A few weeks ago I went to a whiskey tasting to promote Single Cask Nation, a club that makes bottles available from a distiller’s single cask negotiated by Mr. Hatton. It is a brilliant concept for the whisky connoisseur collector; and if someone wants to really impress me for any gift-giving occasion, I’d love a membership; but right now it is out of my price range. The clubs offerings are all cask strength, and all have a researched history, which I’ll link to with each post.
The tasting itself was nicely run, and the host venue, Blu Jam Cafe in Sherman Oaks, provided several light diner options and cold water. We sat out on the back patio, which presented a few challenges for a tasting that I will get into later. It also is the reason I don’t have pictures: I relied on my cell phone, that does not have a flash, and as the light quickly faded I realized I was not going to be able to capture any quality images.
Since he has a relationship with the distillers and is such a lover of whisky, Joshua had a great story to go with each offering. He quickly built a rapport with the attendees and the evening passed all too soon. If you have an opportunity to attend one of these tastings, I highly recommend it.
If you, however, you might want to bring your own glasses. Only one was provided for each of us – so not only was some whisky wasted as those who didn’t want to finish their (measured) pours were forced to pour it in a waste container, but we were on our own for cleaning the glass between drams. I was the only one being so diligent as to rinse, wipe, then rinse again to remove any lint, and leave the glass up-side-down to let the water drain out.
Also, on the “needs improvement” list, there were no palette cleansers and since time was a factor, we moved rather quickly through the drams, not leaving much time for blooming or color appreciation between pours.
- Glen Moray 12 – “This cask bottling, distilled in June of 2000, spent 12 years maturing in a first fill ex-bourbon barrel. It was bottled at cask strength in August of 2012 at 56.1% ABV. Cask #797 yielded 148 bottles (a surprisingly low number but we bought the whole cask and didn’t share it with anyone… Well, except our Nation members!).”
I found wood to be very dominant at first nose, but them it gave way to malt with a little vanilla and spice . . maybe ginger . . . I couldn’t tell.The mouth feel was smooth, but a bit of a burn. Once the burn wore off, or I became accustomed to it, I could easily taste the malt and peaches, almost like a fruit cocktail lingering on the palette.
A bit of water brings the fruit more forward on the nose and gives a much sweeter palette.
- Arran 12 – “This cask bottling, distilled in September 1999, spent eight years aging in first fill ex-bourbon before maturing for an additional four years in ex-pinot noir. It was bottled at cask strength in June of 2012 at 54.8% ABV. Cask #6 yielded 277 bottles.”
Joshua calls this his “Kooky Bear” whisky referring to the flavor profiles. I’d call it complex, because there is a variation, and the flavors move as you chew on the dram – but none of the notes are overly sophisticated.
On the nose I was reminded strongly of French toast; notes of bread, sugar, cream and vanilla. As that faded I picked up distinct tones of red wine. I was surprised, I’ve never gotten that impression from a non-grape spirit before, so I checked the card . . . yep, finished in Pino-Noir.
Passing my lips, the dram is light and soft like champagne, and just a little sticky sweet. The flavors of fruit, spice, and malt move slowly and linger along the palette finishing with notes of chocolate covered cherries. Again, very reminiscent of the wine that inhabited the cask before the spirit moved in.
A little water turns down the volume and shortens the experience, but does give a sweeter tone to the entire piece. When the glass was empty I was left wanting a double and a cigar at the end of a long day.
- Dalmore 12 –
“This cask bottling, distilled in June 2000, spent twelve years aging in first a refill bourbon hogshead before maturing for an additional ten months in a Pedro Ximenez sherry hogshead. It was bottled at cask strength inApril of 2013 at 46.1% ABV which is surprisingly at natural cask strength! Cask #6951 yielded only 238 bottles.”
First I should say this was by far my favorite and if anyone was to take my gift membership request seriously, this is the bottle I’d most want. I almost didn’t want to interrupt this one to take notes, but I knew I wouldn’t remember my first impressions if I didn’t, and even then my notes are minimal as I didn’t want to tear myself away from the dram.
The nose is sweet, like breakfast syrup and butter, reminding me of McCallan’s Amber Liquor. It was dark and quick to form legs in the glass, and the taste was a perfect match for the nose. The buttery mouth feel yielded to sweet notes of maple, brown sugar and rum. Though it was a short impression, it was very powerful, and I wondered what it would taste like cold. I also wanted to pair it with salted caramel, or vanilla ice cream.
- BenRiach 17 – “This cask bottling, distilled in June 1995, spent seventeen years maturing in a second fill ex-bourbon barrel. It was bottled at cask strength in July of 2012 at 53.2% ABV. Cask #2522 yielded 225 bottles.”
Hello Peat! Fair disclosure, I’m not that fond of overly pleated whiskies, and after the evening of soft and sweet drams, this one was shocking if not jarring. To quote an old cartoon, “No, sir, I didn’t like it.”
The nose took me three tries to get close enough to really let it fill my olfactory. Sadly I was rewarded with scents of medicine and dirt. Maybe the taste will make it better; not much. There are whispers of heather and other floral notes and a lingering sense of honey, but still the tone of dirt runs through the middle. Maybe water . . .
Oh dear lord . . . . the dirt has given way to adhesive, almost like bandages and it finishes like milk and peppers. This is just not my thing, and I’m not getting anything positive out of this one. Bring the Dalmore back, please.
- Laphroag 6 – “This cask bottling, distilled in November 2006, was matured in a refill bourbon hogshead. It was bottled at cask strength in April 2013 at 57.8% ABV. Cask #119 yielded 269 bottles.”
After the roller-coaster that was the last two, I was surprised to find a nice mild green nose on the Laphroag, with a little smoke on the back end. But the more I went back to it, the stronger the smoke became. Unlike the smoke-fest that our (3DC) standard Laphroag 10 is, this one is quite complex, and low enough on smoke that the sweeter notes of brown sugar and honey can peek through, even if just for a moment. The finish gets hotter the longer you let it roll on your palette, like barbecue or peppers.
A little water brings out a buttery nature and clarifies the front end, but the increased volume on the smoke and pepper on the back end is not quite worth it.
- Kilchoman 4 – “This cask bottling, distilled in November 2007, was matured in a first fill ex-bourbon barrel. It was bottled at cask strength in July 2012 at 58.4% ABV. Cask #378/07 yielded 245 bottles.”
The host called this “Breakfast Whisky” as he told us about a winter’s morning in New England, shoveling his car out of the drive fortified by this dram. But more than that, this tasting was spoiled by a varmint just outside our courtyard – before I could lift the glass to my lips, the air was full of skunk. So I shall do my best under these circumstances.
The nose is quiet but eventually notes of cinnamon toast come through. I pulled a round mouth feel and was trying to pick out the notes when we were somewhat overcome by the varmint mentioned above. It finished warm with smoky notes and maybe a bit of pepper.
There was much chatting, and I went back to the Kilchoman after the air cleared, but after 6 drams, I wasn’t able to pull more out of it. Then I had another dram of the Dalmore to end the evening with my favorite. I have to say the 2nd taste wasn’t as remarkable, but I think I can blame a dying palette and lingering skunk more than the whisky itself.
Should I come up with a budget for a subscription, and a bottle or two throughout the year, I think I will be joining the Single Cask Nation.