Tonight Grace and I, along with my former College of Wooster classmate Ken, who is also the podcaster known as the Wandering Knight, attended the Stadium Market Spring 2010 Scotch Tasting, hosted at Bab's Underground Lounge. For $20 each we got a buffet of appetizers, including shrimp, sushi, miniature croissant sandwiches, stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, cheeses, a platter of fruit, and other dainties -- and a huge variety of beverages to taste!
There was a structured slideshow and tasting, led by a Master of Whisky from Diageo (I finally heard this pronounced: I think it's "Dee-AH-zhee-oh"). Diageo is the company that now apparently owns a wide variety of distilleries, which now fall under the "Classic Malt" designation. We got to taste peated and unpeated barley, and examine chunks of peat and barrel wood. We got to rub and smell (but not taste) some very bready, malty, yeasty "new make spirit," or un-aged whisky, at 126 proof.
The whiskies that were part of the guided tasting were the Glenkinchie 12, Dalwhinnie 15, Singleton of Glendullan 12, Oban 14, Lagavulin 16, and Crown Royal Black. (One of these things is not like the other, but they are all owned by the same company now.) I had tasted several of these -- the Singleton is a great bargain and I own a bottle. The Lagavulin 16 is an iconic Islay whisky.
The Glenkinchie is a young and dry whisky, hot and peppery with a little malt, citrus, and vanilla, and no peat. It is pretty good stuff, but a little too sweet and hot for my taste. Ken noted that this one mellows out considerably with a little water.
I've had Dalwhinnie before, but not for many years -- the floral notes are very nice, but again, it is not my preferred style.
The Oban, which I had never tasted, was very good, with a cluster of fresh stone fruit notes. Grace enjoyed the Oban as well. (We've recently been debating what constitutes masculine and feminine whisky -- that is, which ones apparently appeal more to the different genders and why. We haven't gotten it all figured out yet, but the Oban 14 is a little on the feminine side).
The Crown Royal Black was interesting enough to get a paragraph to itself. It is aged in charred barrels, and the result was very unusual -- an extremely sweet nose, with a very notable aroma of black licorice, and some fruits I've never tasted in a whisky before, particularly rasberry. It was sweet and extremely smooth. It was too sweet for my taste, but that maturation regimen seems interesting and I'd be curious to see what else could be done with it.
In addition to the drinks that were part of the guided tasting, Stadium Market had a number of others on hand: The Macallan 12, Fine Oak 10, and Fine Oak 15; The Glenlivet 12, Nadurra 16, and 18; Laphroaig 10; Ardbeg 10; Highland Park 12, 15, and 18; and a rum called Ron Zacapa. There were a few others available. I decided that after having tasted so many already, I could not do justice to fairly comparing the nuances of the different bottlings The Glenlivet and The Macallan, so I skipped those and focused on tasting just a few more. I'd love to give them a try sometime -- it would be especially nice if those distilleries had sample-size gift sets available, like the Glenmorangie collection and The Balvenie collection.
We already own a bottle of Highland Park 18, which I have previously reviewed. The 12 and 15 were very interesting in that context. Grace and I both agreed that we prefer the 15, just as I prefer the 15-year-old Glenfiddich. The 15 is very nice -- a little more buttery and bready than the 18, with light smoke and peat, and some distinct dried fruit flavors (prunes, raisins, figs). The 18 has these same flavors, for the most part, but by comparison they seem a bit muted and indistinct. The 12 was a little hotter and more sugary, with light honey notes, and while good, just couldn't quite compare. So, when we finish up the 18, we will probably buy a bottle of Highland Park 15. It was a good illustration of the way in which age and price don't necessarily produce a result you will automatically prefer.
I also took my first taste of Ardbeg (the 10), and found it to be very good stuff -- not quite as pungent as Laphroaig, but very well-balanced, with very appealing sweet flavors offset by the smoke. It answered the question I had in the back of my mind about Ardbeg, which was "is it different enough than Laphroaig to justify buying a separate bottle?" The answer is that if you are an Islay fan, yes, it definitely is. Although the Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Laphroaig, and Ardbeg all seem to me to cluster fairly tightly together, while the Bunnahabhain is more notably different in character. The Bunnahabhain is still my favorite Islay, perhaps largely for sentimental reasons. I'm not sure which of that "cluster" of Islay distilleries I prefer, although the Ardbeg 10 is now a serious competitor. I will have to taste it again, and write it up more formally, very soon!
I decided that in order to avoid exceeding my alcohol limit, I would skip the Bulleit bourbon, although I was tempted by the wonderfully rich color. I also skipped the Bushmills 10, a peated Irish whisky, although I was also curious about that. I did taste the Ron Zacapa rum, which I found to be unlike any rum I've ever tasted -- wonderfully smooth and sweet, with buttery caramel flavors. It would be a crime to use it as a mixer. I have a friend who I think might enjoy it, so I'll have to recommend it to him. I think for now I'll stick primarily to scotch, though. If I start sampling bourbons, rums, tequilas, where would it end? (Bankruptcy, possibly, and maybe rehab...)
Thanks to the Stadium Market and Bab's Underground Lounge crew for putting on such a great event. I look forward to the next one!