Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Whisk(e)y-A-GOGO 2010 Grand Tasting Event

My favorite local liquor store holds an annual whisk(e)y grand tasting event.  Here's how it works: you get in free of charge (though you may optionally buy a $3 tasting glass) and receive a wristband containing 10 tabs.  The store has over 30 tables set up and something like 200 whiskies available, and each tab is good for one sample.  Use them wisely!   

This year's event was held on February 28th, and I arrived with some friends before the start of the 2:00 event.  A line formed around the side of the building, and I was giddy with anticipation.  As we marched into the store, I amused myself by picturing what a shopping spree winner would look like here: racing around the store, knocking in as many bottles off the shelves as possible before the minutes' time is up.

This year's tasting list was impressive: a great range of Scotch, Bourbon, and Irish whiskies.  The 2009 event was the first one I had attended, and there I spent most of my tabs on ridiculous whiskies well out of my price range.  I decided this year to stick to ones I could theoretically afford.  With generous pourers and even more generous friends, I well exceeded my 10-sample quota, and I was feeling pretty silly by the end (luckily, I was not driving).  Here are some tasting highlights:

Winners:
  • Laphroaig 18.  I looked forward to tasting this since it was announced as the replacement for the 15.  I think it is a definite step up.  The peat is much more subtle than the younger Laphroaigs, but overall it gains a great richness and balance.  
  • Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength.  I liked the first sip, but then I added a dash of water and it really opened up.  Just a huge whisky, and without the chill filtering it has a wonderful mouth-feel to it.  Better than the 16.
  • Port Charlotte.  I loved both PC6 and PC7 and was amazed at the difference a single year in maturation can make.  The PC6 definitely tastes younger and is less complex, but it is also more straightforward with the peat and produces some bacon notes that the PC7 lacks.  Both are great, but unfortunately they are priced a bit out of my regular range.  If they ever come down to $100 / bottle, though ...
  • Brora 30.  Okay, I lied.  I could not resist tasting a $400 whisky, and boy, was it worth it.  I abjectly apologized to the pourer for my unworthiness of this drink before asking for a pour, and he was gracious enough to condescend.  Rich, woody, but balanced with just the right amount of peat. 
Losers:
  • Longrow Tokaji.  Before asking for a pour of Longrow Tokaji, I expressed my undying love for all things Springbank.  The pourer proceeded to do three things: agree that Springbank is awesome, corrected my butchering of "Tokaji", and poured the worst whisky I have ever tasted.  I would not have even thought this is Scotch had I tasted it blind, as cloying as it is.
  • Ardbeg Rollercoaster. This one makes the loser list not because it was bad or even mediocre.  It just fell far short of the breathless hype of OMG!!11!! A NEW ARDBEGZ!@@#$!.  Potent but too youthful, and not distinctive enough from the 10-year-old.  However, I must admit that Ardbegs typically take a couple of pours to really grow on me.  Still.
  • Octomore.  This is apparently the most peated whisky ever produced, yet somehow it seems less peaty than a typical Laphroaig.  Worse though is that it is lacks any type of depth and tastes like it was taken out of the cask a few years too early.  This is made by the same distillery as Port Charlotte, which I would highly recommend over Octomore. 
Most of the other whiskies I tried were good if not spectacular.  Some I added to my mental wish list, while others will remain data points.  Some other notes from the event:
  • The Glenlivet ambassador who attended in 2009 was sorely missed.  He had been the most entertaining pourer, had played bagpipes inside the store, and tried (almost successfully) to get my friend to dance like a monkey.  As my friend later remarked, he was the type of guy you want to make an honorary Uncle.  Perhaps next year he'll be back.
  • Another whisky ambassador up for honorary Uncle-ship is Simon Brooking for Laphroaig.  He is also always entertaining, and in all events where I have seen him he tells the same two jokes: the octopus joke, and the kilt joke.  They get funnier each time. 
  • As an additional bonus, all whiskies in the store are 15% off the day of the tasting.  I took home a bottle of the Lagavulin 12 CS (my nomination for WAGG 2010 King) and a couple of other bottles I had been wanting to try (but were not offered for sampling).
Overall, this is a must-attend event for any whisky-lover in the greater New England area.

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