Sunday, August 01, 2004


I just returned from a trip to Glasgow and had the opportunity to visit a distillery nearby. What a wonderful experience! I have read much about the process of making whisky, but it is really special to see it all in action. They take you right through the distillery where the whisky is being made everyday. It's wonderful to experience all of the smells that are characteristic to each stage of the process. The yeasty bread smell of the fermentation room, the sweet alcohol smell of the mash tun, the almost winelike smell of the spirit safe. The only thing that I would have liked more is if we could have seen inside the warehouse where the spirit is aged. Due to tax restrictions though the spirit must be kept under lock and key as soon as the distillation begins all the way through to bottling. Seing everything from spring to cask was really great, and seeing the land around the distillery really gave me a sense of how the smells and tastes of the land permeate the spirit. I don't think that I can emphasize enough how enjoyable a dram of whisky is when it is enjoyed at the distillery. Since Melissa did not have any whisky I got to have two drams :).

Glengoyne is a highland distillery, although their whisky is distilled in the highlands and aged across the street in the lowlands. Since there is no peat in the region it is not used to halt the malting of the barley, instead hot air is used. This means that there is no smokyness to the whisky at all. The only flavour of note arises from the aging process, which is done in casks that were previously used to age sherry. These casks are used 3 or 4 times to age the whisky before they have given all they can give. I bought a bottle of the 10 yo Glengoyne single malt. It is very light in colour as it is young. The nose does not reveal much at first although it smells very sweet from afar. To me I think I almost smell a fruity fig aroma. I found the whisky to be quite smooth, with a very slight attack. The flavor of the sherry dominates the palette. On the whole this is a very enjoyable malt that means so much more to me having been to the distillery. One day I think that I would like to do a tour across Scotland of all sorts of distilleries, but Glengoyne was wonderfully accessible by bus right from city centre Glasgow. It only cost us £4.25 to get there and £4.50 for the tour. What a deal!

Slainte Mhath!

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Two's Company

This weekend we were visited by a friend from Edmonton, and I was able to partake in a couple of drams with him. It was great having company, and especially nice to be able to have someone to bounce perceptions of the scotch off of. As an added bonus I got to go skiing with him yesterday, and fortunately there was some fresh snow to top it all off! The skiing was almost as good as the scotch.

Laphroaig 10yo

Saturday night we had a wonderful dinner (Boromir burgers and Faramir Fries) and got us set up with some Laphroaig from my "collection." I really enjoyed this one and I spent a long time enjoying both the nose and the tasting experience. I was enjoying the nose so much that my wife told me that my breathing was annoying her. I guess I'll have to "breathe" quieter when I am tasting. Anyway, apart from the carmelly smell this time I was able to pick up a mildly fruity smell that I couldn't identify. I looked in my book for some possible aromas, and found that it seems to be closest to plums. I really like the taste of this one as well, it is more mildly smoky than the Ardbeg I like, but still very nice. When I tasted this one this time though I tasted a very woody flavour, like oak. This was definitely new for me and made it that much more enjoyable.

Lagavulin 16yo

Sunday night was my birthday and we went out to the Bull and Bush for dinner. I had the shepherds pie again, which I really like, along with the Big Ben Brown ale (second only to the Man Beer IPA if you ask me). For my after dinner scotch I ordered the Lagavulin 16yo. It's a little more expensive than I usually spring for, but it was my birthday, so I figured what the heck. I've heard good things about this one, and it did not disappoint. It has a very dark colour, burnt amber I would say, and a wonderful caramel/smoke aroma. The taste of this one was really outstanding though, very smooth with a subtle smoke taste. The smoke in this one I found was more woody rather than peaty I think, and the finish was almost sweet. It was a great scotch, one that is definitely worth the extra money, but I probably won't be springing for a bottle of it any time soon.

Next week I have a conference to go to in Monterey, which I am looking forward to a lot. Usually one of the companies holds a drawing for a bottle of scotch (this is how I got my first bottle), so with a little luck I may have a new one to try when I get back! Here's hoping!

Monday, April 05, 2004

Old Faithful

Friday night I had the opportunity to have dinner at the Bull and Bush with my boss. It was great! Had a couple of "Scottish Ales" to start off and their Shepherd's Pie, which is very tasty. The beers here are all great, and I have yet to find one that I have been dissapointed in. But I don't take my beer tasting as seriously as my scotch, so there is no blog for that. I do not enjoy most "export ready" beers (i.e. if a country is willing to let them cross the border, then it's probably not worth drinking anyway), and if I have a choice I will always pick the "microbrew." At the Bull and Bush they are all brewed in-house, which makes them all a safe bet. They do not do a second fermentation to make the bubbles, however, opting to carbonate with CO2 from a tank. The resulting bubbles are different, and take some getting used to, but I have found that this results in a less acid taste and I now appreciate that more. It lets the hops shine through!

Anyway, the star attraction for the evening was the scotch to end the meal. The waitress had brought out water for everyone before the meal was done, so I was able to prepare for the tasting a bit. I first ordered a Talisker, but they were out so I went with my old faithful Ardbeg 10yo. This was the first Islay malt that I had the opportunity to try (also at the Bull and Bush) and it probably was responsible for cementing my love of the peat reek. It never dissapoints, and I would love to be able to find a bottle of it, but it is not usually in stores. When I find one, I'll buy it for sure, even if the money isn't there! For now I'll have to settle for the few drams I get to enjoy at the pub. When it arrived I set out to enjoy the nose of this whisky. From afar, the caramel aroma is almost impossible to miss, and I don't see how I've never smelled it before the Bowmore. As the glass is brought closer to the nose, the caramel yields to the more pervasive smell of smoke. I have not been able to make out any other components of the nose yet, but perhaps as I get more experienced, I'll be able to pick out the more subtle aromas. Also, the glass that they served it in (a mini snifter) is not my favorite for nosing so that can make a big difference as well. This scotch is very pale in colour (yes, I know I am in the US and should be spelling color like that, but I think when describing a scottish drink the UK spelling is appropriate) and it is fairly viscous, very smooth in texture. The tasting is where this one really shines. It is a very smooth scotch considering its age, with no strong attack, and I find that at no point does the alcohol outdo the flavours. It's a mouthful of smoke at first, with a briny finish, but everything seems to work so well together. There are some lighter flavours as well, but I have yet to put a name to any of them. Needless to say, I enjoyed this drink thoroughly down to the last drop. I'm always sorry to see this one finished, and it is still my favorite! Good health!

Monday, March 15, 2004

A Night to Remember

Saturday March 13, 2004: this day my little sister wed. She could not have chosen a more wonderful man if you ask me, and I know, as they begin their lives together, that this is meant to last. The wedding was beautiful and the reception was..., well you would have had to attend an Armstrong wedding to understand. It was a blast to say the least.

At any rate, as this is my scotch blog I must get to the point. After the dinner I had a chance to retire to the bar and survey the choices of single malt. I was expecting to find only the usual blends, but was pleasently surprised. Of course they had Glenfiddich, which I have mentioned previously, but they also had Glenfarcas, Speyburn, Bowmore and Talisker. It was the latter two that interested me most, as I have tried the Talisker before (it is distilled on the Isle of Skye and shares many of the characteristics I enjoy in the Islay malts), and I have wanted to try Bowmore (an Islay malt) for a while. I was not able to read the years on the bottles from my vantage point, but I am assuming that they were all fairly young, probably 10 or 12 years old. I started my evening with the Bowmore.

I found the Bowmore to be a very pleasant experience. I would highly reccommend it to anyone who is interested in trying an Islay malt, but unsure of the strong flavors. The nose was at first pleasently smoky, but not overbearing, and I caught a whif of apples when I held it much further away. When the glass was about 6 inches from my nose I was completely floored by the glorious smell of caramel. It was very pleasant, and I found myself enjoying this aroma almost as much as the drink itself. This is a very smooth scotch, and very nice to drink, with muted flavors of smoke and sweet caramel. I found it to be not nearly as strong as the Laphroaig, but still very nice. It has a burnt amber color; pleasing to the eye as well as the pallette.

I decided next that I wanted to try the Talisker again, so I had a few drinks of water and dove back in. As I had already had the Bowmore, my notes for this drink are not as clear as I would like, so I will have to try it again in the future. This malt exhibits the smoky aroma that I enjoy, but it seems to me to be a little more acrid than the Islay smoke. No caramel smell with this one either. But the tasting was the experience. This has a stronger attack than the Bowmore and has a strong taste of the sea. Salty, seaweedy flavors seem to dominate, with a smoky finish. The color is much darker as well, to me looking a little more like real maple syrup (this is the Canadian perspective of course). Altogether this is a very fine malt, which I would consider getting a bottle of in the future. As it was I had to settle for another of these before the evening closed out.

What a marvelous night it was. I was able to celebrate the union of my sister and brother-in-law, toasting good health to their marriage in the manner of my scottish ancestry. My father closed his speech with a scottish blessing and I think that it is appropriate that I do the same here: "Lang may your lum reek and your kailpot boil!" -- Long may your chimney smoke and your soup pot boil. Good health to you all!

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Laphroaig (La-froyg) 10yo

Last night I had the opportunity to sample a wee dram o' my first purchase of a bottle of scotch. I went up to my local Liquor Mart yesterday and was pleasently surprised to find that they had a reasonable selection of single-malt whiskys. I purchased a bottle of Laphroaig 10yo to replace my dwindling bottle of Glenfiddich 12yo. I knew that I wanted an Islay malt from my experience with the Ardbeg 10yo and 17yo that I have tried at the Bull and Bush and the Lagavulin 10yo included in the "Classic Malts" set. I set about preparing myself for the tasting yesterday afternoon, doing some research and coming across the excellent website This website features a "virtual" distillery tour which I highly recommend you check out. I knew I was in for a treat with the description of the peaty and seaweedy flavours that a dram of Laphroaig is supposed to impart. It did not dissappoint!

The moment arrived last night after a hearty dinner. I poured myself a glass and marvelled at how viscous the liquid was compared to the glenfiddich. In the glass (I use a tulip shaped nosing glass from Riedel crystal for my tastings), the scotch was surprisingly dark for such a young malt, with an almost green tint to the liquid. I added a few drops of filtered water and nosed the whisky a few times. I was greeted with the wonderful smoky aroma that I have come to love from Islay whiskys. It always reminds me of a campfire, or more specifically, the way your clothes smell after being next to a campfire for a few days. Technically, it is a phenolic aroma, so named for the compounds that give this smell (I'm a chemist by training so I can appreciate this term), but I prefer the term peat reek as it strikes me as more poetic, and more appropriate for a drink that is far from science and more of an art form. I took a good swig of the scotch and swirled it around in my mouth, trying to extract as much of the flavouring as I could. First I was hit by the smoky flavour, but this faded away quickly and was replaced by an almost bitter sensation in the back of my mouth. I have not experienced this flavour as dramatically as this in the Ardbeg, but immediately I recognized it as the salt air/seaweed taste that this brand is renowned for. If you have ever been to the ocean, there is that smell in the air of aeresolized sea salt and rotting seaweed that has washed ashore. It is an unmistakable scent, one that I will never forget as I love the ocean, and it has made it's mark in this drink. I can see why some people would not like this flavour, but for me it was like coming home. My two great loves in one drink: the mountain campfire, and the ocean breeze. Poetic. I know I may seem to be laying it on a bit thick here, but if you have ever tried a proper tasting of single malt scotch, then you know where I'm coming from. Needless to say I enjoyed this one to the last drop. That's it for today, I am sure that in the future I will discover more in this drink, and there will be more malts to try. I look forward to the writing as much as the tasting. Cheers!
Uisge Beatha -- Water of Life

Welcome to my online journal of scotch tasting. This is mostly for me to keep track of the malts that I like and the progression of my nosing and tasting, but may be useful to those interested in single-malt scotch whisky.

First a little background of my tasting history. A few years back I received a bottle of Glenfiddich (glen-fid-ick) 12yo as a prize. I tried it a few times and began to develop an apprciation for scotch. It also appealed to my scottish heritage. When I moved to Denver, my wife and I discovered a small pub style restaurant up the street from us called the Bull and Bush. They have many single malts to choose from and I began to enjoy a dram after our monthly trips there. I also had the opportunity to taste through the "classic malts" set of miniatures, and narrow down my likes and dislikes. For anyone interested in trying single malts for the first time I highly recommend this set.

I have found that I am very much an Islay (eye-la) person, I enjoy the earthy smoky flavours that that region imparts to its whisky. This smokyness is due to the peat that is used to dry the barly after malting (peat is used rather than wood as trees are scarse on the island), and is called the "peat reek." In addition, as many of the distillaries are located near the sea, the malts often have a very seaweedy flavour to them. I find these flavours challenging to the palatte (in a good way).

I think that this sets the stage for the journal, now onto the tasting!

O thou, my Muse! guid, auld Scotch Drink!

Whether thro' wimplin worms thou jink,

Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,

In glorious faem,

Inspire me, till I lisp an' wink,

To sing thy name!

--Robert Burns