A couple nights ago I had the pleasure of attending a World Whisky Tasting with a friend at WhiskyRI. It's a great group if you live anywhere near Providence, RI, and it was a fun and educational evening for both whisky aficionados and newbies alike. This particular event was hosted by Raj Sabharwal of Purple Valley Imports (Whisky Importer of the Year, 2013 - Whisky Mag) who did a fantastic job fielding questions and guiding the blind tasting. That's right, a blind tasting.
Now, I'm no stranger to blind tastings. Many months back I managed to arrange a competitive blind tasting with some British naval officers in the wardroom of the HMS Dauntless. [Ed. In the spirit of international cooperation and intense bilateral one-upmanship.] In that instance I correctly guessed 6 of the 8 whiskies presented - God save the queen! Part of that was because one was actually a brandy (psshhht, child's play! sneaky tossers) and most were either distinct members of the Speyside species or representatives of the most popular Hebridean distillers.
The World Whisky blind tasting was significantly more challenging. In retrospect, had I known it would be a blind tasting I would have done my research prior to arrival (since we knew the names of the whiskies we were being poured, just not the order). Knowing from which ones to expect sherry notes vs. light peat (or indeed, just seeing a squat bottle in the bag) would have been invaluable. All told, it was a interesting decision on Thom's part to arrange the tasting in this way.
Here were the offerings:
So more of an Indian, British, and Australian tasting then :-) No Japanese imports on this go 'round :-(
Still, I believe this specific line-up achieved two goals remarkably well: (1) dispelling the rumor that more age makes a better whisky - these were all quite young, relatively speaking, and (2) keeping us guessing with regards to the origin - more on that later.
Thoughts on the Expressions
The English Whisky Company Classic Single Malt was probably the least impressive of the group. That wasn't to say it was bad, far from it! It's clear that some good "Scotch" can come from just south of the border now. However, the whisky itself - though sweet and cantaloupe-y with a malt-forward presence - was not nearly as complex as the rest of the group.
I had tasted Amrut's cask strength single malt at Whisky Live NYC this year, but this time around I had a much better chance to sit and enjoy the little nuances. There's nothing that screams "India!" (or rather, "Bangalore!") about this whisky in the glass - just a nice sweet barley malting (which, if anything, I believe I will now recognize as "signature Amrut") with a deceptive maturity. Deceptive, because this whisky is only a few years old. Amrut's altitude combined with their "delta T" (temperature fluctuation between seasons) combine to create a nearly 12% "angel's share" per annum. For those in the know, that means that 12% of the whisky evaporates from the barrels each year - Amrut will never be able to produce a whisky older than about 8 years (their extremely rare Greedy Angels expression), because by then it's all gone! The cool upshot is that an 8yo whisky has the flavor profile of some 2-decade-old Scotches.
Amrut's Fusion really blew me away. I had been teetering on the brink about purchasing this whisky, but wasn't sure I wanted to until that first nosing of the glass. The beauty of this expression is that it's lightly peated with the most sweet, delicate peat imaginable. To accomplish this, Amrut ships peated barley from Scotland to Bangalore, then ferments it, distills it, and marries their traditional single malt to the finished product in a barrel for about another year. The result is breathtaking - something Jim Murray called "the third finest whisky in the world" in his Whisky Bible, scoring it a 97/100. Overall, Fusion has won Amrut more than 6 major awards in the last three years, and it's easy to see why. I purchased a bottle immediately after the tasting.
Glenglassaugh is celebrating the revival of their distillery with a young, beautiful sherry bomb that is appropriately named "Revival." This whisky definitely impressed me, but I thought that it needed just a bit more age to integrate and balance those sherry tones (a mixture of sherries really, but my palate caught the hint of PX immediately).
I was very excited to taste my first Australian (Tasmanian, where all but two of Australia's 8 distilleries are located) whisky, an expression called "Double Cask." Essentially, Sullivans Cove married ex-bourbon with ex-port casks and created what turned out to be a very popular whisky amongst the tasters (though many would deny it when told it came from Australia). I don't know why people must pooh-pooh Australian whisky along with their table wines. I thought the whisky had a sophisticated, delicious, and complex flavor profile. I suspect many elitists just don't have much affection for port finishes, which is a shame. The pursuit of whisky wisdom requires an open mind and a receiving palate. Yes, you can quote me.
And then, the star of the show:
Oh Blackadder, you have me smitten. Had I but known that such a creation existed in the world, I would have conquered the slopes of Olympus to attain it. It wasn't that the whisky was far-and-above unusual for what you'd expect from an Islay. It's that this was raw cask. Smoking Islay was my first raw cask experience, and I can tell you, THIS is how whiskies were meant to be enjoyed! I'm spoiled on all but the valinch now, like a babe who will never again take the bottle.
You see, this peppery, young Islay malt was taken straight out of the cask (making it the ultimate single cask expression) and then bottled. No filtration, no color additives (yes, some whiskies "criminally" add caramel coloring because "darker looks older"). They won't say which Islay distillery this comes from, but I'm going to maybe guess Laphroaig (though I haven't had a Laphroaig this young to compare it to - time for Single Cask Nation to help me out!). The unreal part was delighting in the thick, estery whorls tumbling around in the glass, and rejoicing at each little bit of char that was suspended in that liquid gold. Adding water was a sublime experiment, as this was particularly massive on the ABV side (62.4%!). Some people think the floating charcoal is just a novelty, designed to be enjoyed once but never duplicated. I say it will make purists out of us all.