Here we go again! Christmas gift part 2… Another scotch tasting, this time for “Scotch Enthusiasts”.
Going into this tasting I was hoping for a little more of a… challenge? I suppose? At least from a malt-selection perspective. I’m all for reasonable, accessible, and readily available single malts, but from time to time I also want to try something new and different.
Upon arriving to the tasting it was clear that I would be pleased in some respects, slightly disappointed in others. There would definitely be some more challenging malts in this lineup, with more peated examples and a little more complexity to the profiles, but there also wasn’t the unusual or hard-to-find malt that I was hoping to see.
No matter… Primed with a pre-tasting pint of beer and pint of strawberry cider, (was that a good idea?) I was ready to dive into the tasting!
We met our host for the evening, an exuberant gentleman named Antonio, who clearly shared a passion for the water of life. He brought with him a few neat hands-on items with him to illustrate some of the discussion on tasting notes. We saw and smelled some peat, saw various pieces of charred barrel staves, and took a whiff of some Macallan new-make spirit. After a few energetic anecdotes and brief rundown of whisky’s history and etymology (from the Gaelic “uisge”) we were ready to dive in! Definitely a much different presentation style than we saw at the previous Summerhill LCBO tasting….
Again we tasted six scotches in total, this time not just seeking to demonstrate the breadth variety in the Highlands, but rather across the entirety of scotch whisky. No easy task…
The whiskies of the evening:
- Aultmore 12 Year Old: The Foggie Moss – 43% ABV, $79.95 at the LCBO
Given that I just reviewed this one at a little more length, please see that review: here.
- Arran Sherry Cask Finish (NAS) – 46% ABV, $79.95 at the LCBO
Nose: Slightly aggressive nose… Without water the youth of the spirit really comes through. With water, more dried red fruits. Strawberry, raisin, and apple come through. Slight dry, grassiness.
Taste: Definitely needs the water to ease the intensity on the palate, but once added it’s a spirit that surprisingly light on the tongue. Big, fruity arrival. Sweet red wine grapes, dark cherries, and light, chocolatey undertones.
Finish: A little disappointingly short, given the intensity of flavour on tasting. Dry finish, with notes of chocolate, vanilla, and… fig?
Overall: I don’t think I’ve tried an Arran release in the last year that I’ve disliked. This is another example of a non-aged release from the distillery that might show its youth in some respects, but still presents it very well. It’s only a sherry cask “finish”, so only spent a short time in sherry barrels, but it was long enough to pick up some of the distinctly sherried red fruit notes that you might expect. Certainly no sherry bomb by any stretch, but certainly some additional character added to their standard bourbon-aged releases.
- Jura Superstition (NAS) – 43% ABV, $69.95 at the LCBO
Nose: Light peat, caramel, vanilla, sea salt
Taste: Toffee, cereal notes, vanilla, light citrus. Slightly spicy/peppery, with those sea salt notes still present, and not nearly as much peat influence as I expected.
Finish: Soft and… unremarkable? Not unpleasant, but nothing jumps out. Slightly smokey, slightly salty, and a little residual vanilla, pepper and salt.
Overall: I feel like this is a scotch I need to have another go at. I didn’t get enough time with it at the tasting to really fairly judge. It seems to have similar elements to what I so enjoy about Johnnie Walker Green, just in a more subdued way. The question to me then is whether it’s too subdued when incorporating some of those notes I love so much in Talisker with a more mild, unpeated malt.
Score: 78/100…. For now….
- Aberfeldy 12 Year Old – 40% ABV, $59.95 at the LCBO
Nose: Quite a sweet nose… Honey, toffee, citrus, and just a hint of peat smoke.
Taste: Light but creamy body on the palate. Sweet honey, barley malt, toffee, vanilla, raisins.
Finish: Those citrus notes from the nose finally appear on the finish. Fresh citrus peel with vanilla, remaining honeyed barley notes, a touch of spice and barest hint of peat.
Overall: There’s nothing wrong at all with this whisky, but by the time we’re 4 whiskies into the tasting, it just doesn’t hold up to some of the preceding malts. I don’t know if it’s the lower ABV, or just that the whisky is more delicate by its nature, but it feels neutered. If I were out at a pub and just wanting an easy sipping scotch for the evening, I could see myself going for this. But if I’m at home or at an event with friends I couldn’t see myself choosing to drink this.
- Bowmore Small Batch – 40.0% ABV, $59.95 at the LCBO
Colour: Old Gold
Nose: Sweet cream, vanilla, toffee, maritime salt, and gentle but present peat.
Taste: Lightly-bodied and surprisingly sweet for Bowmore. Also noticeably young, but still pleasant. Sweet, fresh citrus, vanilla, apricot, and oak.
Finish: Moderately long finish… The sweetness on the palate gives way to a bit of oaky zestiness, some maritime salt, and soft smoke.
Overall: My relationship with is historically hit or miss. Many of their official bottlings are just not for me, but some of their Tempest releases have been possibly my favorite scotches tried to date. Given my history with them, I expected to have a strong reaction one way or the other when tasting the Small Batch, but… no. I feel similarly to the Jura… It’s a nice, fairly well balanced, entry-point to Islay whisky. Like the Jura, my initial impression is that it hits similar notes to Johnnie Walker Green, but just not as well (for me, anyway). That said, it’s a very pleasant and well constructed non-age statement whisky at a very reasonable price-point (as is the Jura). So to both whiskies, kudos for that.
- Longrow Peated Campbeltown Whisky (NAS) – 46% ABV, $93.80 at the LCBO
Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: Musty mineral funk. Sea salt, pine needles, coconut cream pie and sweet barley malt. No smoke, but a definite sense of vegetal peat.
Taste: Sweet toffee, sea salt, wet vegetal peaty earthiness, banana, and a some kind of medicinal undertone
Finish: Reasonably long finish… The herbal/peaty/pine notes remain with a sweet vanilla and milk chocolate note on the end. I feel like there’s smoke hiding in there somewhere, but it never fully emerges.
Overall: Anything Springbank makes always turns out to be an interesting beast. There’s some really weird and funky notes in there that I can only assume are the result of the dunnage warehouses, but they work for me. I would dearly love to try a cask strength Springbank/Longrow release, because as much as I enjoy this dram, it feels slightly watered down. I do think it benefits from a few drops of water to help suppress a bit of the harshness of the vegetal peat notes, but it also seems to drown surprisingly easily. All that said, a weird, wild and ultimately enjoyable whisky.
Another 6 whiskies in the bag! Overall, I enjoyed all six samples, and while there were certainly a few that I really did enjoy, none totally floored me. That said, the whole event was a lot of fun and I look forward to seeing what events the LCBO will be hosting over the summer.
It occurs to me that I was a bit harsh to the LCBO in my inaugural blog post so, in the interest of clarity, let me just say that my issues are primarily to do with the LCBO’s pricing policies and the provincial legislation here that gives them a monopoly. Every event I’ve attended has been hosted by a wonderful LCBO employee, and I regularly enjoy long discussions about whisky and beer with various staff members at my local location. The people on the ground are doing a great job, and one can only hope that eventually the government will get their policies sorted out and give us a less draconian and monopolistic purchasing option here.
Well, one can dream anyway…