whisky, friends, food and more whisky!

It was supposed to be our last trip to Scotland for a little while as we had decided we wanted to see other countries as well as distilleries around the world. June 2015: Glasgow airport and I'm choking back a few tears as we fly over Islay. Graham hands me a tissue: "We are coming back again next year, aren't we?" I squeeze his hand: "Thank you". 

And so the planning immediately began. Three weeks in the UK from April 21 - May 15th. The trip would take me all over Scotland yet again. Another thing that is very important when I'm away I also try to spend time with the people I've gotten to know over the last few years. Dave Worthington is one of those people. We've become more than just friends since those early twitter days. He's very much the older brother I never had. If you don't know Dave, he writes a blog with his daughter Kat Presley and they live in Bedford which is about an hour outside of London. It's the perfect way to start or end my trips over to Scotland.

Dave's wife Kiat is from Thailand and as soon as we walked through the door on April 21st, the whole house was permeated with the smell of her cooking. (She has ruined me for life when it comes to Thai food). That first night was spent eating very well, catching up, lots of laughing and then Dave and I retreated to the living room where the whisky madness always begins. Total we tried 9 whiskies (all new to me).

Those that really had the wow factor that night: Cadenhead's Lowland 1990, Cadenhead's Mortlach 26 year old, Douglas Laing Director's Cut Highland Park 21 year old and the Yamazaki Pure Malt 15 year old. Needless to say I can blame the long sleep that ensued on a bit of jet lag but mostly a satisfied whisky soul too. 

The next few days were spent being tourists. We explored Bedford, ate at some of the local haunts but also made our way into London to visit the British Museum, Chinatown London Market and meet some #whiskyfabric friends at SMWS. Highlight of our Saturday was getting to visit a great place I would highly recommend called: Salt Whisky Bar & Dining Room. Food was incredible and the whisky selection vast and affordable.

It was a short couple of days but beyond the best way to start my UK trip. By the time Kat and I left for Cumbria early that Sunday morning I had logged 58km of walking and placed 22 new whisky discoveries on my spreadsheet. The trip had certainly started on the right foot!

Dave, thank you for your friendship, brotherhood, whiskies and everything else we appreciate about each other. May you always be a ray of sunshine on my face and a kick in the pants when I need it. Huzzah my whisky brother ;)

Next stop: Lakes Distillery!