Julio's Liquors' in Westborough, Mass held its 2012 grand tasting event over the last weekend of February. As with past years, you get 10 tabs for the main event to sample a wide variety of Scotch, American, and Irish whisk(e)ys. An optional $10 donation to the Shriners gets you a nice Glencairn glass.
Julio's recently added a large basement event room and spaced about half of the tasting tables down there. This helped spread the crowd out, though the basement room probably had a few too many tables and ended up with a bit of a frat party feel. In past years' tastings, there had always been at least one delightfully awful whisky (e.g. Longrow Tokaji and Edradour 10) but this year the batch was solid all round. My friends and I also planned our samples better than in the past, waiting until at least a few samples before nuking our palates with peat monsters.
Here, to the best of my memory, are the whiskies I tried and in rough order, along with quick thoughts:
Glenmorangie Artein: Very pleasant and smooth. Decent soft wine cask flavor, but a little tired and the finish is a quick sigh.
Compass Box Great King St: Great affordable blend. Malty but not too youthful, and well balanced, though no particular notes stick out in my memory.
Springbank 12 Cask Strength: I loved this on the first taste: beautifully complex with big sherry influence, Springbank grassiness, and moderate peat and smoke. Then I added a splash of water to "open it up" and instead the alcohol seemed to take over. When purchase time came, I was torn over this one but ultimately made it my last buy. It should be an interesting whisky to explore.
Shackleton: Whyte & Mackay's Shackleton was the biggest whisky story of 2011. The short version is that this blended whisky is a re-creation of whisky discovered from a 1907 expedition to Antarctica. At $160 or so, I knew I would not be able to afford a bottle, but I was curious to taste it anyway. It tasted like a fairly generic blend to me, but not as good as the Great King St I had tried just a few samples earlier. I'm guessing the original 1907 whisky was like the Johnnie Walker 12 of its time.
Redbreast 12 Cask Strength: I was looking forward to this whisky more than any other. It is a fine drop with well balanced cream, vanilla, and sherry notes. It did not explode on my palate though, but I reckon it will be nicer in a more quiet environment. I bought a bottle of this to fill the vacant "Irish" niche in my cabinet.
Balvenie 15 Single Barrel: Just revisiting an old friend here: banana, vanilla, and oak notes galore. This is my top recommendation for a mid-priced Speysider, though I doubt I'll ever find another bottle with the bigness of flavor in the special Loch & Key bottling.
Laphroaig Triple Wood: The Triple Wood seems to be Laphroaig Quarter Cask with some additional finishing in sherry casks, and it tasted almost exactly how I hoped and expected: huge medicinal peat, lively oak, and a touch of sherry influence. Delightful! This was a no-doubt purchase.
Auchentoshan Valinch: I was not expecting much from this whisky, despite the bottle's insistence upon scores of fans demanding Auchentoshan put out this cask strength version of their legendary Classic expression. However, I really liked it! Lots of flavor and especially orange zest and grass. I ended up buying a bottle of this.
Laddie 10: An impressive offering from Bruichladdich. Lots of tangy seaside notes and it reminded me of Waves, but more mature, better balanced, and without the peat. I found it amusing that it states "unpeated" on the bottle: what other things is the whisky not? In any case, I also bought a bottle of this.
Port Charlotte 9: Another cracker of a Port Charlotte, though the peat seems to be mellowing out a little. However, about $40 north of where I'd go for a drink like this.
Bowmore 15: I approached the table to see if they had Bowmore 16 Port Cask for tasting. I was in "extra tab from friends" territory now, and they didn't have the bottle I was looking for, so I decided to re-taste this one. After the big-flavored, non chill-filtered Bruichladdich samples, this tasted pretty thin and was not as good as I remembered from aged Bowmore.
Deanston Virgin Oak: I wanted to try something from the Burn Stewart stable since they recently went non chill-filtered with all of their whiskies. I've never tried Deanston before, and the Virgin Oak is bottom-shelf priced. I was pleasantly surprised: malty and a little youthful tasting, but pretty good vanilla and oak spice flavors. A thick whisky from what I could tell, and I might pick up a bottle of this in the future.