Last night, I had the privilege of attending the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza held at the Taj Mahal here in Boston. Right after arriving and receiving a booklet of the whiskies that would be tasted later, a tasting glass, and a token for cigars, I headed downstairs for a question and answer forum. At the door, I was asked the rhetorical question of whether I would like a dram of Aberfeldy 21 to sip while at the forum.
Besides the booklet and other goodies, they handed out cards to submit questions so that the audience could ask the panel of six brand ambassadors and one whisky guru. The questions they received were on everything from the basics to advanced questions about the future pricing market for rare whiskies. Here are the questions that I found of general interest:
What differences are there in peat?
There is peat growing through out the world. In Massachusetts, there are large fields in North Adams, and the largest fields in the United States are in Minnesota. The Irish have peat that they will sometimes use for their whiskeys. Basically, peat is the flora that lives, dies, and decomposes. When visiting a distillery, see what is growing around it. In the Highlands, this is coniferous trees, on Islay this is seaweed, and in Orkney this is heather. Indeed, geography has a big influence on the peat and thus in the whiskey, for the germinated wet barley will soak up these notes like a sponge from the peat smoke.
How to develop a nose?
• Taste/smell whisky frequently.
Taste in a flight. Comparison and contrast will help to bring out extra
flavors. Also, go back and taste the first whisky again at the end to
shed new light on it.
• Start with simple notes like smokey and
fruity before trying to break it down to what type of smoke or whether
it is green apple or lemon. Learn to develop a vocabulary.
• Trust your instincts, and have confidence even when your notes betray what is written.
Like people have a dominant eye, there may be a dominant nostril. Do
not be afraid to plug one up and then the other. For example, some pick
up sweeter notes from one and spicier notes from the other.
• Sometimes a little water will help bring out extra aromas.
What exactly is the grain whisky in a blend contributing?
In a blend, the grain whisky is contributing to the mouthfeel and the single malt to the spicier flavors. Often it is 40% single malt and 60% grain whisky. Grain whisky is made more efficiently, but it has its own character and complexity. 93% of all Scotch is a blend with Dewars and Famous Grouse being the top sellers in the United States and Scotland, respectively.
For tasting, I tried 24 different Scotches. One of the most interesting experiments was tasting the whole Glenmorangie series. I stayed at the table since the brand ambassador seemed excited to showcase the original 10 year as well as the same Scotch then aged for additional 2 years in other barrels.
Glenmorangie 10 Year - Floral aroma of honeysuckle. Soft with citrus notes, especially lemon, on the taste.
Glenmorangie Lasanta Sherry Cask 12 Year - Raisin notes on aroma. Walnut and toffee flavors.
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban Port Cask 12 Year - Manadarine orange and sandlewood spice aroma. Chocolate and walnut flavors.
Glenmorangie Nectar d'Or Sauternes Cask 12 Year - Coconut and vanilla aromas. Creamy and lemon flavors with a ginger spice finish.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the port one, and I was pleased to have tried a Sauternes one for it was a novel cask finish for me.
Some of the most intriguing Scotches of the night were at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's table. Alan Shayne, president of the society, traced back the group's history 30 years when Pip Hill founded it in Edinborough. Pip gained an intense interest in single cask, single malt whiskies as opposed to batched, chilled-filtered, and diluted ones. Some of these nonfiltered single casks had some unique character to them that needed to be celebrated. Throughout the night, I tried all five of their offerings that ranged from light Lowlands to intense coastal ones. Each of the cask bottlings had unique names like Laundry in the bakery, Burnt granary toast with bramble jelly, and Seaweed, sushi, and Arbroath smokies. Of all the whiskies I tasted that night, these five examples had the most discernible aromatic and tasting notes per spirit. Indeed, the complexity in these single cask nonfiltered offerings was truly stunning.