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