Friday, December 04, 2009

Whiskey Tasting Party

So, how do people run whiskey tasting parties?

I'd like to host one -- a small one, with maybe three or four guests -- but also want to make sure everyone gets home safely! It would also be nice to record the event as a podcast.

I'd go in order of pungency of flavor and (approximate) expense. We'd have small servings with breaks in between.

The menu might consist of something like:

The Tyrconnell (an Irish whiskey, representing mild Irish single malts in general)

Glennfiddich 12 (representing the malty/vanilla/caramel flavors)

Bunnahabhain 12 (a very mild and uncharacteristic Islay whisky, a good example of that nutty/oily texture, apple, coconut, and some other elusive flavors)

Glenmorangie La Santa (representing sherry cask-aged whisky, with that maple-ish flavor)

The Balvenie Portwood 21 (representing port cask-aged whisky, and with the best nose of any whisky I've tasted to date, although the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban is also very good, with elusive chocolate and mint notes, and costs a lot less)

Caol Ila 12 (representing Islay whiskies on the slightly milder side, with those great mandarin orange and dark chocolate notes)

Lagavulin 16 (representing the iconic peaty/phenolic Islay flavors, and a good place to stop because anything you won't be able to clearly taste anything else for quite some time afterwards!)

Dumb idea? Great idea?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Irish Whiskey Review: Knappogue Castle 1995

While hunting for a bottle of Glenmorangie on a recent trip to Hartford, I came across this bottle and recalled that twitter peep Colleenky recommended Knappogue Castle along with The Tyrconnell. Since I enjoyed The Tyrconnell, I decided to give this one a try.

The 1995 Knappogue Castle is, like The Tyrconnell, a single malt. The dates are usually the year of distillation, and it was bottled in 2007, which makes it about 12 years old. It's also bottled at 40%. Oddly, Knappogue Castle seems to be a brand, and not a distillery per se, aging and bottling selected casks from other distilleries. This whiskey is chill filtered, something many scotch whisky distilleries seem to be moving away from, but has no color added.

Like The Tyrconnell, this whisky is also very pale in color -- an extremely light straw gold. It coats the glass with a waxy texture that runs very slowly. The nose is very slightly pungent, but mainly creamy and rich -- I get vanilla and a big, big note of ripe banana, like banana pudding served with Nilla wafer cookies. There's a bit of something winey, like chardonnay, although this whiskey is aged only in bourbon barrels. There's a yeasty note, and something like cream cheese -- Grace calls it "cheesecake." The nose seems slightly simpler to me than The Tyrconnell. I don't notice any of that lime or honey that I found so enjoyable in The Tyrconnell, and I don't even get the coconut notes. There is some of that chewy oat flavor, but very little malt.

On the tongue, the flavors match the nose pretty well, and it has much of The Tyrconnells's wonderfully smooth, slightly oily mouth feel. I'm reminded of a sweet French Toast batter, with a little bit of cinammon and the eggy custard flavor, or maybe a bread putting with apples baked into it. A review I came across mentioned "fresh wood" and "cigar box," and called it "spicy." Now, here's where this whiskey surprised me. I didn't really get those flavors; there did not seem to be any smoky, leathery, or tobacco flavors that I could detect. I was wondering if my palate just wasn't trained enough, or attuned to the mildness of the flavors that tend to be in these Irish whiskeys, when compared to some of the single-malt scotch whiskeys I've been drinking.

Then, I added a bit of water, and suddenly that chardonnay note was stronger, and -- on both the nose and tongue, there is tobacco! It's quite odd. Grace called it "Lucky Strikes." When you water it, the creamy banana custard flavor recedes and that cheesecake note is amplified; there's that vaseline note that The Tyrconnell has, and it's just a little bit bitter. The slight astringency that was present even without water comes forward a bit.

Although this whiskey is more expensive than The Tyrconnell, the flavors and aromas are not quite as enticing as they are in The Tyrconnell; it isn't as "moreish," at least to my palate. Therefore, I rate it a half-point lower, at 8.0. It would make a slightly better starting point for a first taste of single malt Irish whiskey, since it is milder. It would be interesting to compare the 1995 to a different Knappogue Castle release. Apparently there is a 1951, although this is scarce and, no doubt, very expensive.

It's quite amazing how different these two Irish single malts are from Scottish single malts, even though they are not terribly different from one another. While these Irish whiskeys are very fine, there's something -- possibly in my genes, since I'm part Scottish -- that draws me more to the Scottish drinks. So, I probably won't be buying any more Irish whiskeys for now. However, I would never turn down a free sample!