I had some time to kill the first full day after Passover (A Jewish holiday where one abstains from bread and grains for 8 days) and decided to sup at a pizza joint. I was seated near the bar and could hear the training of the new tender. My eyes started to wander across the whiskey selections and I came across the following bottle:
Something about the label had me transfixed, and I walked up to take a closer look. You see, though the bottle was with other whiskies, I couldn’t tell if what kind of liquor this was. Once I got the bartender’s attention and asked, he told me it was their standard “well” whiskey and that since it was Happy Hour, the dram was far more than reasonably priced. How could I refuse? He was also kind enough to let me snap a picture of the full label after he poured a generous dram, neat.
Once I had the dram in my hand, it was love at first sight. No, really, the color of this blend was so warm and inviting I was both eager and hesitant to drink it. I’d call it amber, but it doesn’t do it justice.
Like a mix of honey and candlelight, but with a level of clarity I don’t think I’ve seen before. (I really hope that is the natural color and not because of an additive, but I’m not sure how to find out.)
The bar did not have a tulip glass, so it was served in an angled old fashioned. Not a bad glass, but without a lower bulb, it was hard to swirl the dram and not spill a drop. I settled for a slow rotation and was almost hypnotized as the sheet broke into legs led by heavy drops, indicating a greater-than-average viscosity.
Falling in love with the aesthetics, I was ready to start the olfactory experience. Bringing my nose over the glass wood smoke is the first impression, but it is light and tempered with soft brine; like a campfire put out with ocean water. The overall bouquet is mild, and though lingering, even with my nose in the glass, scent seems a little muted, as if I’m trying to find something just out of reach by scent.
I almost don’t want to write the next paragraph, about the actual taste. I so wanted the flavor to match the visuals and nose; but I found it falling short.
— Here is where I must give a small warning to the reader – at this tasting I had a bit of a burn in my mouth from my morning coffee. I’m afraid this colored my actual tasting of this dram. (Meaning I’ll have to have it again when my lips and mouth are at their best, no?) —
There was just a little more burn than I wanted, and the flavors, though not bad, just didn’t live up to the complexity of the nose. There was still a distinct smokiness, and a salty feel around the mouth, and even notes of citrus threatening to break through, but nothing really stood out or lingered for very long. Overall I was left with not much more than wood and burn on my palette.
I tried to warm the dram, but the glass made that impossible, so I bloomed it with a few drops of water, hoping to quiet the heavier wood notes and bring up the hints of citrus and smoke – but it had the opposite effect. The nose went almost dead, and the flavors just all muddled together into a generic whiskey taste. I can’t imagine using this in a cocktail if it loses so much character just with a little water.
Overall, I don’t think I’ll be buying the bottle. I wish I knew more about the process, and the distiller to hint at how there can be such disparity between sight, smell and taste – and I’m hoping this impression is due to poor tools. Stay tuned for the epilogue after I taste this again, (at Happy Hour, or course.)
Tuesday night Raz and I went to a local saloon (Johnny’s in Huntington Beach, CA) for a nightcap and had a rather surprising experience. As we usually do at Johnny’s, we ordered drams of something new – or at least something from bottles we didn’t recognize. (Johnny’s is rather dark, and though they have a remarkable whiskey collection, the staff is not always knowledgeable of same.) What we ended up with were two very drinkable drams on quite different ends of the price spectrum.
NOTE – There won’t be too much talk of visuals because there is more light coming from the TV screens than from any interior lighting.
When I asked the bartender about the bottle, he said something about a “cask” and I thought it might be a quarter cask. It wasn’t until I had my first sip that I walked around and studied it that I saw it was a Bruchladdich. At about $100 a bottle, I should not have been surprised how pleasant the taste was – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The dram looked pale, but looks can be deceiving. Once it got even close to my nose the sweetness was very dominant, hints of vanilla, notes of the oak, and a promise of iodine, but I found the predominant aroma to be sweet cream.
The promise was kept on the palette too, the creaminess counterpointed with iodine all surrounded with vanilla and oak. While the iodine was too much for Raz, we both agreed this dram was right up my alley. The flavor was full and round, with the wood and vanilla notes turning around the yin and yang of iodine and cream. I’ve had Bruchladdich before, but I haven’t been this impressed with it in the past. I’m guessing the age and bourbon cask gave this dram the sweetness and richness that I can not wait to try again.
Sadly there was no water to bloom with, and the Old Fashion glass was too thick to really get it warm enough with my hands.
I initially passed on the Highland Chief based on name alone – it was obviously a blend, and sounded like a cheap one too. I also have no great fondness for the cheaper Highland scotches, so I passed. Raz decided to take the chance, and we are both very glad he did.
So impressed with his reaction, I begged for a sip and found a surprisingly satisfying dram. A smooth veil of smoke covered a mild spice and citrus flavor that lasted just as long as the whisky was on the tongue. It was simple and short, but such a nice taste that I’ll be adding this bargain basement bottle (as low as $10, never over $20) to my shelf soon.
This is probably the single dram I have ever actually looked forward to. Most drams I am simply pleasantly surprised to find out they exist, but this one… this one has been on my radar since it was announced after the Shackleton expedition find hit the news sites. Imagine, a replica whisky built off of actual exemplars which have literally been on ice for a hundred years, preserving the contents in a spectacular fashion!
For some of our newer readers, I’ll remind you that whiskies do not age in the bottle, so what was discovered in the crates in Ernest Shackleton’s hundred year old base camp was unchanged from when it when in the bottle so many years back. This provided an amazing opportunity for some lucky few (one being Richard Patterson, also known as “The Nose”, of Whyte & Mackay) to test, sample, and ultimately reproduce a new blend whisky to replicate the original as closely as possible with today’s available stock.
If you’ve not seen the show, I highly recommend checking out NatGeo’s “Shackleton’s Whisky” episode on the discovery of the whiskies he’d purchased for his expedition. This show delves into a good balance of the history of the expedition, as well as the process used in recreating the replica bottling. They really treated the bottles with utmost care and respect; amazing they held up so well for so long in such harsh conditions, but they do show their age 😉
So, of course, when I heard the replica was finally released and available in the States, I had to grab a bottle for my shelves. (Can’t quite say collection, as I don’t collect…. though this one will likely be opened far fewer times than most bottles on my shelves.) Well, it just arrived today, so I took the opportunity to snap a few photos then crack her open for a wee dram to take some studious notes and share for you all to drool over…
My first amusement was the packaging, which does a great job at mimicking the original crates. Of course the bottles weren’t individually packaged for Shackleton’s voyage, so Whyte & Mackay had to take some small liberties with the individual cases. The packaging could have been gimmicky and simple novelty, but thought was obviously put into this and resulted in a job well done. I will admit, as I stood in my kitchen opening the box, I did feel a bit of an explorer uncovering a long lost treasure, and a slight silly pang of guilt for not wearing my white gloves for the job. Gingerly pulling off the tissue paper wrapping, noting tears in expected places from the boxing, I was greeted by a lovely sight:
But, as I noted above, I’m not a collector and can’t leave well enough alone, so I grabbed a tulip glass and gently shuffled the tin wrapper up and off without causing a tear (easily replaced back to original effect once I poured my dram). Right off the bat I noted how surprisingly light the whisky actually appeared. A few pictures later and I got down to tasting… here are my notes:
Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt “Shackleton” Whiskey
Nose: A bit of heat at the start, then straight into the sweetness from the sherry butts and a waft of smoke to compliment. Next some subtle spices like a Major Grey’s chutney slink in, but hang around the shadows while lightly buttered toast enters only to highlight the orange zest originally hidden by the initial ethanol heat.
Flavour: Mild and subtle are the two words to spring to mind at first taste. There is very little bite from the alcohol, which at a higher 47.3% was as surprising as the light colouring. The first flavours to hit my palate are cheesecake with a nice toasted graham-cracker crust into a smokey fine quality toffee, then the oak follows to balance the sweet with the dry.
Finish: This dram has a middle to long finish which moves into heavier oak on the end. Quite dry during the last half of the finish as it slowly fades away leaving a nice woody tannin dryness to contrast the sweetness from the start.
Viscosity: 4 (it looks quite crisp in the glass, but in the mouth it is surprisingly and pleasantly chewy)
Length of Story: 4
Personal Taste: A+
Extraneous Notes: It is very light in colour than what I was expecting for the age and casks of the distillates used in creating this replica, as well as the final marrying. This really is a quintessential Speyside dram though, as it drinks with far more depth than the colour would initially indicate. Like all quality aged whiskies, the subtleties really shine here, as the recipe is perfectly balanced to highlight each of the mild and balanced tones coming through. Not only is this dram balance at every point on the palate, but the balance transcends the immediate taste and works effortlessly to balance the entire length of the story; a task easily but brilliantly achieved by this blending.
I’m sure none of you are surprised to find this rated so highly on my personal taste; after all it is an expensive dram with a Speyside pedigree which I have been looking forward to for a while now. And yes, that may well indeed cloud my perception of this dram to some extent. But I tell you this: I’ve had far older, and far more expensive drams which don’t compare to the complexities and balance of Shackleton’s whisky. There is an impressive marriage of notes to this whisky which take it from a simple good dram, to an outstanding dram which may now take the top spot as my favourite (bumping the Balvenie 21 Portwood to a meager second place), but I think another dram or two will be needed before I close the books on that end. I’m quite pleased to have obtained a bottle for what I did, as I can imagine the price increasing exponentially from here on out as supplies become more limited. This IS a strictly limited 50,000 bottle run. Once gone, well… you’re only hope will be if another adventurer stocks away a case or two which are later rediscovered and replicated within your lifetime.
If you’re a fan of slightly smoked Speyside whiskies, do yourself a favour and pick up this bottle soon… you’ll regret it if you don’t. Thus far, my only regret is that I can’t buy more!
This was a tasting I was personally looking forward to with great anticipation as we were to be sampling the Aberlour 12 Double Cask, Aberlour 12 Non-Chill Filtered, Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition, and Compass Box The Last Vatted Malt. Since we can’t get this last bottle retail in theU.S., I was really looking forward to being able to sample it. I even made some idle threats in Ian’s direction that I may kick him in the shins and abscond with the bottle… I don’t think he was swayed by my warnings though…
Luckily, I didn’t have to resort to violence, as we soon got to the tasting and began passing the bottles around… here’s the notes I took on each:
Aberlour 12yr, Double Cask, 43% abv
Nose: Immediate Sherry and vanilla, into a deep oak.
Flavour: Nice mellow caramel notes, a bit hot, then red fruit, followed by a touch of cinnamon and a hint of dark chocolate.
Finish: Moves back into a crisp lingering heat
Length of Story: 1
Personal Taste: B
Extraneous Notes: This dram had a shockingly short story. While good, the palate simply vanishes quickly.
Aberlour 12yr, Non-Chill Filetered, 48% abv
Nose: Light vanilla and oak. It presents as a rather simple nose in the middle, then shows just a hint of brine
Flavour: Mildly chewy mouth feel then some direct heat. A little tire rubber followed by a slight nuttiness on the back.
Finish: The nuttiness hangs for a while then moves into a nice round finish of balanced caramel and oak notes
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: B-
Extraneous Notes: I enjoyed the double cask more, but likely due to the use of sherry casks in half of the matured spirit of that dram. This one proved slightly more challenging, though I’d likely have been very pleased had I sampled this first and the double cask second.
Caol Ila, Distiller’s Edition, 13yr, 43% abv
Nose: Mild smoke into brine. This noses as a quite complex dram, but very clean as well.
Flavour: Mild brown sugar into smoke. I noted here that this was oddly balanced with brine and smoke, as the 18yr I’m used to is much heaver on the smoke.
Finish: Fades consistently with the nose, in that the smoke dissipates revealing the brine again, and finishes as a complex but clean dram on the palate.
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: B
Extraneous Notes: Complex and enjoyable. I’d continue to cook with the 18yr but happily drink this along side.
Compass Box, The Last Vatted Malt, 53.7% abv,Recipe is22% from the younger of the two distilleries in Aberlour 36yr / remaining 78% from Caol Ila 26yr
Nose: Nice heavy maltiness with a deep toasty grain and cereal note, with a hint of caramel running throughout.
Flavour: Hot, very hot, even for a 108 proof dram. Much like the nose this hits with a good balance of oak and toast.
Finish: I was surprised that at such a high proofing this dram took a long while to finish, though not a complex story it finished with lingering cereal notes.
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: B
Extraneous Notes: A solidly good dram, but lacking the complexity of what I would have expected from whiskies at 26 and 36 years of age respectively. This would be a stellar dram at a different price point. As it stands, I am please to have tried it but likely won’t be searching it out purely based on cost.
And since we were talking about how The Last Vatted Malt wasn’t available in theU.S., Ian decided to pull out another Compass Box offering only available inCanada. Ian had actually pulled out this particular bottling once before so the notes below will be a combination of both times I’ve tasted this:
Compass Box, The Magic Cask, Limited Edition, 46% abv
Nose: Light brine, mild heat, and green olive. This second nosing was light on the nose, but still showing hints of the brine and olive.
Flavour: Spicy and watery, but hot. Much like an oaked Rye. The second tasting showed more complexity with a balance of grain and cereal, while still remaining hot.
Finish: Hot, Oak and final toast with some brine. The second finish showed the same cereal and toast notes but a bit lighter than previously mentioned.
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: B+
And then came the final bottle I enjoyed that night. Sadly I stopped taking tasting notes just prior, though to my benefit I was able to enjoy the little bit that was left in the final two drams of the bottle… I will say, the Tobermory 1798, 15yr is a spectacularly wonderful dram to finish out an even of amazing drams.
This past weekend was another PDXWhisky tasting hosted by Ian Itschner. As always, we had a lively group show up, all interested to see what this blind tasting had in store for us.
Unlike prior PDXWhisky tastings, this time around Ian went to pains to obfuscate the Distilleries/brands to keep preconceived notions away from the drams and allow our senses to do all the work; to find our favourites without the benefits of advertising or other biases. Of course that didn’t stop us from guessing and taking pot shots based on bottle shape, the colour of the whisky itself, or the general characteristics of the dram once we were tasting. (After all some bottles are so distinct in shape, you just KNOW if it is a Highland park, a Bruichladdich, or a Glenfiddich… its hard NOT to guess!)
To help you get the sense of what I’m talking about here…. these are the four bottles as presented to us:
You’re guessing already, aren’t you? See, it’s hard NOT to immediately start in with those biases and preconceptions! I’ll bet you even have some good guesses based on #2 and #4’s shape, as well as #1’s neck height, don’t you? I know we did! But don’t let that cloud your mind… work through it and you WILL be rewarded with some fun surprises.
In the spirit of the evening, I am going to present my tasting notes in the same blind fashion: showing you the notes without indicating the distillery or other bottling notes:
Nose: Hotter than expected, and briney with mild caramel, cereal comes in late and then a light char.
Flavour: Hot and bitey. Some brine then light smoke and bran.
Finish: Toast into balanced cinnamon and smoke. Some said redhots, others said a higher quality cinnamon instead. The room was divided.
Boldness: 2 (despite being so hot, not exactly a bold dram)
Length of Story: 2
Personal Taste: B-
Extraneous notes: On nosing I guessed this was at 45%abv, on tasting I upped it to 50%abv. First guess was Auchentoshan, then I scratched that out and changed a second guess to Kilchoman.
Nose: Grilled plantains, presenting a mild vegetative sweetness
Flavour: light and watery, hint of caramel, but rather bright and crisp.
Finish: middle oak and lingers with mild tannins
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: B+
Extraneous notes: No abv guess here as it generally felt like a standard 40%abv. I took a guess at the region rather than distiller and put this in the Lowlands and aged at 12- 14 years based on the tannins that came out at the end.
Nose: Port, then heavy port, into wet dirt with a side note of ‘red fruit’.
Flavour: Brine and port, astringent and hot.
Finish: Heavy but wet tannins at first, which then dry out to the end. A constant port finish through out.
Length of Story: 4
Personal Taste: B+
Extraneous notes: This was another hot one, but a bit more mild than the first. My guess from nosing was at 41%abv while I upped it to 45%abv on the palate. Normally I love port finishes, but this one threw me for a loop as it nosed like a Speyside, but drank like an Islay. My guess put this as an Islay with a port cask finish aged 16 years.
Nose: Fruit, a smokey apple hookah tobacco type scent.
Flavour: Immediate anise, which moved straight to peat and then into fruit with semi-sweet almost bitter chocolate (akin to a 77% cocoa)
Finish: Balanced oak and sweetness of fruit without the acidity.
Length of Story: 4
Personal Taste: A
Extraneous notes: This was quickly noted as my favourite of the night, guessing region as Highland and aged 18 years given the balanced sweetness with a hint of peat.
… and to push the reveal text far enough down so as you can’t see it while reading the tasting notes above, here’s another look at them:
There, now that you have the tasting notes, and obfuscated images of the bottles I’ll stop the torture and reveal what each bottling was in relation to my guesses above. So, without further ado, the BIG REVEAL:
Bottle #1: Auchentoshan Valinch, 2011 limited edition, bottled at 57.5%abv
Bottle #2: Compass Box, Great King Street
Bottle #3: Glen Scotia, 19 year, single cask port finish, bottled at 59.5%abv
Bottle #4: Ledaig 10 years, 46.3%abv
I should have trusted my first instinct on bottle number one and not second guessed my distillery choice as I was apparently right on with my initial guess! I WILL come clean and note that was primarily driven from the bottle shape and my knowledge of what Auchentoshans typically taste like. Still, I was surprised to have been so close on my first guess.
The second bottle was a bit of a shock as I’d gone through two bottles of Compass Box’ Great King Street with friends since November. I’m a bit settled by the fact that the bottle is comprised of 51.4% Lowland grain whiskies, letting me breathe a bit better when I guessed lowland as the region. Unfortunately, not having done a proper tasting note for the GKS, I don’t have a personal taste comparison to show how close or off this blind tasting was. I’m guessing that blind, this rated a bit lower than I likely would have rated it otherwise, given my predilection to towards anything Compass Box produces. Nice to keep me honest. That said, even at a B+ I’m absolutely going to continue buying this bottle for whisky & sodas!
The Glen Scotia came as a real surprise being a Cambeltown, not an Islay. This one to me was like a Johnny Walker Green: I loved to nose it, but wasn’t pleased with the palate at all. That said, I did guess the port finish correctly, and was even a bit closer on the age than I expected with my guess of 16 years versus the actual 19 years.
The real surprise for me came with the fourth bottle: the Ledaig 10 year. After the Glen Scotia at 59%, its no wonder this one didn’t rate as hot for me, coming in at 46%. Colour me shocked, however, that I’d guessed 18 years when in reality this Ledaig is only aged 10 years. And again, it is an Isle of Mull whisky when I’d originally guessed it as a Highland.
Ah, well, you win some, and even when you lose in this game, well you still win! In fact, I was so pleased with the Ledaig after this blind tasting, I opted to pop over to my local whisky shop and pick up a bottle (shock of shocks, they actually HAD it!). I have to say, this was also the least expensive dram of the night, generally around $50/bottle. Seeing As to where it was my personal favourite of the night, how could I not grab a bottle?
Week 16 came and passed without an update on the whiskey sitting in the barrel I got as part of Woodinville’s “Age your own whiskey” kit. But can you blame me? I mean, there’s been a lot going on with the 3DC, especially as we ramp up into our annual tasting at “Great Western War” (the SCA event in Bakersfield, Ca.).
Have no fear, just because the weeks have come and gone does not mean I missed taking a sample of the distillate. I did indeed take notes, and even pictures to provide you all an update as to how the baby whiskey is maturing in the 1.7 liter oak barrel. The first round of tasting notes after weeks 1, 2, and 3 can be found here if you missed them, or just want to come up to speed for comparison. The initial setup, etc. can be found here.
Woodinville White dog, Aged 16 weeks in new American Oak.
(Casked on May 30th, 2011. Sampled Sept. 11th, 2011)
Nose: All alcohol. Expected for a 130 proof distillate. Caramel follows the initial shock, the if you can push through, there is a distinct corn mash of the original distillate.
Flavor: Chewier mouthfeel than prior tastes. No longer think and watery, but now shows great body and an oiliness expected from a proper bourbon/whiskey. The pallate is still very distillate heavy, but is showing more promise with a far heavier caramel body, though it is followed by a disappointing bitterness.
Finish: Caramel, with an increasing bitterness with every taste. Like a vegetable with all the sugars removed.
Length of Story: 2
Personal taste: C
Extraneous notes: Dramatically different from earlier tastes, but still not ‘good’. Needs more time on the oak to mute or remove the bitter after notes. Looking to revisit in late November or December.
Overall, I’m not exactly disappointed, but not overly pleased either. I am hopeful that more time on the oak will help it mellow out further and become something worthwhile. Otherwise, I’ll have to admit defeat, bottle it up, and move on to a different distillate to see how a second round fairs. That, of course, means finding a better raw distillate to work with, with means testing some cask ready samples from various distillers. Oh the pains I go to for this hobby 😉
Last Friday eve was another great PDX Whisky event. If you are local to Portland, Oregon and are interested in learning about whiskies, I will heartily urge you to follow PDXWhisky on Facebook, where Ian sends out the event notices (while you’re there, don’t forget to ‘Like’ the 3DC page too!). Really, come join us! The ‘events’ are informal, casual, and comfortable for all levels of enthusiast and are some of the best ways to try out whiskies you may not have access to otherwise.
This past event was no different and provided for some great laughs over the course of the evening. I won’t bore you with the comedy bits, you’ll just have to attend next time to enjoy the funny! As for the tasting notes, we enjoyed 4 bottles over the night in the order they appear below:
Auchentoshan Three Wood
Nose: Brilliantly balanced caramel with subtle smoke and an unpretentious oakiness.
Flavor: Peat on the front, into oak (of course) and a hint of iodine.
Finish: Nice soft caramel, light peat and oddly harsh after clearing the palate with water.
Length of Story: 4
Personal Taste: A
Extraneous notes: Palate was off due to having recently finished baklava for desert.
Highland Park 15 All American Oak
Nose: Nicely balance smoke. Rich but bright, hint of vanilla and orange.
Flavor: Oak first, light and watery/thin. Evocative of a Christmas chocolate orange.
Finish: a tad hot then trailing oak into a hint of spice.
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: B
Douglas Laing Double Barrel (Highland Park and Bowmore, no additional details given on the bottle)
Nose: BBQ consiting of cumin and vinegar, red spice, heated rubber.
Flavor: simplistic smoke and brine. Very distinct and separate.
Finish: iodine and then smoke, second taste brings out a bit of surprise chocolate.
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: D (*C)
Extraneous notes: *improved the second go around. Odd bottle, however, as the double barrel concept seems to cause the two to compete with each other rather than blend into a single different dram. Surprised at how it improved with another taste, but not enough to really be enjoyable beyond a technical tasting.
Bowmore 20 year (A.D. Rattray bottling)
Nose: heavy iodine followed by smoke
Flavor: peat forward into brine and the suggestions of a wafting of spice
Finish: stays briny into a balanced smoky oakyness, but relatively light on tannins.
Length of Story: 4
Personal Taste: C+
Extraneous notes: This seemed to be the top of the 4 for the night, though not for me. Not to my taste even though I can appreciate the complexities of the 20yr in comparison to the 30yr and even younger. A good dram to be sure, just not for me.
Overall, I stick by the recommendation I came to the tasting with: The Auchentoshan Three Wood is a solid, relatively inexpensive dram which drinks far above its price point. You’d be best served to have a bottle in your house and at the ready for any whisky drinker. While not the top of the night, it was my personal favourite and was unanimously enjoyed by all at the table.
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Raz – Hmmm, Whisky Sugar cookies are good. I’m starting with the Edradour series we are here to kill and proceeding on to the Edradour 16 for good measure. No tasting notes here sorry but it’s good to see so much good stuff on the table just on the fly.
Meliko – Going through the Edradour series was very interesting; they’re all quite different. Least fave was the port, most fave was the burgundy, with the chardonnay and sauterne also both relatively pleasant. The 12 year had the most readable story: sweet and caramel to the nose, initially mellow then gently smoky on the tongue.
Fergus– The 14 year Balvenie is sweeter than the 12 and is improved when you try a rum before tasting the 14. Trying it with a 72% dark chocolate does not seem to improve the taste and if you try it with chocolate the whiskey seems to avoid the areas the chocolate cover. The Balvenie 12 signature being better than the 12 double wood has the opposite effect from the 14 balvenie the whiskey is improved by the chocolate and the whiskey layers itself onto the chocolate flavor.
Raz – The flaming heart (Compass Box) is like being bum rushed by a dorm full of exchange student co-ed fetishists.
Jean – I concur with Fergus’ opinions on the Rumwood with the chocolate. The Rumwood on it’s own is complex, but adding water eliminates the complexity and makes it flat. I really enjoyed the Balvenie Signature with the chocolate – very smooth and buttery. Overheard: ‘Oh, dude – uh, oi’
G – The Balvenie signature 12 starts without the bite of so many others. It rolls smoothly through the mouth and departs with a gentle kiss; a definite favorite. The add of the dark chocolate broadens the flavor. With this start, sampling the nose of the Edradours was all that I could contribute to that particular effort. A sip of the Dos Maderas (yes, rum) was a great post-food flavor. The additional ‘sweet’ made for a good dessert, so the sip fit very well. And the Welsh Penderyn seems to simply be a glass of water that happened to be in the room when some poor sot opened a Laphroaig.
The clock hit 5pm on Thursday afternoon, and I high-tailed my way out of work. I rushed home, showered, and donned my best suit so I would be appropriately attired for the night’s festivities. Fearing the worst of L.A. traffic, I didn’t have any time to spare, so I sped off armed with a pack of RedBulls at my side. I arrived at Raz’ place by 7pm, which gave us just an hour and a half before we had to be in line for the Johnnie Walker Journey of Taste set to start at 9pm in Hollywood. From Huntington Beach, the drive is a good 54 minutes by the map, which assumes a common freeway speed of 65mph. As you can guess, this left us with only a 30 minute fudge factor if we encountered any accident or other traffic inducing road hazard on the way. As it turns out we made outstanding time. Not one ounce of traffic hindered our progress, which meant we made it to Henson Studios spot on 8pm, giving us an hour before the next tasting began.With that hour downtime, Raz and I chose to make the most of it. Between sitting on a mock stoop and chatting about the future of the 3DC, we nosed our way around the studio grounds opting for a picture or two here and there. We even got the main door bouncer (decked out in a full tuxedo) to snap two pictures of us in from of the Johnnie Walker sign, and another in front of the Chaplin studio sign. Two points of note here: 1. always make friends with security early in the night, this will help later in the night, and 2. always be aware of your surroundings. The former will be discussed later, but the latter is important now. Not being much of a film geek, but enough that I know the value of true Hollywood history, I was thoroughly enjoying just BEING at Jim Henson’s Studios. That alone is worthy of note, but more importantly, is that a bit prior to becoming Henson Studios, the same lot and studio buildings were known as Chaplin Studios. Yes, THAT Chaplin. So not only were Raz and I geeking out over Jim and his Muppet magic, but also over being in the same location where the late great Charles Chaplin worked. (Pictures should be forthcoming once Raz gets the cable he needs to download them off of his camera.)
We queued up after a small handful of other people began arriving. We didn’t need to be FIRST in line, but also didn’t wish to be last either. Turns out this strategy worked well for us, as we were ushered over to deposit our required donation, and then directed towards one of the Walker girls who was ready to check us in. No muss, no fuss, no line either! It was this point in the night were we first saw our friend Dirt (who as you will recall, we met at the WoW expo last March, and who was kind enough to put forth the invite to us and our group). I chatted up Dirt as Raz checked in, and came to find out that we had chosen the best night and time to take part in the tasting. As 3DC luck would have it, Thursday night’s 9pm ‘show’ was to be attended by members of ‘tu Ciudad’ an up and coming Latino magazine for Los Angeles. The best part being that after the tasting, ‘tu Ciudad’ would be hosting an open bar after party where the entire Johnnie Walker line would be flowing freely! I attempted to impart this knowledge on Raz, who was a bit too busy making Leroy laugh behind us to really let it sink in…
Within minutes, the velvet ropes were drawn back and we were handed our token for a drink during the cocktail gathering prior to the tasting. I really have to say this setup was a perfect idea. Each guest was limited to one drink, to ensure their palates wouldn’t be ruined prior to the tasting event, but at the same time, we were given drinks which woke up our palates and got us in the mood to taste. As Raz staked out a table for us, conveniently next to the bar, I got us both a Johnnie Black label neat (as they were only serving Black and Red label at the beginning). Sitting at the bar-height table, we continued our people watching and noted at the diversity of the crowd. There was a good mix of nationalities as well as gender and age. While the average age was probably about 26, there were indeed a few older ones who obviously were experienced tasters. The whole vibe for the night was fairly youthful though, from the music to the types of drinks being poured for the guests. I noted quite a few whisky sours, ginger-ales and whiskies, as well as typical whisky on the rocks. Very few whisky neats were seen, Raz and I being two of them. The mix of people and drinks began to give me a good idea as to what we were in for.
Before we get into the tasting proper, Dirt makes his way over to us with a friend of his whom we “have to meet”. Ian Stewart (or Stuart, not sure of the spelling, sorry lad!) is introduced to us as a gent who will be making a name in the industry. While he doesn’t have a job quite yet, word has it he is poised to be part of a reputable Speyside organization, with promises to let us in on exactly which one upon confirmation of getting the job. After a bit of chatting and learning that his father recently retired from work at the famed Cardhu distillery, we are happy to say that Ian is indeed a true friend of the 3DC! Raz had a chance to bend Ian’s ear a bit more, as we were ushered into the tasting and the two sat next to each other snarking away during the presentation. I would have been annoyed if I hadn’t immediately enjoyed Ian’s company and stories. Plus he seems to “get” whiskies like we do, which is always a good thing in my book! (By the by, he lives up in the Bay Area, so Fergus should get into contact with him for future events…).
Which brings us to the core of the event; The Johnnie Walker Journey of Taste.
We were escorted to our seats (just behind the VIP section, not a bad turn of more 3DC luck!) which were white pleather bench seats with a bench in front to act as our tasting table. Each bench was imprinted to appear like a card with the standard 5 glass tasting layout, though specific for Johnnie Walker’s products of course. As a visual aid, I was able to find a picture of the tasting setup (courtesy of Johnnie Walker’s site: http://www.journeyexperience.com/ )
From this visual alone you get the feel that the entire night was geared more towards a vibrant, edgier crowd than we are typically part of. All the seats were configured in a square with an open center for the presenter. Behind each of the quadrants were three large projection screens displaying the ‘Striding Man’ logo which Johnnie is known by. (GREAT marketing by the by! The logo is memorable, classy, and easy to reproduce on damned near anything!) Over the course of the tasting, as an introduction to each label, mini promo spots were projected with loud music and minimal narration in quick successive images and moving pictures reminiscent of the MTV style of television/commercials nowadays. Truly, Johnnie is marketing to a younger generation now. The entire atmosphere was a bit too “hip” and trendy for my tastes, but still I was impressed at the balance between trendy and the presentation of a proper tasting.
Steve, the Johnnie Walker Ambassador for our showing, began to walk us through the tasting. Note that the opinions below are my own and –not- necessarily what was presented during the show. The actual tasting and presentation was designed to point out the various odors on the nose and tastes on the palate of the different expressions and teach some of the people new to tasting how to do so (as a typical guided tasting should do)…
First up was the Johnnie Walker Black label… and then continued in order…
• Johnnie Walker Black Label — this is a perfectly drinkable blend of as many as 40 whiskies, each aged at least 12 years. At the heart of Black Label lies the 12 year old Cardhu. I was quite surprised by this expression, as I had it in my mind that ANY JW label was inferior to my beloved single malts. As blends go, this one is quite enjoyable as an everyday dram. Not exceedingly complex or refined, but as good a whisky as any blend I have enjoyed.
• Johnnie Walker Red Label — a bold combination of spicy and smoky malts (the core being Talisker), designed to be mixed. Not a complex drink by any stretch, but rather full of simple and bold flavours which will punch through any mixer of your choice to reveal a distinct whisky drink. Presented with both Pepsi and Ginger-Ale in carafes to mix with; this particular expression seemed to sit well with Raz, while I found it a bit too overstated for my palate at the time. I may need to revisit this whisky to really nail down an opinion on this. Either way, it mixes as well as John, Mark and Robbo’s “The Rich Spicy One” (which for the price point would be my choice over the Red Label).
• Johnnie Walker Green Label (a.k.a. Pure Malt) — a vatted malt whisky that consists of approximately 15 individual single malts, the core malts being Talisker, Cragganmore, Linkwood, and Caol Ila. All malts in this particular blend are aged 15 years or older. Amazingly beautiful nose on this dram. It brings a woodsy heather and cedar along with the greenness of a newly cut lawn. The nose on this is so pleasing that it could be used as a cologne or aftershave. But that’s where this dram ends. The palate is disappointing at best with a heavy iodine taste completely divergent form the woodsy nose. That being said, I’d buy a bottle just to nose, but never drink.
• Johnnie Walker Gold Label — a blend of over 15 single malts which has at its heart the very rare Clynelish malt. Served at freezing temperatures, this whisky is lost to the cold. While interesting to drink as a novelty (really, who drinks whisky like a vodka?) this is actually better warm, but not by much. As it turns out, the cold masks the inferior nose and simplicity of the whisky. A fun drink to try, but this will never become one of my staples.
• Johnnie Walker Blue Label — at the heart of Blue Label is Royal Lochnagar a malt distilled near Balmoral. Now this is what I call a complex blend of rare malts. This expression has everything a high-end blend should have: a complex palate which tells a story that lasts for a good 30 seconds, a smoothness which whispers refinement and dedication to getting the palate just right, and a viscosity which gives a slightly thick mouthfeel letting you know there is more here than water. As enjoyable as this was, I am still partial to the Midleton Very rare expression as put forth by the Jameson’s Distillery for around the same price point. I will still, however, come back to this dram a few times “just to be sure”.
At the end, Steve invited all guests to hang around and enjoy the after party put on by the good people at ‘tu Ciudad’. Well, who were we not to oblige? Gods forbid we turn down and open bar pouring Blue label! With that, we adjourned back to the cocktail area where the bar tenders were waiting, bottles in hand. After getting our initial pours, Raz and I split from Ian and walked around the place chatting and generally just enjoying ourselves. At one point well into the night, we made our way outside where we happened upon Leroy, the good gent who had taken so kindly to Raz mocking me (in the sardonic way which Raz mocks me) when we were queued up for entrance at the beginning of the night. Come to find out Leroy and Raz share the same middle name, which they bonded over for a brief time. We met Leroy’s lady (whose name escapes me, but her necklace proclaimed “Mercy”) as well as Leroy’s mother, who also seemed to be fully enjoying the drams of the night. By the end of these conversations, I think there may be another 3 people looking for us at the Whiskies of the World expo come this April! (We already know that Ian will be there assisting Steve and Dirt in some fashion.)
As the night was winding down, we found ourselves back inside since it was warmer and less crowded than earlier. We headed back to the bar for one last drink, where we discovered that the earlier announcement that they had run out of Blue was not actually the case. When we got to the bar, the tender happily poured us two last snifters of Blue with a smile on his face, almost as is he had held some back just for us. Now, I wouldn’t delude myself to think that was the case at all, but rather, that’s just how it came off. In either event it was once again good to be 3DC.
By this time, we had commandeered another table around which we held closing court. Ok, again, not really, but given that everyone we had met earlier came by and chatted with us, it kind of felt like it. To top off that feeling was watching security begin moving people out so they could clean up and go home. As they swept by our table, they looked around made eye contact with Raz and myself, nodded at us and said, “You guys are good”, and moved on, leaving us to continue our conversations and finish off our drinks. Once again, the 3DC close out a bash with only the hosts around. Remember, make friends with security at the beginning, it WILL come in handy at the end!
We did hang around a bit longer, mainly to use the restroom and to drink a bit more water (and another red bull) before heading home. Or, I should say, before heading to dinner. I was hungry, and so was Raz, plus we both had Friday off and so we recapped the evening’s events over dinner and breakfast at Norm’s. By this point I was stone cold sober, but Raz was still enjoying the lasting effects of Johnnie Walker Blue, and continued to do so well past the point when I dropped him off at his door I am sure. I made it home by 3:15am, and was dead asleep by 3:30am. A long day to be sure, but well worth the sacrifice of sleep if for nothing else than to pimp the 3DC in style once again!
It seems at every event we attend, we meet some astounding new people and this was no different. We walked away, not only richer from the experience and enjoyment of the tasting, but from the friends we made along the way. Friends, whom I am sure we’ll be seeing again soon… and that, my friends, is the way of the 3DC. It’s not the whiskies, it’s the people you meet because of the common love for life!
As promised, following are a few pictures from the Journey of Taste event:
This is Raz and I prior to queuing up for the beginning of the night. The event was held through the hallway to the right of the image:
Raz and I being geeks over the fact that this is CHAPLIN Studios!
The core portion of the evening was the guided, seated tasting in the square:
I am not fond of this picture by a long stretch, but it is the only one we have of our new friend Ian: