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?


Unknown said...

Hey there fellow geek. I ran across your blog searching for Scapa 14 reviews and noticed that you are a bit of a scotch-head. Unlike you, I love the peat monsters. Must have been my steady diet of punk rock and heavy metal growing up.

Don't get me wrong, I like the sweeter malts as well. Scapa, Balvenie, Highland Park, Glenmorangie, Glenfiddich, have all passed through my "collection".

At first I didn't much like the sweeter malts as they all tasted the same. I wasn't actually able to enjoy them until I had a dram of something smokey. After having something strong I was able to pick out the sweeter notes and note the differences between them.

I'd recommend starting people off with a small taste of the Lagavulin or Laphroig first (three sips) and then the lighter flavoured whiskies.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your reviews. If you want to swap notes and opinions, send me an e-mail.

Paul R. Potts said...

Thanks, Mike! The peatier drinks are growing on me. Laphroaig is still not my favorite, but I had some of the Caol Ila last night and enjoyed it quite a bit. I also tasted a little bit of the Scapa 14 again recently to see if my opinion about it has changed -- it hasn't. It's good, but just not quite as complex or interesting.

What have you tasted? What do you recommend that I haven't reviewed yet?

Unknown said...

Hm, what have I tasted? Probably not as much as you since I can only get whisky in full 750mL bottles, and not tasters like you. However, we do have a bar with a great scotch whisky collection.

In my own cabinet I currently have, Bowmore 12, Scapa 14, Balvenie DoubleWood, Laphroig Quarter Cask, Highland Park 18, Talisker 10, Te Bheag (great inexpensive blend), McClelland's Islay (garbage), Bushmill's Black Bush, and Redbreast 12. I've also had Glenlivet 12, Glenmorangie Original and Glenfiddich 12, but don't think I'd restock with either.

I've also tasted Lagavulin 16, Balvenie (17 & 12 - both wonderful), Ardbeg, Talisker 18, Highland Park 12 (great value!), Oban, Dalwhinnie, Macallan 12, Glenlivet 21.. and probably a few others that don't come to mind. I wish I had tasting notes of all of these instead of the general impression I'm left with.

I really think the contrast between smoky/strong whiskies with sweeter/lighter ones really helps the palate to tease out the finer details of a whisky. And which "strong" ones you serve your guests would depend on whether they are fellow scotch-heads or new. I think having a taste of Laphroig as an introduction to scotch would forever turn them away. Bowmore is a great intro to the smokey side of things.

Out of the whiskies you've listed in this post, I would recommend serving in this order:

Caol Ila

However, I'd nix the Glenfiddich and replace it with some Talisker.

If you haven't run across this yet, it's a great resource to help gauge the temperament of a scotch.

I'd recommend some Oban, very salty and "maritimey", Highland Park, and more from The Balvenie. If you can find Te Bheag, give it a try, it's a nice little blend for not very much money. Macallan is great as well.

I went on a wine trip this summer and took the risk of asking what scotches they had on hand at Peller Estates. I settled on Highland Park (18) and they served it to me warmed. Wow, I would have never thought of that but it added a new dimension to the taste.

Judging by your posts, it seems you've found scotch recently (me as well). When did you start and what was your first?

Paul R. Potts said...

Mike, thanks for your notes. I am not entirely new to scotch whisky, but I just recently got into it a little more seriously.

I had tasted flights of four 15 or more years ago, and I remember paricularly liking Bunnahabhain and some particular Scapa bottling, which I remember as better than the Scapa 14 I've got now. That reminds me -- I should head back to Ashley's pub in Ann Arbor and see if they still offer flights of scotch. That could be a good way to taste some more varieties.

I have owned a couple bottles over the years, a Dalwhinnie and a Bunnahabhain, but the recent interest only started a month or three ago when I bought a few of those samplers, and tasted the Lagavulin 16. It had such a big dose of bold flavors I felt compelled to write my first review.

I have never tried anything from Bowmore or Ardbeg or Oban, although they sound promising. I've got Jim Murray's last Whisky Bible, and he is big on Ardbeg, so I'd like to try one of their bottlings. I'd also like to try a Port Ellen someday, if there is any left that I can afford by the time I get around to it -- it is a closed distillery and they are releasing old casks that are very highly coveted.

I don't drink a dram every night but maybe once or twice a week, if I get a little quiet time after the kids are asleep. Last night I just finished off the 200 ml sampler of Caol Ila 12 and it is definitely one of my favorites -- it has some of the peaty, smokey notes, but less intense than Laphroaig or Lagavulin, while also having some nice sweetness and this nice dark chocolate and orange-ish flavor. Like I said, the peatier ones are growing on me.

My wife's favorite is Highland Park 18, and we've got a bottle, although I have yet to review it.

I may soon be buying a bottle of Bunnahabhain distilled in 1967 because that's the year I was born. If I do, I'm saving it for my tenth wedding anniversary in a couple of years, but will definitely write that one up!

Thanks for the recommendations -- I will keep an eye out for Te Bheag. I also can recommend the Singleton of Glendullan as a bottle that is really a nice bargain for the price.

Unknown said...

HP18 is an expensive favourite to have! =)

I found Ardbeg (can't remember which bottling I had tasted - 10yr I think) to feel like a younger Laphroaig - a little edgier. I think you'd enjoy Bowmore though. It's a lot smoother with some caramel notes and a deeper smoke taste with iodine nicely hinting in the background.

See these reviews for the Ardbeg 10:

And some for the Bowmore 12:

If you haven't tried a Talisker yet, I wouldn't wait much longer. It's a great whisky - peppery, smokey, sweet, and lacking a strong iodine flavour.

I have yet to find a bottle of Caol Ila around here, but may order a bottle in. Our alcohol is sold by government run establishments, so selection can be limited.

Paul R. Potts said...

The Highland Park 18 isn't a regular purchase... yes, it's not cheap!

I'll look into the Bowmore, thanks!

I did a review of the Talisker 10:

I didn't find it very special, but there are other bottlings, so I should give it another chance.