Monday, February 28, 2011

Whisk(e)y-A-GOGO 2011 Grand Tasting Event

Rumor has it that Julio's Liquors' annual Whisk(e)y-A-GOGO is getting so big that they are out-growing the name and might go with something like "Whisk(e)y Weekend" next year.  This year had the same all-out tasting blast with over 40 tables but also an exclusive Loch & K(e)y Society tasting the night before.

A quick recap of the rules: ten tabs on a wristband, one tab per sample.  However, some pourers interpret the rules a little more loosely and insist that it is one tab per table.  Some look at you a little funny and with some annoyance if you insist upon giving them a tab.  *** TEH RULZ!!!11!!

Ahem.  In any case, as I had no driver this year I actually kept myself to ten samples (the equivalent of going out to dinner and having a couple of beers).  And that's okay, because how many times do I really need to sample Macallan 12?  Luckily, there were a large number of independent bottlings as well as some regular OBs that I was interested in, and I doubled the number of samples by attending both tasting events.  Here were the stand-out winners and losers:

Winners:

  • Kilchoman.  The eighth Islay distillery is producing three-year-old whisky, and we tasted the 2010 Winter Release: non chill-filtered, bottled at 46 %, and aged exclusively in casks sourced from Buffalo Trace.  This must be the best three-year-old whisky ever; huge peat and smoke, good mouth-feel, and great, long finish.  The peat effect is so huge that when one of my friends (who is newish to Scotch) later tasted Laphroaig Quarter Cask, he put as a note: "hint of peat".  I am reminded of someone I knew once describing a (terrible) death metal band: "these guys make Slayer look like a bunch of pussies!"
  • Lowlands.  I never gave the Lowlands much attention, assuming Lowland malts must be bland and boring.  But I tried the Douglas Laing Rosebank 20 bottling and was impressed with the flavor, feel, and balance.  The big Lowland flavor seems to be grass, and I realized that Springbank should really be considered a Lowland malt (sorry folks, you don't get a full region for a single town, especially when that town has just three working distilleries) with its characteristic grassiness and location.  The Springbank 11 Cask Strength was another great drop.
  • Redbreast 15.  On the topic of surprising amount of flavor, count Redbreast 15.  This was the only Irish whisky I tried, and it was a great one.  I think of Irish whisky as smooth and creamy but otherwise pretty bland (and usually diluted at 40 %), but Redbreast also has great mouth-feel and big spicy fruit notes.  I suspect the whisky was aged in sherry casks.
  • Balvenie 17 Peated Cask.  I was not expecting much from this but was rather surprised that I could actually taste the peat at all, considering the malt is un-peated and therefore all of the peat comes from the cask that once held Islay whisky.  The peat balances well with the typical Balvenie flavor profile of oak and honey.  I liked this much more than Glenmorangie Finnealta, which is a new lightly peated offering.
Losers:
  • Diageo.  A pretty *** poor selection at the Diageo table considering the number of distilleries the drinks giant owns.  In addition, some of the whiskies in the catalog were not being poured at the table.  I was disappointed not to be able to try the 2010 Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength, since I enjoyed it at last year's tasting (and ended up getting a bottle and giving it an A-).
  • Edradour 10.  I was explaining to my friends before the tasting that "baby vomit" was a perfectly acceptable, non-ironic tasting note to use.  This whisky gave me the opportunity to aptly apply it.
Also worth mentioning was the debut of Julio's exclusive Ardmore Project bottling.  The Ardmore master distiller was skyped in, and Simon Brooking of Laphroaig sang a toast before giving pours.  I love what Julio's does with their exclusive bottlings, and last year's Balvenie 15 was one of my favorite drams ever.  The Ardmore is worth a look: a highland malt with a little peat; I got mostly biscuit notes.  I'll have to give it another go when I have not preceded it with Kilchoman.

2 comments:

  1. Hint of peat, hah. I missed that. I liked the Kilchoman very much, and looked forward to trying a more mature expression from them. I like that they're putting out a three year...it's a nice reminder that age isn't everything, and a youthful malt can be good in its own right. Again, my only quibble is charging quite so much for a three year old.

    The Diageo table was a joke. I believe they're the largest alcoholic beverage company in the world, and that's the best they could do? No Lagavullin, no Port Ellen, only the boring 14 year for the Oban...and really, Johnny Walker? I did try Cardhu, and thought it was ok. I'm glad to see Diageo stopped the "pure malt" nonsense (bottling Cardhu as a vatted malt, but keeping the same label and vaguely naming it a "pure malt"...apparently sales dropped sharply and they reverted back to an actual single malt in 2006).

    For next year, I suggest we map out our drams from not smoky to smoky, to avoid nuking our pallets...it works for wine, going dryer to sweeter.

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  2. Yeah, one gets the sense that Diageo is too "big time" to cater much to the single malt crowd: their tastings are few and poor, and there is rarely anything new in their bottlings.

    Good idea on mapping out the dram approach next year.

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