Monday, September 28, 2009

Brain Dump

My backlog of whisky tasting notes and pictures is growing rather rapidly, I'm afraid. Bear with me as I struggle to recall a couple drams where I didn't have my notepad...

Ledaig 8yr (Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice 40% ABV)

This was a bizarre dram. It was one of the lightest and most delicate whiskies I've had in recent memory and had none of the peatiness Ledaig is known for. The bottle (once again) only had a single pour left in it, and it looked like it had been sitting on its shelf for years judging by how much dust was on it. Peat doesn't exactly just go away when a whisky oxidizes.

It wasn't particularly fragrant but had a reasonable array of fruits on the palate. Finish died off rather quickly. Perhaps a good summer whisky?

Benromach (Signatory)

Vintage unknown. ABV unknown. Un-chillfiltered with no added color.

This was my first experience with a Benromach, but its reputation preceded it. The Benromach distillery is owned by the independent bottlers, Gordon & MacPhail, who know a thing or two about whisky.

A: A light gold. Mildly oily.

N: Typical Speyside malt. Fresh fruit, a bit of sherry, and an almost indiscernible amount of peat.

T: Maltier and peatier than expected. With water, the sherry rolls back as the peat intensifies. Always a pleasure to experience peat outside of an Islay context.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Brora 21yr

Okay, so there was a definite theme to the NYC leg of this trip. Seek out rare and exclusive Scotch whiskies from silent-stills (distilleries that ceased operations). A little self-indulgent, I know...

At Hudson Bar and Books in West Village, I found a bottle of Brora 21yr that was not on the menu... with a single dram remaining.

3 Reasons to Visit Hudson Bar and Books

1. Ambiance. Lovely collection of bottles and books. Employees in Prohibition Era attire. Enthusiastic and whimsical bartender/mixologist.

2. Whisky. Good selection. Discounted prices on Whisk(e)y Tuesdays.

3. Cigars. The place to go if you like a cigar with your whisky. Not a compelling reason to visit if you're just interested in the whisky.

Brora 21yr Signatory Un-Chillfiltered Collection (46% ABV). Distilled in 1981. Bottled in 2003 (which concerned me because I didn't want a heavily oxidized "last pour"... there will be a future blog entry on this subject).

A: Light gold like the 24yr. Less oily as expected.

N: Difficult to gauge properly. Bar was heavy with the aroma of cigars and tobacco. Less alcohol burn than the 24yr. Lots of sherry and malt, like the 24yr. With water, nose became sweeter and more sherried.

T: Pepper, spice, honey, and juicy fruits. Less peated than the 24yr. With water, the spice and peat intensified slightly, as did the sherry.

Overall, the Brora wasn't as flat as I was initially expecting. It really was the more mild-mannered brother to the 24yr Cask Strength.

Brora 24yr

My first taste of Brora, a silent still, was at the illustrious Brandy Library in TriBeCa.

There are 3 good reasons for spending your hard earned cash at Brandy Library:

1. Something for everyone. Easily the most staggering SMS list I've seen in any bar or lounge.
2. Incredible ambiance. Perhaps a little pretentious, but definitely aimed at making the whisky enthusiast feel at home. Take a look (panoramic shot I feebly spliced together).

3. The most amazing cheese/bread/puff-pastry concoction ever baked. I really wish I wasn't drinking whisky at the time because the mouth-watering fragrance of this bread was wafting throughout the "library".

Brora 24yr Signatory Cask Strength Collection (60.1% ABV... holy smokes)

A: Light gold. Very oily.

N: Alcohol singed my nose hairs. Along with the malt, there was a definite savory element to it. Almost like meat. Definite sherried oak influence (aged in Sherry refill cask). With water, light caramel notes surfaced as well as more malt and a hint of something herbal.

T: Neat, it is INTENSE. Sherried oak, juicy fruits, pepper, spice, and peat. With water (and a little air), there's more malty mash and the sherry actually intensifies. To me, this whisky embodied the best elements of Talisker and Highland Park (even though both distilleries are Islanders and Brora was a Highlander).

Amazingly complex and it's no wonder enthusiasts, connoisseurs and collectors so rabidly seek out Broras. Sorry, but I finished the last drops Brandy Library had of the Signatory bottling.

Port Ellen 24yr

This was an unexpected dram.

We hiked to the world-renown Park Ave Liquors near the Grand Central train station to see if their SMS selection was as vast as advertised. A simple inquiry turned into their entire Port Ellen collection being lined up in front of me.

We're looking at about $2000 worth of whisky here. After engaging one of their spirit buyers with some friendly whisky talk, he brandished an open bottle of an unusual Port Ellen.

From what I gathered, a Park Ave spirit buyer hand selected a cask of Port Ellen from Douglas Laing's cache (a well respected Independent Bottler of Scotch whisky). It was presented to the public at a recent Whisky Live event in NYC as a Park Ave/Douglas Laing bottling. This is when the spirit buyer offered me a dram... who could resist?

This is from memory since I did not have my notes on me. The dram was poured into a small plastic cup.

A: Impossible to tell from the cup. From the bottle, it appears to be richly amber. This is from the heavy sherry influence.

N: A heavy dose of sherry (more than the Signatory bottlings I've sampled) and peat. Strong alcohol vapors. Amazingly fresh for any whisky aged 24yrs.

T: Sweet, rich, and peaty. All the usual Islay cues of the sea without the hints of age. Maybe not terribly complex, but do keep in mind I was drinking it out of a plastic cup, did not add water, and didn't have the luxury of time to allow it to reach its full potential. Bizarrely enough, it reminded me of the recently reviewed Lagavulin 12yr (a whisky half its age) than any Port Ellen I've had before.

Park Avenue Liquor, you employ gentlemen and real class acts. You'll hear from me when I finally decide on a Port Ellen.

Talisker 25yr

Howdy, my few followers. I just returned from an East Coast excursion involving plenty of Single Malt Scotch. I have many photos and notes I need to regurgitate to the Internet so I'll start with a dram of Talisker 25yr (OB Diageo) I had at St. Andrew's Pub near Times Square in Manhattan.

First of all, praise be given to St. Andrew's. Your malt selection is excellent, your optional pour sizes are to be commended, your choice of glassware is more focused toward the whisky enthusiast than any other establishment I visited in your fair city, and your tartan decorations certainly get one in the mood for drinking Scotch whisky.

A: Difficult to tell with the bar's lighting. From what I could tell, it looked lighter than the younger Diageo Taliskers. It is possible caramel coloring was not added. Beautiful oily Talisker legs. Bottled at cask strength.

N: Unfortunately, a hint of dish soap, but this is a common theme at most bars. Surprisingly not very boozy for being ~55% ABV. Lots of oak influence. A modest amount of sherry. Also surprising, hardly any peat on the nose. With water, the sherry transforms into a sweet mixture of toffee and apples. Still intensely aromatic.

T: Neat, plenty of alcohol burn. Instantly pummeled with Talisker's familiar combination of salt, pepper, spice, and peat. More sherried than the younger Taliskers. Rich, oily, and an enjoyably long lasting finish.

And of course, what dram isn't more enjoyable with good company?