So, as a treat for my birthday, my wife and I drove up to Boston last night to attend an ALS fundraiser. A worthy cause that also happened to feature Sir Jeremy Bell, and fine Scotch, port, champagne paired with chocolate and fruit.
The pairing was low key: here's some liquor and here's some fruit and chocolate. We found that Glenrothes 1998 goes well with Lindt Intense Orange chocolate, the generic sparkling wine went well with coconut white chocolate, and port mixes well with kiwi.
But, really, we were there for two things: Scotch and Jeremy Bell. Jeremy Bell was the Glenlivet representative at Whisk(e)y-a-Go-Go back in 2009, and he was a blast. Dressed to the nines in full kilt and Prince Charlie, with bagpipes blaring, Jeremy Bell is, in his own words, a failed accountant who is now "paid to drink alcohol." Stand-up comedian, musician, toastmaster, all around amazing guy, and everyone's honorary uncle, he doesn't fail to entertain. He's full of Scottish humor (often at the expense of the English...did you hear the one about the Englishman? He loved his wife so much he almost told her!), amusing social history, and whisky and wine lore, and I even got to nerd out with him for a few minutes of 'kilt talk." He led us through a ribald introduction to Scotch, port, and champagne, including inducting two people into the Brotherhood of the Golden Sabre. Ryan from Julio's Liquors informs us that he's working on getting Jeremy for WAGG 2011...I have my fingers crossed.
Onto the Scotch. Julio's Liquors owner Ryan was there with Brad Jarvis, a friendly and knowledgeable rep from independent bottler Douglas, and a third rep whose distributor I didn't catch. Between the two, they had one blend and four single malts. First, the blend:
- Douglas XO A blend made specifically for Julio's Liquors, this was really pretty good. Brad informs us this was actually the third blend Douglas sent them to try, the first two not being quite what they were looking for. It's composed of 60% single malt, rather than the standard 40% in most blends, and the difference is noticeable, with a far cleaner taste and smoother finish than I've found in any blend. I detect a hint of smoke, along with some sweetness, and a faint must. I won't embarrass myself by attempting to identify any of the malts, but it was definitely a good blend, and one I'd be happy to put in my liquor cabinet.
- Glenrothes 1998 The only Speyside offering of the night. Glenrothes has mostly caught my eye for it's unusually shaped bottle (once individually numbered by hand). I've been meaning to try Glenrothes for a while, and I found it mild, pleasantly sweet, but unremarkable. As I mentioned above, it went really well with sweet orange chocolate, the fruit and sugar blending quite well with the mellow Speyside notes.
- Bowmore 15 I've had less than kind words for Bowmore in the past. I've had the infamous Bowmore Legend more than once, and it's...well, rough. In fact, it tastes like brown grain alcohol steeped in cigar butts. It was my introduction to Islays...no wonder it was several years before I began to develop a taste. But the 15 is something else again! I was forced to admit, Legend aside, Bowmore can be excellent. It's smoky and sweet, with a balanced flavor of rubber and menthol, a mellow sherry sweetness, and a hint of salty tang in the finish. It paired nicely with Lindt's Sea Salt chocolate, as you might expect.
- Caol Ila 25 (independent bottling from Douglas) Much as with Bowmore, I had low expectations of this. I've had Caol Ila 12 before, and I was not impressed. Where the 12 seemed one-note, just smoke and menthol, the 25 was a world apart, light and sweet, with a smoke that seemed to dance around on my tongue. The texture was smooth and pleasantly oily, and the finish was lingering mellow smoke. The Caol Ila was bottled at cask strength and non-chill filtered, and did well with a splash of water.
- Rosebank 20 (independent bottling from Douglas) Along with Jeremy Bell's bagpipes and wit, this was the highlight of the night. Rosebank was a Lowland distillery in Falkirk that was sadly mothballed in 1993. I've heard scotch aficionados whisper the name while looking heavenward from time to time, but knew little about it. I've had...mixed responses to Lowland malts in the past. The only surviving distilleries are Glenkinchie and Auchentoshan, neither of which exactly impressed. But Rosebank was simply amazing! It was a pale yellow, cask strength, non-chill filtered, non artificial colored, straight out of the cask scotch. The flavor was in a word, unique. I found Rosebank crisp and flowery, with a distinctly dry sweetness and a clean, crisp finish. The texture on the tongue was light and clean, and made me think of white wine. Delicate is a word I've struggled to apply to scotch, but finally, here, it fits. This is a scotch that manages to be delicate without being flat or boring. Now I understand all those knowing looks...I don't know if this is quite the "holy grail" that someone at the tasting called it, but I certainly would not miss another chance for a taste of this unique and crisp Lowland malt.